3 Flicks You Won’t See at the Sonoma International Film Festival

On the heels of next Tuesday’s April Fool’s Day is the April 2 kickoff of the 17th Annual Sonoma International Film Festival. Though tempted, I’ll avoid cinematic satire and direct readers to the 2014 Festival Preview Guide, which can be downloaded at SonomaFilmFest.org.

For your convenience, certain omissions to the guide are included below for your viewing pleasure. Please feel free to clip, print, forward and share these additions with out-of-town visitors who don’t know any better. Especially if they’re celebrities. And have a wonderful film festival experience!

Cat-tastrophe, USA, 247 min., Dirs. Mick Robbins, Henri Moreau

Just when you thought the Internet’s feline fixation had finally ebbed, a pair of local filmmakers decided to finally finish their opus, “Cat-tastrophe,” comprised entirely of cat videos ripped from YouTube. Let’s not ponder the inspiration for the endeavor (marijuana) but champion the perseverance of the filmmakers, who spent seven years assembling their film from over 750 individual cat clips. The result is the cinematic equivalent of coughing up a four-hour fur ball for four hours. Not since T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” and its infernal musical adaptation (memories!), has such a wuvable wasteland filled your mental litterbox with so little. Expect an endless barrage of purrfect puns to emanate from our local newsrooms, headlining editorials about a spaying and neutering filmmakers.

Dry, USA, 16 min., Dir. Kyle Rice

The SIFF has long supported student films, and the privileged young visionaries whose parents pay for them. Hailing from this year’s student category is local Sonoma State University film student Kyle Rice’s short film, “Dry,” which is comprised of a single shot of a freshly painted lavender-hued wall. “Dry” was intended as a statement about the banality of student film work but turned out quite the opposite after Rice set up his camera, hit record and left only to return to a hole kicked through his main subject. In his absence, Rice’s camera captured the daring escape of a bound and gagged kidnap victim from the apartment next door. The young woman busted through the sheetrock with her feet, writhed through the resulting hole and eventually managed to wriggle her hands free and ungag herself, at which point she looked into the camera and apologized for destroying the wall. Though critically heralded for the “breakthrough performance,” in class, the film received a D for defying its original premise and being interesting.

Theseus’ Ship Redux, Sweden, 122 min., Dir. Buntel Eriksson

A highlight of this year’s fest is a fully-restored, digitally-remastered edition of Swedish filmmaker Buntel Eriksson’s “Theseus’ Ship,” which boasts a complete reconception of the story matter (less love triangle, more bikini-clad espionage), re-shot scenes featuring an entirely new cast (middle-aged musings on mortality have been upgraded to the moral anxiety of juggling multiple sexual partners during Spring Break) and the swapping of the solo nyckelharpa soundtrack for a pulsing electronica score created by Euro-Pop phenom Ch3mTrailz. In fact, this release of the 1966 Eriksson classic is so utterly transformed it resembles the original version only in title, at least to the “redux” part. It begs the question, is it even the same film? An emphatic “Yes!” insist the film’s producers, who dismiss any suggestion that their version of the film is merely a remake posing as the original to avoid paying royalties. “We replaced every frame in an effort to preserve the integrity of Eriksson’s vision. So, yeah, it’s the same film, just totally different.”

Move to Petaluma

The Miwok called it “P?ta L?uma.” The Spanish reduced it to “Petaluma.” I tried to get “Lumaville” to stick when “P-Town” seemed to be gaining ground, only to have the annual bumper crop of teens rechristen it “Deadaluma,” just like always. Now, if anecdotal reports prove true, a sizable influx of thirty- to forty-somethings from San Francisco and the East Bay are moving to Petaluma who simply call it “home.”

“I hear the story almost every day,” says Natasha Juliana, owner of?WORK, a co-working space?in the city’s downtown. “It’s gotten comical. Especially young families with young kids and parents in their 30s and 40s. They’re coming from San Francisco, the East Bay, and even farther away, like New York and Chicago,” she says. “And then we also see a lot of people who grew up here, went away for a long time, had children and have moved back.”

What Juliana hasn’t seen are people younger than 30 moving to Petaluma. “There are very few twenty-somethings,” she observes. This stands to reason, since it’s traditionally the twenty-somethings, like my younger self, that flee the suburbs and head straight for the cities.

I split from my native Petaluma 15 years ago on a self-imposed exile to pursue big-city ambitions, only to ultimately wish I hadn’t. When my wife was enticed to leave her natural foods company marketing position in the East Bay to take one in Sonoma County, it meant we could move to Petaluma. I could repatriate to my home town. But, as anyone with any years on them will tell you, where you grow up is a time, not a place. Petaluma is barely recognizable to me. Now it’s so much cooler than when I was an angry young man?or at least I’m finally able to get over myself and enjoy Petaluma on its own terms.

Actually, make that its?new?terms.

Move to Petaluma ? while you can.

While showing us our future home, the woman showing the house namedropped critically lauded singer-songwriter Sean Hayes, who had moved with his young family to Petaluma only months prior. I’d known and appreciated his work in the city and found his presence on the block somehow assuring. Could the ‘burbs be cool?

“Why Petaluma?” asks Hayes, who had lived in San Francisco for 20 years. “Intuition. Mostly my wife’s. We were living in a small one bedroom in the Mission in San Francisco. We knew we were going to have a second baby. Decided north. We’ve been very happy up here?great town.”

The Hayeses aren’t the only ones who have “decided north” in recent months. Dozens upon dozens of mostly creative professionals, many of whom have young children, are moving to Petaluma. Albeit, all evidence of this migration is unsubstantiated; there is no hard data?yet?just observations made by myself and others. For example, a new preschool opened in Petaluma last fall in which every single student is the child of a transplanted family that moved from the East Bay or San Francisco, mostly in the last year. And this kind of situation arises again and again in local conversations.

Who are these people and why are they moving to Petaluma?

The reasons are myriad but cluster around three primary themes: economic pressures in the surrounding cities driving up the cost of housing; a desire for a community-centric creative and sustainable lifestyle with a bucolic backdrop; and the need to accommodate the spate of kids everyone had when they panicked and realized they were staring down the barrel at 40.

Speaking with some newly minted Petalumans is a bit like watching a supercut of theManchurian Candidate: “Petaluma is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful small town I’ve ever known in my life.” I’ve heard the same breathless sentiment coming from my own mouth when asked why I moved here. It’s all true, but hearing it aloud helps me believe it, helps me believe that ditching a hip neighborhood in Oakland for the comparatively staid environs of Sonoma County was the right decision. Sure it was, because (a) I always felt 15 years too old for it anyway, and (b) where the hell else could I go to feel even vaguely relevant?

Try as I might to find a Petaluma naysayer for a reality check, none would go on record. They fear, I surmise, as I do, that we might become the twist in a Shirley Jackson story wherein the townsfolk stone us to death. (And not in the “Sonoma Coma” kind of way.)

Prior to moving back, I clued into certain cultural indicators that the city had changed from one groping for an identity (saddled as it was between Sonoma’s wine trade and Marin’s cultural clinch on what many imagined Northern California to be) to one that’s rapidly redefining the potential for a small town to support creativity, entrepreneurism and sustainability in an affordable and family-friendly package.

Take, for example, WORK, where entrepreneurs and freelancers of various stripes get the job done in the heart of downtown?finally, a place where building one’s own personal empire is embraced and encouraged. Across the street is Acre Coffee, where one can get single-origin, direct-trade, French-pressed drinks, just as one would at the cafe’s San Francisco location. There are three wine bars within staggering distance of each other. The?New York Times?recently fawned over the city’s restaurants. Even the cows and their pervasive stink contribute to the local charm?and you can have them delivered to your door as organic steaks through a community-supported agriculture service. For that matter, food?especially locally cultivated grub?is a big draw.

“It’s nicely located, and centrally located. Have you seen the restaurants?” says Don Frances over mason jars of beer from Petaluma’s own?Lagunitas Brewing Company?at Ray’s Tavern. The neighborhood hub, with weekly live music and a menu rife with specialty sammies boasting local street names (the Western Avenue BLT is self-explanatory), has evolved from family-owned corner store into microbrew mecca and artisanal sandwich shop.

Frances and his family moved from Davis to Petaluma when he was appointed news editor of the?Sonoma Index-Tribune?last February. “I want that nice blend of city and country, and we have got it. I like a city that ends?meaning you get to the actual end of it?and this is one,” he says. “There aren’t that many, especially if you want a city that’s worth a damn as a city but not part of some megalopolis that never really ends.”

But are we all drinking the Pinot-flavored Kool-Aid and calling it Lagunitas? With its hands on the spigot is the city itself, which has made a concerted effort to market Petaluma and its various attractions to businesses seeking to employ “knowledge workers.”

A letter from Mayor David Glass, printed in an advertising supplement circulated last October, declares that “Petaluma has been a center of industry and innovation in the Bay Area for 150 years. Today it’s the corporate home of global brands like Lagunitas, CamelBak, Traditional Medicinals, Enphase and Athleta.”

The approach dovetails nicely with a larger county-wide effort to attract businesses in fields populated by creative professionals, which the Sonoma County Economic Development Board broadly defines as those working in science and engineering, architecture and design, management and finance, education, the arts, and music and entertainment.

Last month the EDB convened a “Creative Arts Focus Group” to assess how it might help this “cluster” become a steady economic driver.

Participants were asked to break into groups and answer questions like “what are the three biggest opportunities for growing/sustaining your business in the next three to seven years?” A consistent theme, writ large on the groups’ self-adhesive flipcharts, was the notion of attracting and retaining talent through Sonoma County’s copious lifestyle offerings. After all, we’re “America’s premier wine, spa and coastal destination,” as our tourism bureau happily reminds. And, as the southernmost tip of the county, Petaluma is the gateway to this Xanadu.

“I do not have any specific statistics that would allow me to confirm your observations about creative professionals moving to Petaluma,” says Ingrid Alverde, the city of Petaluma’s economic development manager, via email. “That said, I, too, have met many creative professionals in my work with the city. I can say that Petaluma’s quality of life is unmatched in the Bay Area because of its affordable living, mixed with its great location and its historic downtown. Petaluma also has a strong sense of community and many venues for art, music and theater.”

The G-Word

Notions of gentrification arise every time a demographic shift occurs in a specific locale. Is that what’s happening here? By the strictest definition, no. It was already like this when we got here.

“It feels more real and it doesn’t feel so suburban. It’s not like suburban sprawl,” says WORK’s Juliana. “[I can go] four minutes outside of town and be in real working farmland. There’s a quality to Petaluma that’s really authentic, partly just because of the history and the agricultural history. It has a diversity of people still living here. It’s not Mill Valley.”

The Mill Valley factor has long loomed over Petaluma. In the ’80s there was a palpable sense of Marin County envy?we were so close yet so far away from the money, hot tubs, Beemers and?cocaine. The ’90s did no favors for Petaluma, resulting in a decade of “alternative” self-deceptions and dotcom dilettantism that made us look like Marin’s self-mutilating younger sibling.

It wasn’t until this century that Petaluma realized the intrinsic lifestyle value of its rural village roots and embraced it wholly. Couple this with Sonoma County’s upgrade from “Redwood Empire” to “Wine Country,” and suddenly we’re trendsetters. But does influence necessarily lead to affluence, specifically of the kind that would make Petaluma fear it was turning into Mill Valley?

“I have a lot of friends who worry about that,” observes Juliana, who is confident Petaluma will maintain its community-driven values. “But you also have to evolve as a town, otherwise you become a desolate ghost town.”

Anyway, Petaluma tried gentrification before. The results were meh. In the early aughts, plug-‘n’-play developments like the so-called?Theater District?were designed to emulate the urban density of cities?retail and restaurants downstairs, loft-like apartments upstairs. It’s urban design by way of a pr?t-?-porter mentality, and may attract a certain kind of Pr?t-?-luman, but by and large the recent arrivals are specifically attracted to the older (by a century) west-side architecture and a decidedly small-town way of life.

More to the point, the families moving to Petaluma are not gentrifiers themselves so much as the fallout from the latest waves of gentrification occurring in the urban neighborhoods they departed. Demand for real estate in San Francisco has driven the market into the stratosphere. A three-bedroom fixer-upper in the Glen Park neighborhood near Noe Valley recently sold for $1.425 million. Homes in Petaluma can be had for one-third as much, though this is likely to change as inventory decreases.

“Homes are selling as soon as they come on the market,” says Martha O’Hayer, a realtor at the Petaluma branch of Coldwell Banker. “Savvy investors are buying their homes now, renting them until they are ready to leave the City and East Bay with the intention of heading here when they are ready for a lifestyle change.”

Homes on Petaluma’s tonier, older west side start at the mid-$300,000s but can reach a cool million in the prestige neighborhoods in the “number and letter” streets. Comparatively, homes east of Highway 101, where track developments limned by strip malls dominate, hover between $300,000 and $500,000.

Seven months ago, therapist Rachael Newman purchased a home with her husband near Petaluma’s downtown. Since the arrival of their son, they were rapidly outgrowing their houseboat in Sausalito. It was time to take the plunge (north?not into the Bay).

“It just felt like the town of Sausalito wasn’t really quite right for ‘forever’ for us,” says Newman. “Petaluma feels like a place where we can really raise our children and grow old.” She adds with a laugh, “We’re a clich? at this point, I guess.”

Juliana puts it this way: “Honestly, this is the first place where I feel really at home. I feel like I fit in.”

I concur completely.?Sweet home Deadaluma, Lord, I’m coming home to you.

Most Powerful Foodies

The 39th annual Winter Fancy Food Show wrapped up its an annual three-day edible expo at San Francisco?s Moscone Center this week. The movable feast was comprised of more than 80,000 specialty foods and beverages proffered by 1,350 exhibitors from across the U.S. and 35 countries and regions. And, of course, Sonoma was among them.

Now, we newspaper types are protective of our beats (when a certain music columnist so much as mentions a drumstick he stands a chance of waking up with a chicken head in his bed courtesy of a certain food columnist), so I will tread lightly with my commentary about the event, which (a) I did not attend and (b) wouldn?t have enjoyed anyway, since I?m on some kind of caveman diet (it?s not Paleo so much as Jurassic Park ? everything I want to eat is encased in amber).

There were apparently some local luminaries present ? among them, of course, was our own culinary columnist Kathleen Hill. Also from under the same roof as the Sonoma Index-Tribune (for whom I write these columns) were the gentleman jerky-makers behind Krave Jerky. And If my source is to be trusted (and she?s not), there might also have been a local maker of wine-flavored lozenges, which give you all the benefit of failing a breathalyzer test but with none of the fun.

America?s 50 Most Powerful People in Food and No Sonomans Among Them

I mention all this because, on the heels of this event, The Daily Meal just released its fourth yearly list of America?s 50 Most Powerful People in Food, which purports to ?determine who the REAL architects of the food world are.? Not one Sonoman is on it. Not even Kathleen. Wha..?

Colman Andrews, the editorial director of the uber foodie website The Daily Meal (and eight-time James Beard award-winner to boot), explained why this might be a good thing to me via email:

?Why no Sonomans? Well, first of all, that might be a good thing for Sonoma since by no means all of our ?most powerful? are admirable people; a more apposite answer, though, might be that we perceive the power in Sonoma to derive more from the world of wine than that of food ? and when we do our Most Powerful People in Drink, which we will one of these days, I?m sure Sonoma will figure,? Andrews wrote.

Dude, you had me at ?apposite.? So, this is how Andrews and his team do it:

?Throughout the year, The Daily Meal?s editors track stories about key figures in the food world. We also consult ?most powerful? lists in business magazines and solicit the opinions of trusted advisors,? says Andrews. ?We then compile a basic list and do updated research to see how all the candidates have ?changed the conversation? or otherwise affected the culinary landscape.?

The conversation, it seems, was dominated by honchos at government agencies, a big retailer and two chemical companies.

The top five listees accordingly are:

1. Thomas Vilsack, secretary, USDA

2. Hugh Grant, chairman, president, and CEO, the Monsanto Company

3. Doug McMillion, president and CEO, Walmart

4. Michael R. Taylor, deputy commissioner for Food, Federal Drug Administration

5. Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO, Pepsi

If you did the math in your head, you might be asking ?What, you don?t think Pepsi is a chemical?? Read the ingredients on a can and then we?ll talk.

There are also some of the usual suspects, including number 39, Alice Waters, the chef-restaurateur of landmark eatery Chez Panisse ? the cornerstone of Berkeley?s lauded ?Gourmet Ghetto.?

I?ve eaten there but my memory of the experience was fogged by my fascination with filmmaker Werner Herzog sticking to his word to ?eat his shoe? if a fellow filmmaker, documentarian Errol Morris, finished a particular project. Morris did and Herzog turned to Waters to make his footwear ?edible.?

This brings me to the notion that when Kathleen Hill is included on the next list of the most powerful foodies, I?ll eat my shoe, too. Hear that Colman? The game, as they say, is afoot ?

Via SonomaNews

Sonoma County: The State Of

Not to be outdone by the upcoming State of the Union and State of the State addresses, Sonoma County has its own State of the County address. Next Friday, Economic Development Board director Ben Stone and his team will talk shop about the economic bounty of the county at Rohnert Park?s DoubleTree Hotel (full disclosure: the EDB is a client of CMedia for which I?m executive director).

All bodes well as Sonoma County seems to be continuing its decade of unprecedented change. But then, all change is unprecedented otherwise it wouldn?t be change. Remember when Sonoma?County used to be branded the ?Redwood Empire?? I?m presuming this was because of trees or something. Or maybe that was just its?color. According to paint store Kelley Moore, which proffers a redwood-hued paint, we could just as easily have been the Sierra Brown or Driftwood Empire. We chose well. But now, the woodsy name?hasn?t the same cachet.

Sonoma County?equals wine country. Unless you?re in Napa County, then?it?s Wine Country and the further east one goes the more capital letters it picks up. In Virginia, I believe, it?s WINE COUNTRY,?only because they have to shout it to get anyone to believe it. (Incidentally, some of their terroir is a distinctly redwood color ? go figure).

But, Sonoma isn?t merely wine country, it?s also an?epicurean epicenter. I hear there?s a movement afoot to have gustatory great and erstwhile Glen Ellen resident M.F.K. Fisher?sainted. We could at least get our epicurean empress a statue and?perhaps replace some of Charlie Brown statuary that dots the county?seat like an invading cartoon army.

Charlie Brown Army

It would certainly?help the county be taken seriously and contribute to its concerted?effort to take the ?So?? out of Sonoma and the ?Cow? out of?Country. Excepting, naturally, artisanal meats and dairy products ??then we definitely want to keep the cow but squeeze in a sheep and?a goat or two as well. Sonoma could Cowsheepgoa-nty.?As they say in?action flicks, ?It?s crazy but it just might work.?

In my?occasional conversations with Stone, I?ve become acquainted with his desire to help cultivate the county?s burgeoning creative industries. Of course, someone forgot to inform him that most creative types, at least the ones I know, bristle at the notion of
being anywhere but bed at 7 a.m. when the breakfast address occurs.

I?m going myself to A) prove that I can actually wake up that early and B) to get the lowdown for my colleagues who will be sleeping off the inspiration from the night before. With a little bit of effort, Sonoma County ? so the thinking goes ? could be Ashland South, Hollywood North and Austin West. I suppose we could also become Guam East ? I hear they have quite an arts scene. However, I suggest you start your Guamanian collection now before the rising sea level reduces the island nation to a floating art barge.

That said, all boats rise right? Perhaps Sonoma County?s art scene will be buoyed by a tide of wine beneath it. It?ll either be its salvation or its destruction. Art is immortal, livers not so much ? just ask our foie gras industry.

As M.F.K Fisher?s grand-nephew Luke Barr writes in Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste, ?Sonoma County is saturated with sophisticated flavors and ambitious cooking and, more than that, with an unmistakable sense of craftsmanship and idealism.? If you replace ?flavors? and ?cooking? with ?arts? and ?artists? in the quote above, the ?craftsmanship and idealism? still pertains. In fact, then our artists could afford some of the local cuisine about?which Barr rhapsodizes. Then our State of the County could also be state of the art.

The Sonoma County Economic Development Board, 2014 State of the County event, commences 7 a.m., Friday, Jan. 24 at the DoubleTree Hotel, 1 Doubletree Drive, Rohnert Park.?For tickets and information, visit?edb.sonoma-county.org.



New Year’s Resolutions for Sonomans

You say you want a resolution well-el, you know? We?re all trying to change the world ? one broken New Year?s resolution at a time.

According to the UK?s Mirror, the top five New Year?s resolutions among Brits track with those of Americans (lose weight, quit smoking, spend less) apart from ?eat better food.? I?m not sure how they?re going to accomplish this feat since English food is like English weather ? grey. That said, given America?s obesity epidemic, our definition of ?good food? is probably about as expansive as our waistlines. In this country, ?good? might mean ?Choco-Taco,? which is really just another way of saying, ?I give up.?

In Sonoma, of course, our culinary pursuits generally reach for a higher bar. Or sometimes just the bar. This is why I felt it necessary to conduct an informal poll with friends and colleagues about their resolutions. Simply put, things are different here. Many outside our borders assume we?re an island nation surrounded by a sea of wine. Someday we might be ? we?re one industrial accident away from having our streets run red with zinfandel like some oenophile?s wet dream of Venice. I can already hear the gondoliers singing ?Sul mare luccica? whilst paddling to the Plaza. Until zin levels rise (we?ll call it ?Global Wining?), however, we should focus on improving ourselves and what it means to be a Sonoman.

Accordingly, here are three Sonoman New Year?s Resolutions:

New Year’s Resolution #1: Quit smoking e-cigarettes

…At least in public. Taking furtive tugs off a pen-shaped nicotine delivery device makes you look like the heavy in some 80s, sci-fi, Philip K. Dick adaptation. You instantly look like a dodgy dealer of mnemonic implants or something, which is almost acceptable until you sneak a drag from your oral fixation tube in a movie theater and it lights up the backrow every time you suck on it. Add your blinking bluetooth headset and you look like a low-rent, one-man disco. If you had a siren, I wouldn?t be sure if I was supposed to punch you in the face or pull my car over to the side of the road.

New Year’s Resolution #?2: Stop getting DUIs.

I once wrote the police blotter for a local paper and never, ever, had enough space to print all of the ?driving under the influence? busts. The phonebook people once called me and asked for my notes since I had the most frequently updated list of Sonomans. Here are your options: Call Vern?s Taxi, convince a local BMX-riding speedfreak to run a rickshaw biz between deliveries, or stand on the sidewalk and ask people for the time like Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence. Of the three choices, the third will take the longest but will result in the most interesting ride home. If the dude has a glass eye, all the better.

New Year’s Resolution #3:?Get organized.

This resolution proved divisive with the Sonomans I polled. The lefty, pro-union West-siders naturally assumed it pertained to organizing labor into a single, representative entity to aid their plight against heartless corporations. Those from the East-side, who own shares in those corporations, thought it referred to their walk-in closets. Chaos ensued until the bill came and an East-sider paid it, which the West-siders pretended to ignore. Technically, I?m a Petaluman, a town that?s also divided into East and West though the cultural polarities are reversed, so I kept my mouth shut. Until the Choco-Tacos arrived. They were bittersweet.

Via SonomaNews.com