Lights, camera, locals:Nevada City Film Fest features locals’ works, Oscar insights | TheUnion.com
Katrina Paz
Special to The Union

Lights, camera, locals:Nevada City Film Fest features locals’ works, Oscar insights

Nevada City's arts and entertainment scene hits the big screen this weekend, when short films and feature length movies take center stage at the 15th Annual Nevada City Film Festival.

The four-day celebration of art, music, and independent filmmaking includes film screenings, industry panels and workshops, filmmaker Q&A's, live music and special events throughout town.

The festival has been called the "Sundance of the Sierra" (Sacramento News & Review) for its emphasis on fiercely independent cinema by showcasing diversity, creativity and innovative storytelling and new voices in film.

While it presents scores of films from filmmakers of all backgrounds and experiences, this year the festival puts a special spotlight on homegrown talent.

"To celebrate our 15th anniversary, we wanted to go back to our roots and celebrate the local filmmakers who are making great films and those filmmakers that are working hard to capture the stories of our community," Jesse Locks, festival director, said.

The festivities kick off Thursday evening with the premier of "Music in Mali: Life is Hard, Music is Good," a feature-length music documentary about the musicians, dancers and people of Mali who create inspiring heartfelt music in some of the most difficult living conditions in West Africa. The film, narrated by Danny Glover, took nearly a decade to complete and was spearheaded by Nevada City native Aja Salvatore.

Salvatore said he considers himself more of a producer and musician, rather than a filmmaker. He grew up with an avid interest in West Africa and began taking trips to Mali with the goal to record local music, noting its profound influence on modern music in America, specifically blues and jazz.

An equipment mishap caused him to document a visual story rather than a purely audio one. He made numerous trips to the area over the years and showed part of the footage at the festival several years ago.

"The Mali made American culture what it is," he said.

The showing will be hosted by Les Nubians' Hélène Faussart and includes a live drum and dance performance followed by an after-party.

On the other end of the entertainment spectrum is "The Overnight," by Grass Valley native Patrick Brice. Brice notes that the festival showed the first film he ever made and that nearly all his work has been featured here throughout the years.

"It gave me a great deal of confidence early on," he said. "The fact that they've continued to be so supportive — I hold them dear to my heart for being so encouraging."

"The Overnight" is Brice's second full-length feature film, and stars Adam Scott and Jason Schwartzman. He's been making films since his early teens, and while he doesn't consider whether or not his work is mainstream, he acknowledges that the recognizable actors helped put the film in front of more audiences. It premiered at Sundance earlier this year and was subsequently picked up by distributors. It coincidentally was released June 19, the same weekend as his first feature film, "Creep," in which he stars in with Mark Duplass, was released.

Other local highlights include" "Golden Stories of Our Past", an oral history of Nevada County, produced by The Union; the premier of "The High Country," a locally-produced and shot TV pilot by Heather Donahue and Matt Herman; and "Little Hero," a documentary short by Marcus McDougald.

"The film fest is a platform that supports and allows filmmakers to hone their craft and voice," Locks said. "It's really exciting to be able to share that with the audience. Audiences love art and love seeing things for the first time."

The festival will show approximately 80 films, primarily shorts, over the course of the weekend including documentaries, animation, narratives and comedies.

Special features include two programs by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Randy Haberkamp, the Academy's managing director of Preservation and Foundation Programs, will host The Civil War: Cinematic Perspective, on Friday evening at the Miners Foundry.

The program, designed for all audiences interested in how people interpret movies, covers a range of historical films.

Those include: clips from "Glory," starring Matthew Broderick and Denzel Washington about the U.S. Civil War's first all-black volunteer company; "Lincoln," starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln; the 1965 classic "Shenandoah," with James Stewart; and the 1926 classic "The General," starring Buster Keaton.

Immediately following the Civil War retrospective is Hollywood Home Movies, a selection of home movie footage from Hollywood's Golden Age, with behind-the-scenes footage from "Gone With the Wind" and clips of Shirley Temple, Fred MacMurray, Jerry Lewis and Marion Davies.

Also presented by the Academy is "The Short Films of Pixar," shown Saturday evening. These short films have all the emotion of "Toy Story" or "Wall-E," but portrayed in just a few minutes.

For those who want a sort of crash course in experiencing the festival, there is Thursday evening's Best of the Best, a selection of some of the best film shorts ever to be presented since the festival's inception.

The festival wraps Sunday with the Best of the Fest at Ol' Republic Brewery in Nevada City. Best of the Best includes screenings of this year's winners and an after-party. Locks also strongly suggests coming to opening night.

"There's something really special about opening night," she said."It's mostly locals, fun energy — there's something about sitting there at Miners Foundry watching something by local artists."

For more information, see http://www.nevadacityfilmfestival.com, or call or visit the NCFF office at 110 Union St., Nevada City, Mon-Fri- 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 530-362-8601

Katrina Paz is a Grass Valley freelance writer.