Arts & Culture Blog
Monterey County Cinema Scene Gets Real
February 25, 2011
SCREEN COMMENTS: As the Oscars approach this Sunday, the increasingly vital local movie scene is putting on a show of its own. For starters, director Peter Sillen and Sundance Film Festival honcho Mike Plante, who doubles as the programmer for the Monterey Bay Film Festival will be making personal appearances at a screening of Sillen’s film: “I Am Secretly An Important Man: The Jesse Bernstein Documentary.’’
The event takes place Saturday, March 5 at 7 pm at the Osio Cinemas and seating is extremely limited, so if you’re interested, best make your reservations now. The film tells the sad story of the life and death of Bernstein, a songwriter and poet closely identified with the Seattle grunge rock scene of the ‘70s and ‘80s (he opened for Soundgarden and Nirvana) and will benefit the Festival, which takes place April 7- 9th and includes a Teen Film component under the auspices of CSUMB’s Teledramatic Arts and Technology department.
TAT chair Enid Baxter Blader, who recruited Plante to come on board as the Festival’s programmer, said the screening is the first event of its kind to help promote the newly formed Monterey Bay Film Society, started last month to help make the festival a year-round affair, not just an exciting weekend.
“This is the first time we’ve done an event like this,’’ in advance of the festival, said Blader, who co-directs the festival with longtime TAT production whiz Chris Carpenter . “All we’ve done before is show students and teen work [at other venues]. So this is a little introduction to the awesome things that are to come.’’
“The idea is to support local filmmakers by bringing in artists who come in – it will also serve as an opportunity for them to do community workshops in underserved areas, and speak to film students at the university,’’ she noted, adding that organizers had raised $280,000 in grant money and an additional $70,000 from private donors to help fund their ambitious plans.
In a phone call from Los Angeles, Plante echoed her enthusiasm.
“I happen to know and have supported Peter for a while,’’ he said. “Probably the first time I heard about him was because of “Speed Racer’’ (a documentary about the cult alt.country singer Vic Chesnutt, who died in 2009 after a long struggle with a car accident that left him wheelchair bound), and some other movies he was involved with, including “Benjamin Smoked’’ and “Old Joy.’’ I’m interested in the Seattle music scene of the ‘90s – maybe because I’m 41 – and I thought this was a compelling subject that fits well with the literary history of Monterey and Big Sur. I’m interested in the fact that Steinbeck and all sorts of other writers and creative people have been drawn to the Central Coast. Maybe it’s an oblique trickle-down effect – sorry, I know it’s a horrible term, I’ve just been watching a documentary on Reagan – with people coming down from San Francisco who like being near the water.‘’
“We’re going to do the show on Saturday, and Peter’s going to talk the following Tuesday to CSUMB film students, so it will be a chance for them to have a great, direct connection to people who are doing interesting work.’’
“So many film schools show you how to make a film and then it’s, ‘See you later,’” he added. “Oh great, I’ve got a film on my couch…what do you do with it? If students learn about Hitchcock or Orson Welles, that’s great, but how about someone who’s their contemporary? Sillen’s been making movies for 20 years, but doesn’t have a lot of money rolling up to his door…He’s someone who’s road-weary and knows how to make movies with reasonable expectations, so it’s not really that far away from what they can do. It’s important to learn about the classics, but also to make one-on- one connections with someone who is working on their level and finding a way to be successful.’’
But that, as they say, is not all.
Having established their street cred with a documentary about an underground rocker, the nascent Monterey Film Society is following it up with a March 19 screening at the Sunset Center of a big name Hollywood production that stars the likes of Josh Hutchison, Lauren Bacall, Hayden Panettiere, Alfred Molina and Dina Eastwood (who’s also recently returned to the airwaves on KSBW’s newscasts.)
Yes, the oft-troubled production of “Carmel: The Movie’’ is finally wrapped up – as of last Friday, according to producer Michael-Ryan Fletchall, whose Experience Media Studios took over the project after a spate of contentious litigation between the original backers and director Lawrence Roeck. (The script is by local writer Carlos De Los Rios).
With additional on-location shots filmed to give more of the flavor of Carmel, and a new title – “Carmel-By-The-Sea,’’ Fletchall, who took on the production duties with Craig Comstock, one of the early investors, expressed confidence that the movie will finally get the audience, and the distributor, it deserves.
“Well, the interesting things that happened with the movie at the beginning weren’t really that complicated – it just needed to be unwound,’’ he said, adding, with considerable understatement: “It was a bit of a challenge, but totally worth it, considering the quality of the project.’’
He said the Sunset Center event happened circuitously.
“We were originally going to have a screening in Carmel, but ended up opting to have a screening in Los Angeles seeking distribution to sell the film – I guess it was the industry way, as opposed to the independent way. Then we were approached by CSUMB when we were up there to do some additional photography. After I spoke to Enid’s students, they said, ‘We’re trying to do this fundraiser…Would you be willing to have the screening be part of the event? We thought it was a great idea, but we just wanted to be sure we had the screening in Carmel, not Monterey or some other place in the area, because that’s where it was shot.’’
The plot points hinge around art fraud, with eerie similarities to the Pebble Beach “theft’’ allegations that surfaced after the film was shot.
“How interesting is that?’’ Fletchall laughed. “Life really does imitate art.’’
He said Eastwood originally got involved with the project because she knew Roeck, who’d worked on videos with her in the past.
“She does a terrific job,’’ he added. “When Josh’s character gets caught breaking into a home, she’s the social worker who takes care of the case, tries to find Josh’ mom and ends up placing him into a home until she can find her.
“He ends up being placed with Alfred Molina’s character, Everly, and between he and Lauren Bacall [who plays a retired older artist], he learns a lot about art…and he might learn a thing or two about art forgery.’’
It’s an unusually happy ending – at least for now – for a project that’s been plagued with almost as much intrigue as its own storyline. But both screenings are taking place for an inarguably good cause. Who said the only screen action was in Hollywood?