Shelter: a Squatumentary

May 21st, 2009 by politicalmediareview

shelter1Shelter: a Squatumentary
Hannah E. Dobbz
(Kill Normal Records 2008)
Reviewed by Rob Los Ricos


For me, one of the highlights of this spring’s anarchist bookfair in San Francisco was the opportunity it provided for me to reconnect with the squatting scene in the Bay Area. In several communities I’ve visited recently, there has been much discussion of squatting. And, as luck would have it, over the weekend of the bookfair, there was a screening of the filmShelter – a Squatumentary.

Shelter tells the stories of three squats in the East Bay Area. For anyone who has wondered about the feasibility of squatting, but has not yet made an attempt, this film will give an honest idea of the hassles, harassment and effort involved in doing so. Two of the squats featured in the film were suppressed. The police and courts hassled one squatter to the point that he gave up after years of on-again, of-again effort to legally inhabit a house . He put a lot of work into making the abandoned property into a home, but was constantly chased away by the police. His interactions with the cops are great, as he continually reasserts his right to live in the squat, and refuses to acknowledge that he is committing any sort of crime by being in his home.

More successful was a squat in Emeryville. At least while it lasted. After returning one day to find the squat behind a chainlink fence, the squatters must plead for a little time to gather their belongs before the building was demolished. This segment is particularly useful for novice squatters who wonder about the dynamics of sharing a squatted space with other people, both as housemates and temporary housing for travelers.

Far more successful by far is Hilarity squat in Oakland. Hilarity has been around for years, and Shelter does a lot to clear up some of the legends about the house and its history. At the end of the Hilarity segment, the inhabitants are awaiting a court decision which could potentially have resulted in the squatters having legal ownership. The film was released in 2008, and the residence of Hilarity were concerned over the prospect of losing the property altogether. I’m glad to report that at the time of the bookfair, the squat was still going strong, with a dynamic core of people living there and utilizing the space as place to organize. I stayed there for a week, so I got a chance to observe this first-hand.

Filmmaker Hannah Dobbz was present for the screening, as well as other people either featured in the film or squatting at the moment. She did a great job with the filming and editing, and was one of the principle participants in the Power Machine squat in Emeryville. Overall, Shelter is a good representation of what lies in wait for anyone who is considering opening up a squat, or curious about how they function.

Shelter Trailer:

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