Local filmmakers shine: Petaluma’s film festival celebrates storytelling


Courtesy of Petalumafilmfestival.com

This year’s Petaluma International Film Festival featured a wide array of films from around the world.

Celine Gossage, Staff Writer

The eighth annual Petaluma International Film Festival featured a collection of seven short films ranging from documentaries to short stories. On Oct. 30, the event focused on films made by local filmmakers or ones that were filmed in the area.

“Being Seen” follows the lives of people living with developmental disabilities. The documentary shows self awareness and a widely misunderstood subculture of people living with disabilities, leaving the audiences with questions about the differences between “disabled” and “normal.” The film was produced by Bay Area filmmakers Paul Zehrer and Chikara Motomura, who spent three years following the lives of Bay Area people with developmental disabilities.

“OAK” tells the story of two brothers living in Oakland. Jonah, the older brother is a fighter, who is forced to choose between following the norm or branching out in order to give his little brother, Tai, a chance at a better life. Beautifully shot and poignantly told, the short puts a spotlight on the bond of the brothers. The film was written and directed by young independent filmmaker Maya Neumeier, a native of Mendocino.

“For the Kids of Paarl” documents an effort to build a playground in Paarl, South Africa.  San Rafael native S. Kramer Herzog directed the film. The short followed events as organizations raised funds in San Francisco and shipped 340,000 meals, enough to feed 340 children for a year. The film focuses on the South African children who are effected by the economic stress and political injustice of their country.

“Go Away Gary” is a humorous and twisted story following the day of Gary, an everyday man, who was fired from his job and kicked out of his home by his wife. This turn of events causes Gary to lash out on everyone who wronged him in loads of humorous ways. Filmmakers Jeremiah Johnson and Danny McMillan produced the short film.

“Eat Pray Farm” documents the culture of rice farming in Bali, Indonesia. The film explores the harmony and religion behind the sustainable water management and irrigation system known as Subak, in use for more than 1,000 years.
The film also explores the difference in cultures between the growth of rice farming and the young who seek to get work in the tourism industry. Lauren Michele, a UC Davis graduate, produced the film.

“#JoshuaStrong” follows the everyday life of 10-year-old Joshua Strong, who faces the challenges of living with cystic fibrosis. He dreams of becoming a sixth degree black belt and opening his own martial arts studio in the future. Danielle Mandella directed the short documentary and is a resident of Sacramento.

“A Different Kind of Path” tells the story of a girl who has a dream about two paths, the past and the future. She chooses to climb towards the future, realizing that the challenges will only grow worse for her. Zach Bellin, a current high school student at Marin School of the Arts, directed and wrote the short film.

Mike Traina, film and media studies instructor at SRJC, said Sonoma County has a lively local film scene.
“There’s a lot of student filmmakers between our college and Sonoma State University who are majoring in film,” Traina said.

Many local high schools offer production classes, such as ArtQuest at Santa Rosa High School and Analy High School, which helps students get involved in film even before they enter college. “You can produce something of fairly high quality without having many resources or any kind of fancy professional equipment. I find that the people that are most successful at wanting to be filmmakers just are making as many films as they possibly can,” Traina said.

For those who seek training in film without having to sign up for academic classes, community access centers in Petaluma and Santa Rosa offer access to professional equipment and training for a low membership fee.

The broader North Bay has an active film festival scene as well, with events such as the Film Fest in Petaluma, the Mill Valley Film Festival and the Napa Valley Film Festival.

“Particularly if your film shows off a lot of Sonoma County landscapes or scenery, I think those festivals are interested in supporting local artists and their local community,” Traina said.

In the past decade, Traina says there has been an explosion of specialty film festivals either geared to students or focused on specific genres.

“Those are a good place for  young filmmakers to break in because the most famous festivals, like Sundance or Toronto get ten thousand-plus films a year, when they’re only picking maybe 15 to 18 that would be in competition. It’s super steep for a young filmmaker to break through that level.”