Henri Quenette discovered the Tenderloin on April 2, 2013. It was his second day in San Francisco. The French-American filmmaker had come to the city after working on a film in Canada. He wanted to make a documentary, though he didn't know when he arrived on April 1 what that would be. On a bike ride to Chinatown, his chain broke in the heart of the Tenderloin. There, he saw the poverty, the drugs, the crime — and the stark contrast the Tenderloin presented against the rest of the city lured him in. He'd found his story.
The resulting doc, Love Me Tenderloin, is a day in the life of four Tenderloin residents: Joseph "Indian Joe" Plamondon, Deforest "Woody" Woods, Bridchette Johnson, and Arnold Reid. "At first the idea was to make a documentary on the Tenderloin, but that subject was too large," Quenette says. "When I started filming Joe and Bridchette, I realized what I wanted to do. I was more interested in the people living there, so I focused on their stories."
Plamondon, an Alice Cooper fan and ex-drug addict, lived on the S.F. streets for about 30 years. He tells stories of close calls, getting shot at and stabbed (he's now off the streets). Woods, a homeless man who prefers to sleep on the streets than stay in shelters, works for a needle exchange. He dreams of one day having an apartment. Johnson is an ex-drug addict on probation. She tells stories of her glory days on Turk and Taylor and why she could never go back to that life. Reid studies law at Heald College. He says he has about 30 years left in him, and he hopes to spend the remainder of those years giving back, helping people get on their feet.
The documentary doesn't hold back; it shows the drug addiction, it shows the illness, it gives a glimpse of violence. "I hope this gives a better and more appropriate image of what the Tenderloin is," Quenette says. "I think it can make people more sensitive to the question of homelessness. I want to open people's eyes."
Quenette spent nearly every day in the Tenderloin for about eight months to make the documentary, and crowdfunded it through Indiegogo. It reads like a love letter to the people and the neighborhood.
"If you just read the newspaper or if you just watch the news on TV, you would think the Tenderloin is the worst place," Quenette says. "I was really attached. I was moved by the people that I met."
Love Me Tenderloin screens Tuesday, March 25, at 5:45 p.m. in the Main Library's Koret Auditorium, 100 Larkin St., S.F. Free. Call 557-4277 or visit sfpl.org.