The return of ‘Little Miss Sunshine:’ Local filmmaker comes home to film fest for anniversary screening |

The return of ‘Little Miss Sunshine:’ Local filmmaker comes home to film fest for anniversary screening

Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris co-directed "Little Miss Sunshine."
Submitted photo |

Know & Go

WHAT: 16th Annual Nevada City Film Festival

WHEN: Thursday-Sunday

WHERE: Historic locations throughout Nevada City including Miners Foundry Cultural Center, 325 Spring St.; Nevada Theatre, 401 Broad Street; and Ol’ Republic Brewery, 124 Argall Way, Nevada City

TICKETS: Tickets $10 GA/$8 Student & NCFF Members for individual screenings, Early Bird Festival Passes $59 (limited to 200, available until 9/1), $89 GA/$79 Student & NCFF Members Festival Passes. Advance tickets available online at, by phone at (530) 362-8601, and in person at NCFF HQ 110 Union Street, Floor 1, Nevada City.

Local filmmaker Jonathan Dayton will be attending the Nevada City Film Festival, along with his wife and co-director Valerie Faris, as they celebrate the 10th anniversary of their film “Little Miss Sunshine” with a special screening this Friday.

“We’re always working, and just finished up a film. We had a little window in our schedules. Plus it was the 10-year anniversary, so we felt like it was the perfect time,” Dayton said. “We love coming up there. One of my happiest moments was showing our film at the Del Oro, because that’s where I grew up watching movies. So we’re very excited to come back.”

Dayton, who lived in Nevada County as a youth, has been directing with his wife for more than three decades. Originally, the pair crafted music videos, working with the likes of R.E.M, Ringo Starr, Janet Jackson and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and in 1996 they won six MTV Video Music Awards for their video of The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight.”

“We’ve been trying to get Jonathan and Valerie to attend the film festival since the release of ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ 10 years ago — it wasn’t until now that schedules aligned that they could attend. And we couldn’t be happier,” said film fest director Jesse Locks.

“Little Miss Sunshine” was the directorial debut for the duo, who had waited patiently for the right script to come along. The comedy, which took a relatively small $8 million to make, ended up being a surprise commercial and critical hit, grossing $100 million worldwide and netting four Academy Award nominations.

The film follows the exploits of a lovably dysfunctional family, the Hoovers, who embark on a road trip from their home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, so that the youngest member Olive can compete in a beauty pageant in California that shares the name of the film. Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette play the patriarch and matriarch of the clan, respectively, with Abigail Breslin portraying Olive, Paul Dano as her brother Dwayne, and Alan Arkin (who would take home the Academy Award for best supporting actor) as the foul-mouthed grandfather. Steve Carell rounds out the supporting cast; the role was a breakthrough for Carell, who at the time of casting was still little-known to audiences.

Dayton and Faris have directed two more films since their first; “Ruby Sparks” in 2012 and “Battle of the Sexes,” the story of the Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs tennis match which stars Carell and Emma Stone and is slated for release next year. But it’s safe to say that, at least for the time being, “Little Miss Sunshine” endures as their most beloved work.

“I think we all come from a family of one kind or another and we all know what it’s like to have dreams and fall short (of those dreams),” Dayton said of the movie’s lasting appeal. “As eccentric as the movie is, it does touch on certain truths. It resonated with Valerie and I, and I think (viewers) identify with the whole family and each member. It’s just a hopeful movie without promising too much.”

The screening will take place at the Nevada Theatre in Nevada City at 7:30 p.m. Friday. A question and answer session with Dayton and Faris will take place immediately following the movie.

“We love the local connection that Jonathan grew up here and went to Lyman Gilmore middle school. It just goes to show if you are creative, innovative, and work hard, you can go on to have great success,” Locks said. “We also love their style; it is so the Nevada City Film Festival — creative and fun, a little weird, a little bittersweet, and made from the heart.”

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

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