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The Transforming Power of Cinema - WINE COUNTRY FILM FESTIVAL


The Transforming Power of Cinema


By Justine Ashton

Thirty years ago there were no movie theaters north of Mill Valley showing films outside of the Hollywood system.  Nor were there any film festivals. At that time there were about 300 film festivals world wide. Now there are over 3,000.  My husband, Stephen Ashton, decided it would be a good idea to start one here.  Back in those days Sonoma County was not called Wine County. I think it was dubbed The Redwood Empire. 

We named our annual celebration of independent and international cinema the Wine Country Film Festival (WCFF).  The Hollywood Reporter, one of WCFF's media sponsors, did a four page story and The LA Times sent its entertainment reporter to cover the event.  And Voila! In just a few short years  - WCFF and the region - Wine Country - became internationally known.

I spent all my time that first year organizing special events. I had no idea what an independent film was nor had I ever seen one.  Finally the last film in the program was about to start and I hurried over to the theater.  By then having met filmmakers - who were passionate storytellers - and actors like Bruce Dern and Elliott Gould and listening to Stanley Kramer speak at a seminar about producing films, I had to find out what this was all about. 

There were about ten people in the theater.  The film from Australia was A Test of Love; based on the true story of Anne McDonald who had cerebral palsy and was confined to a hospital from the age of three. Her story so moved me that for two days I could not speak.  The idea that a movie could do that amazed me!  At that time in my life I didn't care about people who were deformed or disabled.  I started to journal what had happened and rereading recently my notes it went like this; I feel so uncomfortable watching Anne in her caged like crib. I wanted to leave the theater. But wait she is in grave danger of being suffocated by some not so nice folks and suddenly I was really scared for her. Out of the blue an enlightened nurse begins to communicate with Anne and through a series of thrilling circumstances sets her free from her horrid confinement. I am in tears as they leave the institution.  I felt something in my chest. Something is happening to my heart.  And I can't talk. The nurse adopts Anne and eventually she attends college and writes the screenplay that is the film's screenplay I just watched! The notes in my journal end with I am certain my heart expanded. I feel empathy. I want more of this!

For the past 29 years I've been blessed. Yes blessed. As part of the selection committee for WCFF I watch movies that come from storytellers from all over the world. The ones that move me in some way or make me think about something or some one in some distant place in a new way, usually make the final program for you - the public - to see.

I'd like to share one film that transformed me during this year's selection process.

THE OTHER KIDS by San Francisco filmmaker Chris Brown is the raw and intimate look in the struggles of six small-town teens on the verge of high school graduation. It is a bold and original hybrid of fiction & non-fiction in which real teenagers collaborated with director Chris Brown to tell their own gripping, personal stories.

Brown made up his own word FICTUMENTARY to describe the process of taking raw materials from real life to create a fictional cinematic universe. Shot without a script, THE OTHER KIDS is fueled by our teen actors’ real-life struggles, feelings and experiences. It reawakened memories of my senior year and connected me to these amazing teens as if I were one of them.

THE OTHER KIDS with cast and crew in person screens Friday Sept 23rd at 7pm at the Kenwood Depot in Kenwood.

Wince Country Film Festival

The Wine Country Film Festival dates are September 22 – 25 in select venues in Kenwood. There are 45+ films in the 2016 program. I encourage you to see as many as you can. Many storytelling filmmakers will be on hand for plenty of chat time before and after their films. Individual film tickets are for sale in advance or day of show (cash only). WCFF is not a pass driven event.  Visit for ticket sales and program details.