On Wednesday and Thursday night, San Francisco’s Coit Tower will once again be transformed into a cylindrical movie screen, projecting films about the American Indian occupation of Alcatraz to mark the event’s 40th anniversary.
Starting at about sundown on Wednesday, a series of films dealing with the region’s American Indian heritage will be projected all around the tower. Several focus on the island’s nearly two-year occupation by the group Indians of All Tribes that began in November 1969.
The large-scale movie display is the work of local artists and collaborators Ben Wood and David Mark. They will use three high-powered projectors placed on separate Telegraph Hill rooftops to transform the tower into a 360-degree series of movies screens, each 210 feet high by 60 feet wide. Mark, who works in both art and cinematography, uses sophisticated software to ensure the high-definition images aren’t distorted as they wrap around Coit Tower’s curved and grooved exterior.
The series of films will run consecutively all night until sunup, and again starting at sundown on Thursday. Viewers can tune to radio station KPOO at 89.5 for accompanying audio during the evenings.
This is the first time images will be shown on all sides of the tower, according to Mark. The pair has worked together on several Coit Tower projection projects since 2004, when they orchestrated a July 4 display of a silent film about the local Ohlone Indian tribe.
In 2006, the duo displayed images from the 1906 earthquake as part of the citywide commemoration of the event. Their events, which include several other Coit Tower projections, have become progressively more sophisticated but all focus on the Bay Area’s varied cultural heritage.
“Most cities in the U.S. do not have a vantage point of a monument set up like Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower,” he said.
In addition to Telegraph Hill, Mark said the display will be visible in the North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf, Russian Hill, Chinatown neighborhoods, and the northern part of the Financial District.
Reaction to previous projects has been positive, he said. “In some cases people see the movie and start walking up the hill to watch it close up.”
The films include original works, as well as parts of the popular 2001 public television piece Alcatraz is Not an Island.
Today, the organizers reviewed their playlists, determining the different order in which movies will play on the tower’s three sides, Wood said. There is also the small matter of transporting 150-pound projectors, 18-inch telephoto lenses and other equipment up to three surrounding rooftops.
Mark and Wood, both graduates of the San Francisco Art Institute, were introduced through a professor during their student days. When the pair first submitted their idea to the city’s Recreation and Park Department, they had to make several presentations to gain approval. Wood recalled thinking, “they’re never going to go for this, it’s just too crazy.”
The local Telegraph Hill Dwellers neighborhood association has helped locate appropriate rooftops for the project, Wood said.
The projection is one of several events marking the 40th anniversary of the day a group of about 80 American Indians landed on Alcatraz, planning to occupy the shuttered federal prison in the name of Native American tribes.
The group was composed of American Indian students and urban-dwelling American Indians from around the Bay Area, according to the National Park Service. Leaders demanded the deed to the island so they could establish a university, cultural center and museum dedicated to American Indians.
Individuals remained through June 1971, when FBI agents, federal marshals and other government officers removed the remaining handful of dwellers, according to the NPS.
The occupation was highly controversial at the time, but garnered national attention for the country’s policies concerning American Indians and national policies toward tribal territories.