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Nowsreal

Film by SF Diggers / Free City Collective, Spring 1968

(Spring Equinox to Summer Solstice)

Contents of this section

Introduction

The Digger Free Family left behind a plethora of historical evidence—street sheets, articles, posters, oral histories, memoirs, but scant photographic evidence. Chuck Gould's photographs help fill that gap. And so does Nowsreal, the film that Peter Berg and Kelly Hart created (along with the active participation of the rest of the Diggers/Free City Collective) in the spring of 1968. Judy Goldhaft explained to me once that Peter envisioned Nowsreal as a visual tribal history in the way that Plains Indians would sometimes paint their tipis with symbols that contained an intimate narrative of significant events. In the film we see the final cycle of Digger events in San Francisco before dispersal, starting with the month-long daily "Noon Forever" events on City Hall Steps. At one of these, Freeman House announces "A Modest Proposal" that lays out the vision of Free City including refurbishment of empty city-owned buildings for free housing, distribution of surplus food and materials through a network of ten neighborhood free stores, setting up presses and trucks for free news distribution throughout the city, providing resources for neighborhood celebrations, and the opening of the parks for free life acts "all permit authority to be rescinded." On that particular day (May 8 1968), Ron Thelin was busted by the SF Police for wearing a mask in public, and Ama was busted for wearing a shirt in the design of an American flag. The film depicts the arrests among numerous other happenings in that spring of 1968 leading up to the flashback (literally) depicting the Summer Solstice celebrations.

Nowsreal, 1968

San Francisco: Free City Collective, run time: 40 min.

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The Genesis of NOWSREAL, a film about the San Francisco Diggers

by Kelly Hart (hartworks.com)

[Ed. note: it is with deep appreciation that we publish Kelly Hart's account of the making of Nowsreal in September 2018, exactly fifty years after the events he describes here. For so long, the genesis of Nowsreal was a mystery just as much of the Digger mythos remains mysterious. Now, Kelly has pulled back that curtain to show us what the film makers were thinking when they created this unique and important historical document.]

One peaceful evening when I was living in a small cabin nestled at the base of some giant redwoods near Monte Rio, along the Russian River in Sonoma County, California, I heard a deep rumbling sound approaching up the driveway. I looked out to see what was causing the commotion, and soon encountered a leather jacketed man riding a Harley Davidson motorcycle. It turned out to be Billy Fritch, also known as Sweet William, and he was on a mission from the San Francisco Diggers. He had been sent to enlist my help in making a movie about the Digger movement. Evidently, they had already started with the project, but the cameraman suddenly abandoned them and they were desperate to find a replacement.

I was a budding young filmmaker at the time, in my early twenties, and trying to establish myself. Up until that time I had completed very few projects and was thirsty to get some real experience under my belt. I told Billy that I would think about it and get back to them. He was satisfied with that and rumbled on down the dark driveway, leaving me to ponder the situation.

The San Francisco Diggers were not your ordinary organization; in fact there was very little about them that was organized. They were more like a collective of radical individuals who wanted to stir up society and make some drastic changes with how people thought about life and how it was conducted. This was at the height of the psychedelic revolution in the late 1960’s and everything was on the table, as far as the Diggers were concerned.

I decided to go for it, and contacted Peter Berg, one of the central characters involved with the film concept. I met with him in San Francisco and he explained that so far they only had a few minutes of 16mm film shot, but had ideas for much more than that. They didn’t really have a script to work from; what they had were a stack of index cards with scenes written on them, representing the primary activities or situations that were emblematic of what the Diggers were about. These cards were generated in brainstorming sessions involving some of the luminaries of the Digger movement: along with Peter Berg and Billy Fritch, was Emmett Grogan, Peter Coyote, Judy Goldhaft, Ron Thelin, and Lenore Kandel. Many of these folks had been part of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, and were predisposed to acts of street theater as a mode for engaging the public in thought-provoking stunts.

The concept for the film was that it would be a sort of patch-work montage that would of its own force describe what the Diggers were about. There was to be no narration, or “internal monologue,” as Peter Berg described it. It was to be a kind of stream-of-consciousness film that audiences could experience directly, without having to be told how to perceive it. This approach appealed to my own emerging ideas of how films could be made, so I embraced the challenge.

I offered to make myself available during the summer of 1968 to run with the Diggers and document their activities. Whenever something was happening that folks thought should be part of the film, they would contact me and I would arrive with my 16mm camera. This was a simple little Bolex with no sound syncing capability, so what I captured was just visual. Often Peter Berg would carry an audio tape recorder and capture sounds that might be useful.

As was central to the Digger philosophy, NOWSREAL was to be available only for free, and in fact there was basically no budget for the film. We relied on donations of “end rolls,” the bits of film left over after professional film crews approached the end of their rolls of raw film. I would load these onto small reels that fit in my Bolex and expose them for later development. Somehow we managed to get by on the largesse of others interested in seeing the success of our enterprise. One such person was Haskell Wexler, the Hollywood cinematographer, producer and director, who I later learned was one of the early cameramen involved in the NOWSREAL project.

By the time that summer had past and we had captured a good representation of Digger activity, many of the principal actors had dispersed, including Emmett Grogan and Peter Coyote, leaving Peter Berg and myself to carry on with finishing the process of making the film. This is probably just as well, since it takes real concentration and focused effort to edit a film, and is better done with just a few minds involved. I had rudimentary 16mm editing equipment set up in my Monte Rio Cabin, so that is where Peter and I would get together and play with and assemble the patch-work that was to become NOWSREAL.

Peter brought with him the bag of audio tape he had acquired so we could use that to fit audio with visual components. There was little opportunity to try to match these to the extent of creating true lip synced scenes, but we did attempt this on a few occasions. I remember having to retard the rate of audio some to get it to match the film.

I feel that the creation of NOWSREAL was one of my most successful creative collaborations in my limited film career. Peter and I worked well together, with neither of us dominating the flow of the editing choices. One of us would suggest trying something, and we would see whether it worked or not. As the film evolved it seemed to have a mind of its own, and grew almost organically. I suppose that you could say that Peter assumed more the role of director and I was more of the editor, in that Peter was really one of the Diggers, and I was more of an outsider looking into their world, so Peter had more at stake in the result.

In keeping with our frugal approach to filmmaking, I had made a device for doing some basic processing of raw film (I had many years of experience as a still photographer developing my own negatives.) I had even made a simple 16mm film printer using parts from an old movie projector, and I used this to create some of the black and white scenes of people dancing with an odd “solarized” look.

By the time that we were approaching the end of the project, I had moved to a rented house in Emeryville, closer to San Francisco, making it somewhat easier with the logistics of editing. What we had at that point was an edited workprint and still needed to assemble the original reversal film in an A/B roll configuration, complete with a separate 16mm audio track, in preparation for striking prints that could be projected as usual. All of this takes money, which was in short supply. Haskell Wexler, our savior, came to the rescue and offered to take over the printing of the film through his professional lab account in Los Angeles. Peter and I flew to LA at one point to meet with Haskell and make all of the arrangements. To this day the original A/B rolls are still in a vault somewhere in Los Angeles.

Now that we had a few prints of the film that could be shown, we looked for appropriate venues for doing this. The fact that the film was specifically made to only be shown for free, actually hampered this effort, because few conventional movie theaters were interesting in showing films for free. As a consequence, NOWSREAL was projected at night on the walls of buildings in San Francisco, at parties or gatherings or in the odd coffee house or bar. I organized showings at places like libraries or film festivals, but overall, NOWSREAL has gotten very little exposure.

Over the years, some scenes have been excerpted for inclusion in other historical documentary films, so NOWSREAL has gained a certain archival value. Currently it is available for viewing on the Diggers archival website: www.diggers.org/nowsreal.htm.

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Rosana & Kelly Hart

A Filmic Odyssey with Nowsreal 

The first time I saw Nowsreal was at one of the collating parties that Peter and Judy Berg held in their home in San Francisco's outer Noe Valley neighborhood after they had started Planet Drum. This was when Planet Drum was a periodic bundle of printed communiqués sent in from far-flung correspondents to the central burgeoning bioregional network that the Bergs would compile and send back out in odd-sized envelopes always with the iconic Sami shaman figure printed on the outside of the bundle. Later, Planet Drum would become a Foundation and Office with an agenda of projects that (to this day) informs the bioregional movement—itself partly an offshoot of the Digger movement that first coalesced around the daily Free Feeds in the Panhandle—that 10-block long green strip that played a similar role that public commons have traditionally provided in the formation of underground and alternative cultures throughout history.

Over the years, numerous opportunities arose for the showing of the "digger film". When Samurai Bob got back to San Francisco in 1976 with Jane Quattlander, they would borrow Peter and Judy's copy (the only one in existence) and show it on Haight Street at the Red Victorian, that little cinema where the only seating was a series of deep cushion couches, more like an intimate bedroom than a movie house. Or they would take it to one of the anti-nuclear events to raise awareness of the dangers of Diablo Canyon or Vallecitos or any of the other nuclear facilities in California, including Livermore Labs where the latest nuclear weapons were developed. Somehow, the showing of Nowsreal was a catharsis from the frightening idea of nuclear annihilation.

Inevitably at these events, the increasingly brittle film would break in the middle of the showing. Bob would carefully splice the two ends (cutting off a small piece on either side) and tape the whole back together. Slowly over many showings, cherished scenes from Nowsreal were disappearing from historical view. In 1978, after coming into a small windfall of cash, I called Peter and suggested that I would like to fund the printing of a brand new copy of Nowsreal if such a thing were possible. For some years, Peter had called me "digger archivist" so he approved the idea wholeheartedly. I made arrangements with the Hollywood producer who kept the original positive print in his vault to have a 16-mm copy made.

Within a few months, the call came to bring this new copy of Nowsreal out of the darkness and into the light. Country Joe McDonald was planning a film festival on the Cal campus in Berkeley. He had contacted Peter Berg who contacted me to see if I would take the new (complete) 16-mm print to have it shown at Wheeler Auditorium. I'll never forget the event which was one of those moments that the Universe throws each of our ways to keep changing perspectives. The audience was a young Berkeley crowd and all that implies in terms of diverse and vocal frames of reference. This was 1979, barely more than a decade since the events that Nowsreal depicted. Up to this time, all the Nowsreal showings I'd attended had been mostly counterculture crowds. I knew I wasn’t on Haight Street any longer when a slow hissing started in the audience during the scene at the Straight Theater where the camera focuses at certain points on the women dressing and undressing for their exercise class. The biggest reaction was during the scene at a remote garbage dump when some of the men on their motorcycles go for gun practice and chop talk. A sizeable chunk of the Berkeley crowd got up and left the theater at this point. That was the last time I brought the print out to show.

Fortunately the invention of VHS and the introduction of the first commercial VCR by the Japanese corporation JVC in 1976 would solve the problem of scarcity of an archival resource. In the early 1980s Peter Berg introduced me to Kelly Hart, the filmmaker who had done the camera work and editing of Nowsreal. Kelly had gotten a call from a British film group working on a film retrospective of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. The film would be released on June 1, 1987, two decades after the original release of the Beatles album. The title of the film, “It Was Twenty Years Ago Today,” referred to one of the lines from the album’s title cut, as well as the planned release of the film. The British producers wanted to look at Nowsreal to see if there was footage they could use (it turned out there wasn’t.) Since I had this virgin (nearly) copy of Nowsreal, it was arranged that I would take it to Diner Studios in San Francisco where the producers would pay to have VHS master copies made, one for Kelly, one for them, and one for the Digger archive. It’s that VHS master copy from which myriad number of copies were made. At one point, as part of the ongoing effort of the Digger Archive to re-release Digger texts, we made several dozen copies of the VHS tape (with specially designed cover graphic) and distributed them by hand at solstice and equinox celebrations. Samurai Bob would have been proud of the effort his enthusiasm had spawned.

Then came the Internet. In 1991, I saw a demonstration of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of HTML, at a professional conference I was attending. When I got home, the first thing I did was to start working on a web page for the Digger Archives. At that point there were maybe a hundred web sites in the world. The idea behind the online archive was to provide access to rare materials to inform and inspire a generation who had never known the Diggers. That’s still its main purpose. Finally after many false starts trying to get Nowsreal converted into web format, it’s done. The quality is not as good as it could be (in my perfectionist's estimation.) This is after all a fourth generation copy of the original. Perhaps someday I'll figure out a better way.

—epn 2014-08-13

Text of the Free City proclamation depicted in Nowsreal on the steps of San Francisco City Hall, Apr 25 1968.


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Gallery of Images from Nowsreal

Click on thumbnail to view full-size image.
 

 

 

Arthur Lisch 

Peter Berg 

Peter Berg 

Hilda Hoffman

Ron Thelin 

Ron Thelin 

Bill Fritsch 

Judy Berg (Goldhaft) 

Bill Fritsch 

SF Chronicle headline 

Holy Hubert & Hilda

Hilda Hoffman

 

Holy Hubert Lindsey & Peter Berg 

Peter Berg 

Berg & Holy Hubert 

Berg & Holy Hubert 

 

Peter Coyote 

Kent Minault 

Sam (Eileen) Ewing 

Kent Minault 

 

Ron Thelin getting a shampoo 

"Pigeon Lady"

Ron Thelin 

Flo Lazar

Lapiner Dance Class at Straight Theater 

Judy Berg (Goldhaft) in pink leotard

Jane Lapiner 

Mary Overlie

Lynn Brown

Sara Lisa & ??

Aaron and Judy Berg 

Lynn Brown & Vince Cresciman

Judy and Peter Berg 

Lynn Brown, Honey (dog), David Simpson

Jeanne Milligan (l) & ??

 

Israel

Israel

 

 

Thomas "Ama" Baker & Pigeon Lady

Don Cochran, Monty (Mark), Chuck Gould 

Don Cochran

Arthur Lisch, Don Cochran

Ron Thelin wearing the mask 

Thomas "Ama" Baker (shirt) & Berg 

Thomas "Ama" Baker (shirt) & Berg

Thomas "Ama" Baker (shirt) & Berg

SF Chron (8 May 1968): Freeman, Paula S

Ama & Terence "Kayo" Hallinan

Terence Hallinan (future SF D.A.) 

Officer Gerrans (?)

 

Redwood Kardon (with Digger Papers in hand) 

Hells Angels biker in long shot

Scenes from Free City Convention 

Free City Convention

Stanley Mouse painting mural

Soldier in uniform

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gypsy

Monty

Jeanne Rose (burning $5 bill)

(same)

Kathy Nolan (left rear) & Jeanne Rose

Jeanne Rose

Jeanne Rose (l)

Ama

Peter Coyote (r)



 

 

 

 

Ama

 

 

Bill Lindyn 

Peter Coyote (last FCC shot)

Lenore and Bill's apartment

Same

Same

"Vote For Me" poster by Fritsch

Bill Fritsch self-portrait Polaroid

Ron Thelin 

Peter Roy

 

 

 

Ivory

Paula McCoy

Paula McCoy

Kent Minault 

Paula & Freeman House (talking w suit) 

Peter Berg with (Ivory, Jane, Paula)

Richard Brautigan 

Jane Lapiner offering bouquet (Ivory?) 

Judy Berg (Goldhaft) accepting 

Phyllis Wilner 

Phyllis Wilner 

Rose-Lee Patron

Phyllis' tie-dye creation

Bill Fritsch 

Bill Fritsch 

Peter Berg 

Michael McClure 

Michael McClure showing off artwork

Michael McClure 

Michael McClure 

Bill Fritsch 

Freewheelin' Frank's apartment

 Freewheelin' Frank's apartment

Grateful Dead poster (Frank's apt)

Freewheelin' Frank Reynolds

Frank's Hells Angels jacket

 

 

 

Bill Fritsch 

Lenore Kandel (in her & Bill's apt)

Bill Fritsch in his & Lenore's apt

Kelly Hart was on back of the bike (Bill F tossing coins)

Phyllis Wilner (at Willard St)

Delivering Free Food to Willard St. (Eleyigth Smith)

 

 

Richard Brautigan 

Free Food Delivery Service

Cassandra

Free Banker down Haight St.

 

Inside Black People's Free Store

Roy Ballard 

 

Roy Ballard's brother

Roy Ballard 

Black People's Free Store mural

Peter Coyote interviewing (who) ?at SF State College protest 

Free City News sheet

Designed by David Simpson

Bill Fritsch piercing FW Frank's girlfriend 

 

Haight Street scene

 

Straight Theater marquee 

Summer Solstice '68 poster 

 

Handing out Cochran's Solstice poster

 

 

 

Richard Brautigan

Brautigan planting garden at Willard

Sunrise on Summer Solstice 

Photo sequences on Summer Solstice

 

Malcolm Terence 

 Bobby Swafford, Ivory (l)

Edna Watson

Gypsy and her baby

Gypsy and her baby

Malcolm Terence

 

Arthur Lisch 

Flatbed truck with belly dancers

 

Flatbed truck on Montgomery St

same

same

Hilda Hoffman

Montgomery Street oglers 

Flatbed truck at Panhandle

Ogling businessmen

 

Arthur Lisch jumping the net

Arthur Lisch

Emmett Grogan at Dolores Park

Emmett Grogan at Dolores Park

 

Summer Solstice in the Panhandle 

At Dolores Park

At Dolores Park

Paula McCoy

Grogan and hashish candy offering 

Ivory and Freeman House 

Bobbie Swafford at Dolores Park

 

 

Cleveland Wrecking Co. at Dolores

 

Siena Riffia 

Judy dancing at Panhandle

Vietnam Vet w/ knife crawling

Sunset (intercut with Judy dancing)

 

Judy Berg dancing at Panhandle
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The Digger Archives is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Cite As: The Digger Archives (www.diggers.org) / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 / All other uses must receive permission. Contact: curator at diggers dot org.