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WinterFEST highlights regional documentaries

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The 12th annual Sacramento Film & Music Festival and first ever WinterFEST kicked off Saturday at the historic Crest Theatre. The festival runs through Martin Luther King Day on Monday, when winners of the audience choice awards will be announced.

Although the festival is largely international in scope, with 31 films representing nine countries, the focus this winter has largely been on documentaries from Northern California, such as Saturday’s “Painting Bolinas”, Sunday's "My Brother Mike" and Monday’s documentary feature “Sowing the Seeds of Justice,” about Cruz Reynoso, California's first Chicano Supreme Court Justice and member of the UC Davis law faculty.

“With the dates coinciding with the MLK holiday, the ability to put on a full day on Monday of social justice, politics and peace-related documentaries was just a neat thing to be able to do,” festival co-director Anthony Sheppard said.

Organizers receive several hundred film submissions through withoutabox.com, and they choose between one and 10 of them to screen, Sheppard said. This year’s large pool of films included films from 20 to 30 film schools, including international programs and all the major U.S. film schools. Several of these short student films opened the festival.

Painting Bolinas,” a deeply personal piece by first-time filmmaker Wendy Elkin, is about the coastal town of Bolinas, hidden about 10 miles north of Stinson Beach, and one of the town’s most misunderstood yet cherished characters. It illustrates the day-to-day life of eccentric painter Peter Lee, an accomplished artist in his own way, who chooses to live in relative poverty and squalor while opening his makeshift house to the homeless. While the artist’s disposition is that of a scotch-drinking, hilariously profane 90-year-old sailor, his free spirit and love for life emerge through his happy and colorful paintings, which depict the landscape, people and many dogs that make Bolinas.

Elkin said she began visiting the artist, and one visit eventually transformed into 65 hours of footage, edited down to an 87-minute documentary.

“There were several reasons I made this film,” Elkin said during the post-screening Q&A. “I feel that Peter is a character that everyone can learn things from. It’s also my hope that people would see him not only as an incredible artist but also as an American folk hero.”

The audience responded with enthusiasm to the documentary and the soundtrack, which features a song written specially for the film by Elkin’s son-in-law, George Mohler.

“It really captured the spirit of the film and exactly what I wanted to portray,” Elkin said.

As the film closes in with a panorama of the beautiful, fluid Bolinas coast line, Mohler’s lyrics reinforce much of the meaning of the film: “It’s a twisted road that leads to the California sun./ Paint it on a postcard, send it via Highway 1.”

Music is a large part of the festival itself, with its music video programs and daily live performances. Festival sponsor Yogurtagogo served several flavors of yogurt in the lobby Saturday while local musician Andrew Heringer performed.

“I think this festival is such a cool thing to have happening,” Heringer said. “I respect anyone who can set up something like this and get people involved and have a showcase for art and movies.”

The audience returned to the screen for the narrative feature of the day, “Boy Wonder,” preceded by a series of films submitted to the “Pitch Sacramento” film competition, short local films subject to audience voting. The winning films and prizes will be announced during the festival after-party Monday at 7:15 p.m. in the Parlare Euro Lounge.

“Boy Wonder” is an intense yet humanizing psychological thriller about a Brooklyn boy who witnesses the vicious murder of his mother. He is the comic book-inspired hero, a disciplined, straight-A student by day, a tough hero seeking revenge on his mother’s killer by night. The film, which took filmmaker Michael Morrissey roughly 10 years to complete, evokes distorted perceptions of morality and redemption.

“[Boy Wonder] held my attention up to the final twist at the end, O'Henry style,” Sacramentan Patricia Valentine said. “I loved it.”

This was exactly the reaction Morrissey predicted.

Monday’s film screenings include several social justice documentaries in honor of Martin Luther King Day, including “Lost Harmony,” “Atomic Mom” and “Sowing the Seeds of Justice.”

For the complete schedule, visit sacfilm.com.

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