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Junipero Serra’s Royal Road

Jenni Olson’s new documentary “The Royal Road” has a timely screening thanks to Pope Francis’ visit. The pontiff has made 18th century missionary Father Junipero Serra a saint. The popular mythology has it that Junipero Serra founded California through establishing his mission system, and acted as benevolent protector of California’s Native Americans. As Olson discusses in her film, any benevolence from Junipero Serra’s actions is outweighed by the forced assimilation and brutal labor camps that were the real legacy of the new saint’s missions.

Debunking the rosy popular picture of Junipero Serra is just one of the subjects covered in “The Royal Road.” this local filmmaker’s documentary, which screens only on September 24 at the Roxie Theater (3117-16th Street, San Francisco), covers subjects besides historical and romantic. Throughout Olson’s relatively short feature film, the director presents a pictorial love letter to San Francisco’s urban landscapes, discusses loving the city of San Francisco in the context of the Alfred Hitchcock classic “Vertigo.” and even offers anecdotes about her desire for unattainable woman.

The title of the film comes from the name given to the 600-mile path Junipero Serra followed in creating the mission system. Bells strategically set up along the roadside mark the general contours of this road. However, the 600-mile magnificence of the road itself is no more. Modern highways have chopped that great road into slivers of its former magnificence. But those slivers, located from Sonoma to San Diego, still thrive as community streets bearing the Royal Road’s more common Spanish name “El Camino Real.”

About the Author

I’m a film reviewer for the Beyond Chron blog. Agnes Varda and Hirokazu Kore-eda are among my favorite filmmakers. I occasionally break down and watch a good action film…but don’t tell anyone.

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