Meet Michael "Heir" Rosario and Curtis "Vain" Smith, the most prolific and talented graffiti writers from the Mission District in San Francisco. At age ten, in a desperate search for fame and identity, the young friends began writing their names on surrounding urban landscapes. More than a decade later, the duo have evolved into a brilliant team of street artists. The two have covertly decorated the canvases of concrete and steel throughout the Bay Area. However, when Heir and Vain are arrested for painting, their secret identities are revealed and creative outlets are abruptly severed.
Faced with restitution and the prospect of serving hard time, Heir and Vain struggle to maintain their creative passion. The paths they choose threaten to unravel their lifelong friendship and, ultimately, their lives.
Statement by the Director, Benjamin Morgan:
In making Quality of Life, I set out to make this film to expose the absurdity of so-called "quality of life" laws (which lump graffiti in with drugs, prostitution and general urban blight).
The tough-on-crime political climate has become endemic in the United States. After working in the juvenile justice and mental health fields for over a decade, I became frustrated with the systemic flaws inherent in youth programs, specifically the tendency to focus on symptoms (rather than causes).
For instance, the War on Drugs does not educate nor provide employment opportunities for low-income individuals who consistently show incredible motivation to achieve the American dream. Anti-gang task forces do not address the lack of community resources and opportunities commonly found in areas where gangs are prevalent.
Likewise, painting walls blank does not eradicate the innate desire to express oneself and assert individuality, especially in a country that was founded upon rebellion and free speech. Americans spend over $15 billion annually to eradicate graffiti. Yet politicians and bureaucrats insist that we cannot afford education, prevention services, and the arts. These facts made my blood boil and, ultimately, inspired me to make Quality of Life.
However, when I sat down with my friends from the graffiti world to discuss making a film about a graffiti artist, I quickly realized that my politics needed to take a backseat to the story. They provided me with a reality check through their real stories of real people, beyond the politics.
I wanted to make a narrative film, not a documentary. So, the political reality of graffiti needed to be a back-drop, not the centerpiece. Brian Burnam, the co-writer and childhood friend of mine, convinced me to tell a story about people and human relationships.
Brian proceeded to take the story in that direction and brought it to life. Ultimately, that is the power of this film. Aside from the political questions and debates that will inevitably result, Quality of Life is a story about people trying to do the best they can with what they have. It reveals the story behind the writing on the walls.
And that is a story worth telling.
- Benjamin Morgan, November 2003
Added by quasistoic on September 28, 2005