Apr. 30, 2021


Welcome to the 2021 PROXY [virtual] SPRING SERIES! We will be coming to your inbox every Friday through May with a selection of films we loved, articles we enjoyed, and music we’re listening to.  We have curated an amazing selection of documentaries and narrative features that we are excited to share with you as we ride out the tail end of this pandemic over the next five weeks.

This week, we’re taking inspiration from the very recent Oscar Best Picture winner,  NOMADLAND, to explore the collapsing economic and cultural forces that have created a burgeoning American culture around nomadic living in vans, trailers, busses, and trucks across the country. While we recommend watching the film – it’s available here on HULU and in theaters – our selections center the people caught up in the changing tides of industry and economy, and the ways in which their survival and adaptation depend on community support.



Directed by Benjamin Wu and David Usui, 2020

A production of PBS, INDEPENDENT LENS: AMERICAN NOMADS is a series of six short films illuminating the lives of people who have taken to living in vehicles. Some of them, like the married couple attending college in San Francisco, are fixed in place – while others are untethered and constantly moving – like the newly divorced woman trying to see every state. Each installment explores the basic facets of each individual’s circumstances, including their living setup and how they support themselves on the road. The final installment circles back to Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland, with a closer look at  an annual gathering of this nomadic community in the Arizona desert and the palpable joy of being surrounded by a like minded community


Watch for free on PBS


Directed by  Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb, 2020

JASPER MALL is an observational documentary following a year in the life of a struggling mall in Jasper, Alabama, where the disappearance of some “anchor” stores – JCPenney and K-Mart – spell doom for the remaining small business owners that populate the mall’s storefronts. The film centers the workers, small business owners, patrons, and other community members whose daily lives are being altered in the radical transformation that online retailing has wrought upon the world.  The directors invite you into the mall to experience its struggles alongside the cast, shedding light on the joys that are inherent in any community, and the beauty that can be found in a place that people make their own. This mall could be any mall in America the people within like so many other Americans.


Watch for free on VUDU


ENVELOPE Founding Partner Douglas Burnham put together a playlist to accompany this week’s selections, offering up the following note:

We’ve been through so much together over these many months: so much pain and fear and holding our breaths, but also smaller moments of joy and relief. This playlist is assembled around the idea of the nomad — of moving through space and time — a journey that keeps unfolding in front of us. We’re looking forward to the new days ahead! -dB




Jessica Bruder’s novel NOMADLAND: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century was adapted by director Chloé Zhao into the Best Picture winning film of the same name. In 2017, Bruder adapted a portion of her book for an article for WIRED specifically exploring Amazon’s practice of hiring RV-dwelling seniors as a seasonal workforce during their busy holiday season. While the film touches lightly on Amazon’s role as an employer for Frances McDormand’s character, the article paints a more in depth image of the physical and mental toll these workers experience, often walking 15 miles over 10-hour shifts propped up by free pain relievers provided by Amazon. The bottom line is an uncomfortable reality for many senior citizens who lost everything in the 2008 recession, and for whom Social Security is not nearly enough to survive.



RECode’s Jason Del Rey reported  last November on the relationship between the demise of the department store, the malls that hold them, and the middle class that they ostensibly cater to. The piece goes long, exploring in depth the bleak outlook for these brands, the local municipalities faced with failing department stores are dealing with these cavernous, abandoned buildings, and most relevantly, what their failure means for those who depended on them for regular work. Del Rey traces the connection between the shift in income growth since the last recession to top tier earners, and the  consolidation of labor market power by the top two private-sector employers in the US – Amazon and Walmart.



Lex Phelan, Associate Partner at ENVELOPE has just made a big change in her living situation. Early in the pandemic, she and her partner committed to constructing a mobile dwelling — converting a small shuttle bus into a beautiful new home. Douglas Burnham, Founding Partner of ENVELOPE interviewed Lex to learn more about their jump into nomadic living.



Last year, Amazon purchased a former Recology site bordering Mission Bay with the intention of building out a massive “last-mile” distribution center. The purchase raises a lot of really good questions around how we should be prioritizing housing vs. jobs in San Francisco, and Amazon’s history with labor calls for a constant scrutiny of its operations. Be aware of this as Amazon enters the approval and permitting process, and consider following labor leaders such as Bay Area Amazonians to stay informed on the situation.


Safe Passage Park — SPark — is a neighborhood-led campaign to create urgently needed outdoor space accessible to children, families and the wider community living in the Tenderloin. Residents, businesses, and neighborhood organizations — with the support of the Tenderloin Community Benefit District, ENVELOPE and Studio O, the office of District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney, and multiple city agencies — have joined together to transform the 200 block of Turk Street into a safe, active community space for all. Volunteers are helping to build SPark, but funds are needed for materials and ongoing stewardship. Please consider supporting the realization of SPark by making a financial contribution today.