Refusing to ghost: Documentary chonicles ‘Little Town of Washington’ |

Refusing to ghost: Documentary chonicles ‘Little Town of Washington’

Director Sara Ross-Samko filming for her documentary, Refusing to Ghost.
Submitted photo |

Know & Go

What: Fundraiser for “refusing to Ghost”

When: 7:30 p.m. to midnight Saturday

Where: Washington Hotel, 15432 Washington Road, Washington

To donate to the Kickstarter: Visit

“Refusing to Ghost”, a film that details the past and present of the little town of Washington in Nevada County, is in need of community support as its creators work to make the feature film a reality.

A documentary, “Refusing to Ghost” is the brainchild of Sara Ross-Samko, an alumna of the American Film Institute Conservatory. After first discovering Washington while scouting locales for an entirely different film, the filmmaker quickly made friends in the area. Among them included David Bagley, better known as Guitar Dave, who became an “adopted father figure.”

“I came there about five or six years ago while location scouting for a different film up in the Sierra region,” she said. “I was making friends in Grass Valley, and they asked if I had ever been to the little town of Washington. I went down there, and in about five minutes I met Guitar Dave, who became a very close friend, along with a few other people there. At some point, I started taking still photographs of the town. Then earlier this year, Guitar Dave was diagnosed with cancer. We’d been thinking about making a documentary, but we knew that if Dave was going to be a part of it we had to start immediately. So that’s what got us going.”

After securing a grant from Kodak, Ross-Samko, along with her husband and co-producer, Christopher Dennis, began filming. Ross-Samko, who has grown to love the community of Washington, says that she had a very clear idea of what she wanted the documentary to be.

“It’s not so much a journalistic piece; it’s more like a poem to the town. It will be about the history there … but it’s also a portrait of the town as it is now and a lot of the characters who live there,” she said. “The town’s been changing a lot over the last few years, and a lot of the elder people have been dying. We’re trying to capture what the town is like, before it either disappears or changes completely.”

The couple chose to use black and white Super 16 mm film, as well as expired color film stock, forgoing digital means altogether. Though more expensive, the decision was made largely because of film’s ability to better capture the spirit of the town.

“I’d taken some photographs, both on digital and medium format film. Looking at the two together, the organic quality of film, the texture and roughness of it seemed like the only way to get at the spirit of Washington,” said Ross-Samko. “There’s also something about shooting with a film camera. It’s a very simple process; you can hear the film go through and there are no monitors or wires. It’s just you and the subject, and organic film stock.”

The process of creating the project hasn’t been easy for Ross-Samko and Dennis. As part of the grant, the duo were essentially required to create a Kickstarter to the tune of $17,000. At time of publication and with just three days remaining, the webpage has raised $10,408.

To help the effort, a fundraiser will take place tonight at the historic Washington Hotel. A mystery film from the 1970s, rated G and family-friendly, will be screened along with footage already shot from “Refusing to Ghost.” Music recorded from Guitar Dave before his death will also be played. The event will be free, although any donations given will help fund the Washington documentary.

Although the Kickstarter funding is an important factor to getting the film made, Ross-Samko says that she’s determined to tell Washington’s story.

“We are applying for grants. The reason we’re doing a Kickstarter is because grants take a long time and there’s no guarantee,” she explained. “We’re also going to be applying for a fiscal sponsorship. What that means is we’d join in with a non-profit organization and people can donate to our film and get a tax write-off through the fiscal sponsorship.”

“There’s a lot of love and a lot of support from the town. It’s been a tough process trying to make an independent film on our own. At the same time, because it’s so grassroots we have all the freedom…to make a beautiful film that feels true to Washington,” she added.

Spencer Kellar is a freelance writer from Nevada City; he can be reached at

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