Bay Area film promoters mix message with guerrilla advertising about graffiti abatement 

A documentary about people who spend their free time painting over graffiti is being promoted with — you guessed it — graffiti.

Department of Public Works graffiti-abatement squads have been cleaning up dozens of wheat-pasted posters and stickers plastered around the Mission district in recent weeks promoting “Vigilante, Vigilante: The Battle for Expression.” The film, made by Bay Area graffiti proponents, opened Friday.

The movie profiles several “buffers,” or people who take spray paint to the streets — usually under the same cover of darkness that protects those creating the graffiti — and cover it up. Many in this counter-counterculture see themselves as vigilantes protecting their neighborhoods or cities from crimes.

The film’s promoters may need the services of such a vigilante in short order, because the DPW is putting together a case against them. DPW spokeswoman Gloria Chan said more than 40 posters and stickers have been removed so far. The film’s promoters could be cited as much as $500 for each documented case.

“Thousands of other posters and stickers are posted up throughout the city, many for movies and commercial ventures, but we have been singled out because we are challenging the arguments of these very same people who break laws and threaten people in order to enforce a sterile city environment,” the film’s director, Max Good, wrote in an email.

Matt Dorsey, spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office, said they will take the DPW’s lead and may pursue fines. Over the past decade, The City has forced several companies promoting products or shows to pay fines for illegal postings.

Last year, Zynga had to pay The City $45,000 after an ad agency it hired stuck decals of dollar bills to the sidewalk to promote an online game. In 2007, TBS paid $65,000 after placing “light boxes” around San Francisco to promote its movie “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” — an antic it also tried in Boston, where officials misinterpreted the boxes as a potential terror attack.

In 2005, NBC Universal paid The City $103,000 for defacing sidewalks with spray-painted stencils promoting its show “The 4400.” In 2001, IBM spray-painted city sidewalks with “Peace Love Linux” to promote a new operating system, for which it paid The City $100,000.

“Guerrilla marketing like this is illegal, and DPW and the city attorney both take it very seriously,” Dorsey said.

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Katie Worth

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