Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival: A Sonoma County Gem


By Richard Von Sternberg

There is a certain something here in Sebastopol that makes us pursue the unusual and revere the very, very fine. Some people say we are quirky. If you live here, it's hard not to agree. It's a certain je ne sais quoi that even national commentators, such as Alysia Gray Painter, of NBC notes when she writes:
"Sonoma and cinema go together on screen, certainly, but the county hosts a number of notable film events throughout the year. One of the gems has to be the Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival for multiple reasons. One? Sebastopol. Right? You know what we mean. . ."

Sebastopol salutes our home grown Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival for its success in adding to the bandwidth of our reputation and for expanding our awareness. Every year they bring us a feast of films that has people expressing one superlative after another. Some make creative use of visuals, others of the performance craft itself, enlisting the audience as participants. From hopeful to thought-provoking, there are films for every taste.
This year the Festival runs from 7:00 p.m. Thursday night, March 27 through Sunday afternoon, March 30th. Films are screened in a number of Sebastopol venues such as the Sebastopol Center for the Arts at 282 S. High St., the Rialto Cinemas at 6868 McKinley St and Main Stage West at the corner of Main St. and Bodega.

From Sikhs protecting the food traditions of Italy to audience participation in a documentary of San Francisco history, here are a few of the gems that await you:

Sikh Formaggio
Saturday, March 29, Sebastopol Center for the Arts, 11:30 a.m.
This short documentary explores two cultures whose similarities and differences merge for the betterment of each other. Emigrating from India to Italy in search of jobs familiar to their agricultural roots, the Sikhs find work within the Italian's struggling Parmesan cheese industry. As the Sikhs attempt to keep their culture and traditions strong in their new home, they are also helping to preserve a piece of Italy's culture, the art of making Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.


Gringo Trails
Saturday, March 29, Sebastopol Center for the Arts, 11:15 a.m.
Presented by Longboard Vineyards
Are tourists destroying the planet or saving it? Directed by anthropologist Pegi Vail, Associate Director of the Center for Media, Culture and History at NYU, Gringo Trails raises urgent questions about one of the most powerful globalizing forces of our time: tourism. Following stories along the well-worn western travelers' route, the 'gringo trail', through South America and beyond to Africa and Asia the film reveals the complex relationships between colliding cultures: host countries hungry for financial security and the tourists who provide it in their quest for authentic experiences.

After Winter, Spring
Saturday, March 29, Sebastopol Center for the Arts, 11:30 a.m.
Presented by Slow Food Russian River
In the Périgord region of southwest France, a rural community grapples with a profound question: will it be the last generation of farmers in a region cultivated for 5,000 years? Filmed over four years, After Winter, Spring captures the changing lives of farmers with deep roots in the Périgord. Their story is recorded by their American neighbor, a filmmaker raised on her family's farm in Pennsylvania. Inter-weaving their stories, it reveals the human story of family farming at a turning point in history.

A Will for the Woods
Saturday, March 29, Rialto Cinemas, 4:45 p.m.
With sensitive regard to the astonishing access granted to the filmmaker, A Will for the Woods is a life-affirming depiction of people coming to terms with mortality by embracing their connection to timeless natural cycles. Clark Wang, facing an imminent need for funeral plans, is determined that his last act will not harm the environment and may even help protect it. Capturing the genesis of a revolutionary social and environmental movement, this film is a portrait of people coming to terms with death by embracing its central place in nature.

Lost Landscapes of San Francisco 8
Saturday, March 29, Sebastopol Center for the Arts, 2:00pm
Back by popular demand, Rick Prelinger hosts LOST LANDSCAPES OF SAN FRANCISCO 8, the latest in his annual series of live archival film events. Bringing together familiar and unseen moving images showing San Francisco as it was and is no more. Blanketing The City, from the Bay to Ocean Beach, this screening includes newly-discovered images of Playland and Sutro Baths; the waterfront; families living and playing in their neighborhoods; detail-rich streetscapes of the late 1960s; wartime scenes of the working harbor; a spanking-new Bay Bridge; and much, much more. As usual, audience members are the actors during the screening -- you are asked to identify places and events, ask questions, share thoughts, and create an unruly interactive symphony of speculation about the city we've lost and the city we'd like to live in.

Uranium Drive-In
Saturday, March 29, Rialto Cinemas, 4:30 p.m.
The promise of jobs from a proposed uranium mill has an economically devastated mining community in Colorado hopeful for the first time in decades. When environmentalists step in to stop the mill, pro-mill advocates are enraged. A debate ensues, pitting jobs against health and the environment. Both sides of the issue are brought to life in heart-wrenching detail as the film follows conflicting visions for the future. The film offers no easy answers but captures personal stories and paints a portrait of the lives behind this complex issue.

Tickets can be purchased onlineHurry, though. Past festivals have had as many as 80% of the films sell out.