Features & Columns

CreaTV Awards Go Back to The Jungle

Opulent setting for CreaTiVe Awards sets ironic stage for one winner.
BUGGIN' OUT: Documentary 'Exodus from the Jungle,' produced by Silicon Valley De-Bug, details the clearing of San Jose's largest homeless encampment. Photo courtesy of Exodus from the Jungle

The folks at CreaTV are doing something a tad bit different for this year's CreaTiVe Awards. The ceremony usually unfolds at the California Theatre, but for 2016 the annual gala will erupt at Club Auto Sport. Each year, CreaTV's signature awards event, now called the Creatives, doles out accolades to individuals, community access programs, filmmakers, student projects and more.

Member-based, CreaTV is a nonprofit community access TV outlet, media center and public educational nexus that manages the public TV and Internet channels for the city of San Jose. They've collaborated with numerous organizations and institutions across the whole town. They've supplied multimedia equipment to schools and spearheaded programs. They're all over the place.

This year's event promises to be unique in several ways, as Silicon Valley De-Bug, the nationally recognized, San Jose-based media portal and community-organizing cadre of characters, will receive this year's Leigh Weimers Community Media Champion Award. SV De-Bug are constantly at the forefront of social justice issues in this neck of the woods. Since their 2001 inception, De-Bug have produced numerous award-winning projects highlighting ignored voices, especially those of youth, immigrants and other marginalized communities. Their projects stir the pot and shake up the landscape. You can call them artists, storytellers or even journalists, more than deserving of the award.

One of De-Bug's recent efforts is also among the finalists for the Creative Special Award. The film, Exodus from the Jungle, produced by De-Bug's Andrew Bigelow and Daniel Zapien, documents the closing of what was one of the country's largest homeless encampments, right here in good ol' San Jose. A very unhappy film, Exodus from the Jungle provides an eye-opening look at the failed policies of America's 10th largest city.

Only one official public screening took place, last October, but several homeless people depicted in the film have their own copies. Those people have now given the film to churches and other community centers, which in turn have now jumped in to assist the homeless in ways they weren't doing before. The film affected people in ways no one expected.

"I see how the documentary has shaken things up," Bigelow says. "I think what the documentary does really well is that it challenges people's' hearts and minds. It engages them to have empathy. And to personalize this experience, in how it relates to themselves."

Even if Exodus from the Jungle doesn't win the category in which it's nominated, Bigelow says the film has already opened up more dialogue about poverty in the self-proclaimed "capital" of Silicon Valley, especially at a time when San Jose is receiving international press for destroying the Jungle. The entire affair has not been a good look for the city's image.

"I think it's so interesting for people that don't live here, that such extreme poverty and extreme wealth can live next door to each other," Bigelow says. "I think people that live outside the area, or outside the U.S., are probably thinking, 'How can that happen?'"

Maybe that's why the film is being nominated. It asks questions and challenges assumptions. There was no "big data"-assisted research or landmark technology involved. Storytellers took handheld cameras into the encampment right as it was being demolished and captured the moment.

"If you want to learn about poverty, you don't ask CEOs," Bigelow says. "You don't ask people that are crunching numbers. You ask the people who are living it."

All of which should be hysterical to witness at an opulent bastion of Silicon Valley wealth and real estate panache, Club Auto Sport. The incongruity here is beyond ridiculous: One of the worst homeless camps in the country gets destroyed and cleaned out, thereby distributing the homeless across the rest of the city; young filmmakers produce a heartbreaking film that confronts the issue head-on; and then they receive a Media Champion Award at a diamond-soaked palace of uninhibited excess where C-level executives discuss their Maserati collections.

"The irony is heavy," Bigelow says. Apparently, CreaTV agrees.