Castro Local's New Film Spotlights Struggles Of Mission Circus Troupe

Like many in the San Francisco arts community, Castro-based filmmaker Abhi Singh has developed an acute awareness of the effect the city's skyrocketing rents have had on its arts and culture.

So he decided to spotlight how one group is being affected: the Vau de Vire Society, a circus/dance performance troupe that was facing the loss of its longtime home in the Mission. 

The result was a short film, Will SF's Sexy Circus Be Priced Out of Town?, which will screen tomorrow night at Japantown's New People Cinema, as part of the South Asian Film Festival. It will appear alongside several other shorts in a "Coast to Coast: Mumbai to the Mission" event. 

The film shows how Vau de Vire weathered the loss of the warehouse where it creates its work, after it was bought by a developer who plans to raze the entire block in order to build apartments.

Singh first learned about the troupe's struggles while working on KQED's arts desk. "This was one of many stories about arts groups having to leave the city or being worried about being able to stay," he said. "It's pretty depressing."

The problem, Singh points out, has gotten much worse than many people realize. "70 percent of our arts organizations have lost their spaces, according to a study done by the Arts Commission," he said. "A lot of what makes the city what it is are the arts organizations and the artists who live here."

The Vau de Vire Society in action. | Photo: Facebook

Singh came to San Francisco from his native India in 2001. "I came here for a job, and my brother was also here at the time," he said. "I've had a lifelong interest in film and the arts, and it's work I'm so glad to be doing."

He's grateful for the South Asian Film Festival, which he feels is an important venue for filmmakers such as himself. "The festival shows works about or by South Asian filmmakers," he said. "It's a great place to see films you won't normally get to see. I showed my first film there—I always find it very welcoming. The audience is always quite engaged."

A Vau de Vire performance at the Armory in the Mission. | Photo: Facebook

Although he makes his home in the Castro, Singh said his work brings him in contact primarily with people in the Mission, citing this year's Carnivale parade as an example of the changes there. "People in the parade can't afford to live in the Mission," he said. "Some of them talked about who's watching the parade—they said they don't see their own community anymore." 

He's worried about evictions in the Castro as well, though he still enjoys the neighborhood. "For me, it's about the people," he said. "It's welcoming towards diversity of thought and culture. People can express how they feel."

It's that diverse culture, Singh says, that can come together to address the affordability crisis. "Get City Hall to pay attention," he suggests. "There's a need for them to listen to what's happening. There's a need for affordable housing, to deal with issues around homelessness and to embrace our diversity and our arts organizations."

Vau de Vire's new circus tent in Alameda. | Photo: Facebook

As for the Vau de Vire Society, it's safe for now—though it ultimately lost its Mission space, the troupe found a new home in the East Bay. 

"They have been able to bounce back, and now perform in Alameda," he said. "They perform now in a huge circus tent! They have definitely shown a lot of resilience, considering the difficulties they faced in San Francisco."

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Castro local s new film spotlights struggles of mission circus troupe