The ribbon of highway that winds along the California Coast has become legendary, it has seen enough literary reference, visual imaging, media coverage and film footage to be firmly cemented into the collective consciousness as its own archetypal thing. We decided to try our hand at a short film that brings all of those images to life.
Exposure, and surely over-exposure, is a double-edged sword. It brings its own troubles, and yet there are still places along that road that have sidestepped the issue, kept their secrets hidden in plain sight and continued to be what they have always been from the beginning, a little corner of paradise, a beautiful place to live, a slice of heaven.
The little town of Mendocino in Mendocino County a few hours North of San Francisco is one of those.
The town itself is California's version of Cape Cod. Its landscape of rolling hills and wind carved cliffs, its light either bouncing off sparkling blue Pacific waters or filtered through silvery pearl grey fog, is an Andrew Wyeth painting West Coast Style.
Mendocino is a small town idyll. The antidote to the rising pressure of life in the Bay Area. The secret go-to getaway for Silicone Valley burnout. Just enough wild to feel remote but enough civilization to find a pretty good meal, some stellar local vintage or brew and a really comfy bed.
Mendocino loves a camera from any angle, as we discovered one more time while visiting two weekends ago to take in the 10th Annual Mendocino Film Festival.
Any town this pretty was always going to end up on some location scouts hit list and it has seen its share of movie makers and stars for its own sake, though it seems to be constantly subbing for somewhere else. Its most familiar incarnation is probably as Cabot Cove, Maine, in the the “Murder she wrote,” series with Angela Lansbury. James Dean wandered these streets in scenes from “East of Eden." It has done stand-in duty for Monterrey amongst others. It has an iconic cinematic history like its near neighbor Bodega Bay.
Certainly its inhabitants may be star struck, but for such a small, out of the way town to maintain such a vibrant and growing Film Festival for ten years bespeaks a community of unusual commitment and creative vigor, and community involvement is what makes this Festival different from all the others. It feels like a gathering of family and friends both behind and in front of the screen. There are, of course, the usual assortment of out of towners and international attendees, movie makers, industry insiders and audience, but the turnout from the local populace was enthusiastic with sold out screenings and the number of local offerings with community ties was high and the quality outstanding. Everyone seemed totally into hanging out together and living the films as a shared experience whether it was an actual movie house, a tent temporarily pitched, or a high school classroom. The town put its party hat on and got festive.
Over fifty films screened across ten venues, the Festival has spilled over into neighboring towns and followed several theme-arcs appropriate to the different locations. To hear a brief roundup of how, what, and why have a listen to this brief clip from the Festival's Marketing and PR Director, local girl Kira Wojack.
The overarching message, the thread that wove through the selection of all these movies seemed to be an outpouring of that aspirational phrase, “ Think globally, act locally.” There was a little bit of something for everyone.
Some political commentary, ”Compared to What, the improbable journey of Barney Frank,” some international LGBT ”A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” an Iranian Feminist Vampire Western. Some social commentary with audience favorite, “Alive Inside” about the impact of music therapy on dementia patients.
And speaking of Music, Martin Shore and William bell brought their movie, “Take me to the River" a journey through the inter-generational, interracial musical community of Memphis.
Photos from Q & A and after party at Flow with Director Martin Shore and Legend William Bell
There were International Academy Award Nominees, the gorgeously animated, ”Song of the Sea.” from the artists who produced the equally lovely, “The Secret of Kells” which was preceded by a fifteen minute short "Heads or Tails" from local animator Kate Isenberg.
There was Best foreign film academy Award Winner, “Ida.” A masterpiece of this century, the film uses imagery and minimal realism to leaving you feeling in awe and visually satisfied.
Most notable amongst the domestic and local offerings were, “ Occupy the Farm,” about a contentious patch of land in the Berkley hills, and “F R E E ” a feel-good story about the power of dance with at-risk youth in Oakland.
They premiered a sneak peak of the unfinished film, “Of the Sea” which seemed to be staffed and produced entirely by locals. A labor of love two years deep and still going. It signaled the strength of the Festivals‘ commitment to promoting local projects. In March festival staff partnered with John Dixon to hold a fundraising dinner to help finish the film. The film took us on a journey of commercial fishing along the coast of California. It gave a beautiful portrait of the challenges facing our fisherman and fisheries and the joy that they take from being stewards of the Ocean.
Then there were the equestrian offerings supported by the local veterinary community ”Harry and Snowman” and others under the umbrella of the Seabiscuit Legacy Film Series. This is a farming community, beasts are important.
There were Dinners and parties and after parties. Benefits for sponsors and exhibits and art projects. Everyone seemed to be in on the act.
Like all great parties, it took a lot of organizing, so a shout out to Kira Wojack and Michael Fox and their staff and volunteers.
It was a worthy Centennial and we wish the best for the next Festival. As Martin Shore said, ”Y’all do such an amazing job.”
It all finished up on Sunday evening with Reel Mendocino. The dessert after a sumptuous meal. A selection of short films made entirely by local filmmakers. There was a well deserved standing ovation for Justin Lewis’ 5 minute offering “Dust” in which we came to understand that while Justin is a phenomenal still photographer, he may just be finding his feet as an even better cinematographer. Check out his short film below, and check out his other work at Justin's Website.
Everyone loves a “local boy makes good“ story and comparisons to the likes of Philip Bloom and the legendary Nestor Almendros swirled through our conversation as we discussed his take on Death Valley. He seems to specialize in the supremely inhospitable but visually stunning, otherworldly environments that are fueling the current craze for extreme sports....if your curious about what we mean, check out the below video.
Though Justin's point of view seems to be much more about appreciating nature. “The direction of my work came from my upbringing here in Mendocino and my exposure to Nature. I want to share that with people who don’t have that opportunity." That seems to sum up the whole impetus of the Festival and those of us who do not live in this little slice of heaven were extremely grateful to share in the experience.
As we packed up to go home, conversations and impressions were ongoing. We rolled back onto that fabled highway, fat and happy, well sated from a veritable sensory feast.
Thank You Mendocino. It was lovely, it was enlightening, it was Reel.