Although Cinema Epicuria will feature movies from all over the world, several of the filmmakers are from the Bay Area.
Among them are Bonnie Burt and Judith Montell, whose “Home on the Range: The Jewish Chicken Ranchers of Petaluma” examines the often united, frequently divided community of Jews who fled the pogroms of Eastern Europe to become a cornerstone of Petaluma’s once-thriving poultry industry.
“One of the reasons I wanted to do the film is that I think that remembering where we come from is very important,” explains Burt, who has made several documentaries with Jewish themes.
Before World War II, Petaluma was heralded as the “world’s egg basket.” Beneath the whimsical appellation, however, lurked the specter of anti- Semitism, which once manifested in a local Nazi party marching down Main Street (now Petaluma Boulevard) and Jewish leaders being kidnapped, tarred and feathered.
“The part about the Nazis, the part about the tar and feathering, all the different aspects that bring us to who we are today, are really important.” Burt said. “Even though (the film) is about a Jewish group within Petaluma, there were a lot of ethnic groups in Petaluma and this is just one of many stories.”
Petaluma’s legacy of anti-Semitism is only one part of the complicated and often colorful stories covered in Burt and Montell’s film. The issues facing Jews involved with Petaluma’s burgeoning agribusiness were complicated and manifold, spanning the ideological gamut from communism to Zionism.
“Petaluma was kind of a microcosm; it reflected what was going on in the country in terms of unionizing, the left and right, McCarthy — I think you can see it all by looking at Petaluma,” Burt said.
Ultimately, Burt sees “Home on the Range” as an immigrant story that reflects universal themes.
“It goes beyond just a Jewish story,” Burt says. “It’s our duty to remember it and try to preserve it and say ‘Look, this is what happened. Can we learn from this? Can we see what happens here?’ “
The film has been shown in festivals as far as Jerusalem and London. Burt is pleased that “Home on the Range” is playing locally.
“One of my best moments was at a screening in Miami, and someone came up to me and said, ‘I’m Irish, but I can totally relate to this. It reminds me so much of my family.’ That’s what I’m hoping for, that people can see the commonality,” said Burt, who maintains a Web site for the film at www.jewishchickenranchers.com.
Another of Burt’s films, “Song of a Jewish Cowboy,” a short documentary about Scott Gerber, a Petaluma man who embodies both Yiddish and cowboy culture, is also featured at the festival.
“He entertains, he rides the range and sings cowboy and Yiddish songs,” Burt said.
Other Bay Area-made films featured include San Francisco director Amanda Micheli’s documentary “Double Dare,” a profile of the stuntwomen behind “Wonder Woman” and “Xena: Warrior Princess.”
“American Dancer,” by director Adam Ballachey, explores action of a different sort — the kind one would find at a male strip club. The San Francisco director’s feature-length documentary tracks the experiences of four male strippers in Tampa, Fla., over three years as they strive for a sense of celebrity.
“Yin Yang,” by Sebastopol native Adele Uddo, is a short comic study of the emotional aftermath following a couple’s first sexual encounter. Afterward, the lovers convene with their best pals, but the macho banter one might expect from the young men is reserved for Uddo’s female characters, while the male characters vent anxieties in a manner stereotypically ascribed to women.
“I hope I portray both sexes in a mutually unflattering way,” Uddo says. “That’s what I was going for.”
Uddo, who stars in the film with local actress Shana Barret, moved quickly once inspiration struck.
“I woke up one morning and thought, ‘Isn’t that a funny idea? I wrote it down in a few hours, shot it in digital video and cast my high school friends, ” she recalls. The result was as Uddo hoped: “A funny gender spoof.”
Selected from more than 1,800 submissions for the Slamdance Film Festival at Park City, Utah, Uddo’s nine-minute film has garnered numerous festival screenings and accolades, including a four-star rating from online independent film tome FilmThreat.com.
Uddo, who now lives in Los Angeles where she is working on a one-woman show, said she is looking forward to Cinema Epicuria, in part, to reunite with her cast and crew, most of whom still reside in Sonoma County.
“One of the most exciting things is to return to Sonoma, which is like my hometown,” Uddo says.