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Q&A With Director of ‘Bread, Salt & The Graphite Kid’

A soap box workshop held with kids from the film

Credit: David Romero, Eddie Grace Arts & Film

Above: A soap box workshop held with kids from the film "Bread, Salt & The Graphite Kid."

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“Bread, Salt & The Graphite Kid” is a film that explores old school discipline as it meets with the youngsters of Generation Z who are competing in the All-American Soap Box Derby.

In the documentary film, youngsters are seen working with mentors to build their own gravity-powered, nonmotorized cars. Originally, the cars were built from old, wooden crates, but modern cars are built out of fiberglass or aluminum.

The kids then compete in downhill races, striving to get to the All-American Soap Box Derby World Championships in Akron, Ohio.

The documentary premieres at 8:30 p.m., Thursday on KPBS TV. Ahead of the premiere, KPBS spoke with the film’s director and producer David Romero of Eddie Grace Arts & Film.

Q: David, we’re sitting inside Cafe Moto which is a special place because this is sort of where the idea for the film came from — can you tell me that story?

A: I was out having coffee with friends and one of them was talking about this group of community guys in the Sherman Heights area and Logan Heights area who sponsor this race every year and this team right here in Barrio Logan. The organize everything … to be done at the Bread & Salt building which is right across the freeway from Chicano Park.

Q: The story takes place in Barrio Logan and follows a soap box racing chapter here. Who supports the program locally?

A: For 20 years there’s been a group of, as I said before, these gentlemen who have dedicated their lives really to helping the kids in the area participate in this sport. Around the country, this sport is largely attended by families and kids who could afford the cars. The cars themselves could cost up to $1,000 to maintain and to buy — for the wheels and everything involved in racing. Where kids presumably in the area wouldn’t have that extra cash or their families wouldn’t. San Diego is one of the only teams that support an inner-city team to get to the world championships.

Q: Does soap box racing have a big following here? In the film, one family who stumbled upon a race said they had never heard of it or seen any advertising — so how do they get the word out about this?

A: So getting the word out is really tough for these gentlemen. These gentlemen are old school and you learn that in the film. They’re used to doing things old school-wise and sometimes that means you’re not completely hip to like the new technologies and social media and how to get the word out. I realized when I started making this film, I thought this film was going to be a one year deal — it took me four years to get the full story for this. Part of that is realizing that these guys need help. They need help to get the word out, they need financial help in supporting the team. It’s the same thing that happens every year for them so for them to be doing this for 20 years representing San Diego at a world-class event is something that we need to get the word out.

Q: When you talk about that kind of old-school-style, soap box racing has been around since the 1930s. And a theme in your film is old-school discipline meets Generation Z, so what do you think kids learn from racing soap box cars and being involved in this?

A: The most important thing I think they learn is responsibility. One of the gentlemen says in the film that in his opinion we don’t give enough responsibility to the kids these days. That’s debatable however you want to look at it, but that is one of the things that they push for and one of the themes is that at the beginning of the season each kid is given a car and told, ‘This is your car for the year, you have to maintain it, you have to clean it, you have to do everything that we teach you to do with it. Fix the breaks, fix the steering.’ And these kids learn how to use tools, how to be responsible for their vehicle and ultimately that’s the vehicle that will take them to the world championships if they qualify.

Q: For yourself as a filmmaker and a native San Diegan growing up here, why were you interested in this and telling this story?

A: So I grew up in this area and anything that gives anyone an opportunity who might not otherwise have this type of opportunity I support. And that’s why I wanted to spend some time on this story. One year wasn’t good enough, we had to learn more about these gentlemen we had to learn more about the team… It doesn’t really matter what community it is. Whether it’s Barrio Logan, La Jolla, La Mesa — wherever that the kids are all the same. They’re looking to participate in something. They need mentorship no matter what they do or who they are. They need responsibility and this is one of those programs that helps the kids in this area.

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Matt Hoffman
General Assignment Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI am a general assignment reporter for KPBS. In addition to covering the latest news and issues that are relevant to the San Diego community, I like to dig deeper to find the voices and perspectives that other media often miss.

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