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Swing-Era Movie Being Shot in City

by Erin Breznikar
Oakland Tribune (November 22, 2002)

Lights, camera, action and more action for unnamed alley: Maybe it's time it got a name. The alley of choice for filming in downtown Oakland is a hidden, brick-lined space on Harrison Street, between 12th and 13th streets.

The romantic comedy "Swing," starring Jacqueline Bisset, Jonathan Winters and Nell Carter is the latest to inhabit the alley, in the wee hours of the night this week.

The independent film, directed by Martin Guigui and produced and written by Mary Keil, tells the story of love and swing dance, set in the 1940s and present day.

"Our location manager read the script and thought the alley would be perfect for "Swing," Keil said.

Many city residents have enlisted as extras, according to Oakland Film Office coordinator Ami Zins.

The alley seems to lend itself to moviemaking. Two previous features were shot there: "Cherish," directed by Finn Taylor, and the documentary "Ralph Ellison -- An American Journey," directed by Avon Kirkland, about the life of Ralph Ellison, author of "Invisible Man." Both films were entered in the Sundance Film Festival, Zins said.

"Cherish" starred Jason Priestley, Robin Tunney and Tim Blake Nelson.

Local businesswoman Judy Chu is the reported owner ofthe popular alley, which is enclosed by florists, medical offices and apartments. Other filmmakers, however, are clamoring to call it their own.

"It's considered a private (unnamed) alleyway, but various location managers consider it their own find," said Zins.

"Swing" also chose the historic downtown deli, Ratto's, for a weekend of filming on Nov. 16 and 17, and days before converted the alley into a swanky entrance for the film's "Jimbo's" nightclub. The former Altenheim Senior Center on MacArthur Boulevard will be taken over for the next week for filming.

The Oakland Film Office estimates $42,000 will flow into city coffers for each day of filming, whether it's a feature, documentary or a photography set.

In 2002, six features were made in the city and 89 other film projects registered through the film office.

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