CInema Toast Film Column

By Gil Mansergh

“Opening night, Thursday, March 21st, the Sebastopol Center for the Arts (SCA) Sixth Annual Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival kicks off with Patrick Shen’s La Source,” Festival Director Jason Perdue tells us. “It’s an incredible film that really shows how just one man [in this case a Haitian janitor at Princeton University], can really make a difference in the world.”

“This is kind of a big thing for us,” Jason candidly admits, “to have a Thursday-night opening in a big facility in our own screening space [at the SCA’s new location in the Sebastopol Veterans Building]. Then it’s followed by an on-site, opening night Gala with great food and drink from local providers, the presentations for this year’s Jury Award, Programmer’s Award and Critic’s Awards, and the opportunity to mingle with filmmakers from as far away as Tel Aviv and as close as the Laguna de Santa Rosa. It’s very cool.”

Malia Bruker is travelling from Philadelphia with her short film called Chase (as in Chase Bank, not running after someone). It’s the entertaining story of love letters and junk mail. Malia explains, “I didn’t have a treatment or a script…which accounts for some of the quirky nature. I really just knew that I wanted to use the letters [from Chase] in some way, and I really just let myself explore how to work with them as they came along and write voice-over with each one. So I really didn’t know how it was going to end until I shot that last bit. It was a different way of working, but for me I found it really freeing and enjoyable.” You can catch Chase (and meet Malia), Friday night or Saturday afternoon.

“Friday night,” Jason continues, “in addition to the other downtown venues, we are doing a first-time screening at the Laguna Foundation’s recently finished Heron Hall. We screen a great film called The Lost Bird Project, and go along with sculptor Todd McGrain as he installs nine-foot statues of extinct birds across North America in spots where they were reportedly last seen. Then, on Saturday morning, the Foundation and LandPaths are doing a bird walk through the Laguna.”

Screenwriter Juliet Snowden is widely known for her work on films like Knowing with Nicolas Cage and The Possession with Kyra Sedgewick, but her Hollywood Hair documentary odyssey took two decades.  “I moved to Los Angeles 20 years ago,” Juliet tells us, “and I didn’t know anybody and I was broke and I found this ad for $3 haircuts…I went to the place because it was on Hollywood Boulevard and I thought it was going to be pretty swanky…but it was the strangest place this poor Louisiana girl had ever seen…there wasn’t a square inch of wall that was visible. There’s farm equipment, there’s inventions, there’s old photos of stars and fly tapes collecting flies that buzz around the shop. Tony [Morales] cut my hair, and he was such a character and so funny that I went back the next month and then I continued to go back for about six years. The whole time I was meeting the hairstylists and other customers and all the people who just hang out and I realized I had to tell these people’s story. So I recorded the raw footage…in 1999, but I didn’t know what story to tell and the tapes sat on my shelf for ten years. When I finally looked at the footage again, it struck me so hard that this was a movie about family—and people who had come from usually very tragic families who recreated a family for themselves at the shop.” You can meet this unusual family (and Juliet and Gil too) Saturday afternoon at the Rialto Cinemas.

Jason suggests “one of the interactive programs this year is our spotlight on the archive—using archival films, photos and recordings gathered by Rick Prelinger. On Saturday afternoon this famous archivist is bringing his latest version of The Lost Landscapes of San Francisco to the SCA in a unique experience where he encourages the audience to really get into it, so this one-time-only opportunity will basically never happen again.”

Our most local of filmmakers is Randy Hall who tells us his short film Udderly Direct “is about a dairyman in Fresno who, as the owner of one of only two certified raw milk dairies in California, has his product recalled every time someone gets sick after drinking raw milk…milk bottled directly out of a cow.” As a coda for this film, Jason wants us to know of an exciting recent development. “Randy’s short is showing with James Mann and Cecily Pingree’s feature Betting the Farm which presents the challenges facing a group of New England dairy farmers who lose their contract with a national brand and hurriedly form Maine’s Own Organic Milk company to try to save their farms. Slow Food Russian River got wind of this program, and has actually created an End of the Fest local showcase where they will bring in different dairy products—ice cream and cheese and different things, and make it into a Sunday night closing event.

 Intrigued? The SDFF runs from Thursday evening March 21st through Sunday evening March 24th.  You can order tickets online at, by phone at (707) 829-4797 or in person at the Sebastopol Center for Arts, 282 South High Street (in Sebastopol)!