Reviewing the SF Film Fest: “Empress Hotel”

The San Francisco International Film Festival is running now until May 7. "Empress Hotel" is one of the movies featured.

Anyone in San Francisco can’t get by without every now and then experiencing one of the following: the aroma of piss-filled sidewalks, crackheads and other addicts flailing about, panhandlers brazenly stationed in the middle of oncoming traffic, or my favorite cart dude in the Mission that yells randomness in Spanish – sometimes he says what up.

But homelessness and addiction goes deeper than many of us see.  Many previously held very “normal” lives, just like the rest of us.  The Empress Hotel is one permanent residence of many part of a San Francisco Department of Public Health program.  The program provides residents stability, shelter, community, and the opportunity to recover and transition to independent and healthy living.

This film shares the narrative of about 10 residents of 90 at the Empress Hotel.  The breadth of the stories along with what these individuals have sustained is mind-blowing.  According to one woman’s account, many homeless panhandle simply for some sort of human connection – a sobering view of our neighbors whom we often forget.

While unapologetically honest, the film is surprisingly entertaining many colorful and endearing personalities.  Even some inside Bay Area information: if you ever go sliding on the South San Francisco letters in the industrial city, the letter “F” is the best – it has a hump.

Seher Sikandar is a Bay Area-based  artist, photographer and writer who covers art and lifestyle events. Check out her portfolio at

Contact Us