Calif., May 5 — In the old days of the New Economy — say, one long
year ago — the only story in Silicon Valley was about all that
The legends of the high-tech boom were paper millionaires yet to
reach their 30's, start-up companies financed by more venture
capital than they knew what to do with (open-bar parties were common
in those days) and houses for sale with 30 bidders offering six
figures over the asking price.
But Deborah Kaufman and Alan Snitow, filmmakers from Berkeley,
were determined to document the other side of that life. They knew
people who rode buses all night because they could not afford
housing, and who scraped by working in plants for some of the
wealthiest corporations in the world.
Ms. Kaufman and Mr. Snitow, who had produced one documentary,
"Blacks and Jews," delved into the unglamorous side of the Valley,
the people struggling to get by.
Their timing was impeccable. With laid-off dot-comers
re-evaluating their short stints as masters of the world, forming
support groups and going back to school to be teachers, a
documentary about the dark side of the valley has struck a
"Secrets of Silicon Valley," shot on videotape for $300,000, is a
The film, which focuses on a young temporary worker at a San Jose
plant that assembles and packages Hewlett-Packard printers and on the director of a nonprofit
computer training center in East Palo Alto, the poorest town in the
richest region in the country, played to sold-out audiences in its
limited release in three independent theaters in the Bay Area.
And to the surprise of the filmmakers, who conceived of "Secrets"
with schools and perhaps public television in mind, the film on
Friday began a run at a commercial triplex, the Towne Theater here
in San Jose, the unofficial capital of Silicon Valley.
Ron Regalia, the advertising director for the Towne, said the
60-minute film sold out the three days it played in the theater last
month, and interest was so high that people kept calling and sending
e-mail to ask whether it would play again.
Ms. Kaufman, the founding director of the San Francisco Jewish
Film Festival, and Mr. Snitow, a former news producer for the Bay
Area Fox station, are delighted. The talk about the film, which
appears to appeal to dot-comers as well as to those who were left
out of the boom, is catching the attention of distributors in New
York, the Midwest and New England.
"We really wanted the film to get people thinking and talking
about the downside of the New Economy," Ms. Kaufman said, "so it's
great that the film has the chance to reach the broadest audience
The film chronicles a year in the life of Magda Escobar, the
director of Plugged In, a community organization designed to
acquaint unskilled poor people, mostly local members of minorities,
with the digital world, and Raj Jayadev, an activist who takes a job
packaging Hewlett-Packard printers as a temporary worker with
Manpower Services Inc.
Ms. Escobar's story begins with Plugged In winning the Sandhill
Challenge, a soapbox derby for charity that Silicon Valley venture
capitalists take as seriously as the World Series. The film follows
the eviction of Plugged In from its building to make way for a
shopping mall, and a visit from President Bill Clinton and Jesse
Jackson last year.
Mr. Jayadev's story, which uses stock footage of the plant
because Hewlett-Packard would not allow the filmmakers inside, shows
his efforts to organize workers to call attention to ergonomic
hazards and concerns that paychecks may have been shortchanged.
Ms. Escobar, who is still trying to raise money for a new
headquarters for Plugged In — Hewlett-Packard is one of its sponsors
— sounded relieved about the film. "When people are making
documentaries, you're not exactly sure what the perspective might
be," she said. "It was kind of cool to see it."
Mr. Jayadev, who runs a collective called De-bug to organize
temporary workers, was equally pleased.
"I'm happy that the film is getting looked at by a lot of
people," he said, "because I think it's important to show all
aspects of the New Economy."
Outside the Towne Theater on Friday night, people waiting to see
the film said much the same thing. "The media never focused on the
other side of the equation," said Bill Ferguson, who works at a job
Those who have seen the film have said the protagonists have star
potential. "I loved his line about how we should think about how
machines just don't materialize — how they come from human hands,"
said Sheila MacMurray, a part-time liberal arts student at San Jose
State University, referring to Mr. Jayadev. "He seems like a real
leader for the post-New Economy."