(director/writer: David Schickele; cinematographer: David Meyers; editors: Jennifer Chinlund, David Schickele; music: David Ames; cast: Paul Eyam Nzie Okpokam (Gabriel), Elaine Featherstone (Alma), Timothy Near (Susie), Lothario Lotho (Alma’s Brother), Jack Nance (Felix), Ann Scofield (white girl), Mike Slye (motorcyclist), James Earl Garrison (Friend), Shezwae Powell (Black Waitress), David Schickele (Mark), Donna Michelson (Diane), Patrick Gleeson (Marty), David Major (Black Friend), Curtis Branch (Self), John Dotson (Self); Runtime: 73; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: David Schickele; Kino Lorber; 1971)

“It captures a vanishing San Francisco scene from its “love power” days.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The film was restored in 2023 by the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive and The Film Foundation after playing at film festivals in 1971 and 1972 and then becoming unavailable, as it never was commercially released until after the restoration. It’s directed and written by a white man, David Schickele (1937-1999), who was born in Iowa and raised in Fargo, and died in San Francisco at age 62. He’s a musician (violinist) and a teacher at the University of California, who joined the Peace Corps in 1961 and was stationed in Nigeria. Though he acted in several films, he never directed another film after Bushman. 

The film is set in San Francisco in 1968.

Its protagonist is a non-professional actor named Paul Eyam Nzie Okpokam), a Nigerian refugee, with uncertainty about his legal status because of an expired visa. He plays Gabriel, a fictionalized version of himself, a charmer and a scholar, friendly with both whites and blacks, but with and underlining anger over racism. Okpokam ran away from his country’s civil war (it was in its second year, with no outcome in sight) to come to America during its  counterculture revolutionary days, with unrest on its college campuses over the Vietnam War and Civil Rights protests. It was during the time of the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy.

Gabriel settled down in San Francisco, the mecca for free love and drugs, and landed a teaching job at San Francisco State College.

As for Gabriel’s story, he’s highly skilled and fluent in English, but fails to get a job. He’s a Bushman (a country dweller), who makes many contacts in the Black and hippie communities that range from girlfriends to men friends to activists. One of his girlfriends was Alma (Elaine Featherstone), who fled the riot in Watts to SF but plans to return and help rebuild her community.

The social conscience film raises questions regarding America’s racial, cultural, social and political matters. It offers a wobbly dramatization that blurs the lines between drama and a fabricated reality.

It points out the notorious incident in nearby Oakland, whereby the Black Panthers confronted the police and the police responded by executing a 17-year-old Panther. 

We get to see the infamous Fillmore neighborhood when it was a low-income Black area before it was over-run with hippies and became gentrified. For fans of nostalgia, it captures a vanishing San Francisco scene from its “love power” days.

After an hour into the film, it hits us with a big twist (which I won’t reveal with a spoiler), as the screen goes dark and it stops filming because the police get involved with Okpokam in his real life. It will be three years later before Schickele can finish the film.

The indie reminds one of the way John Cassavetes’ free-flowing “Shadows” (1960) was filmed.