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Photography by Sarah Phelan

New Wave: Left to right: Arlene Maltman, Johnny Davis and Jane Sullivan

Behind the Seen

Metro Santa Cruz profiles the twisted but brilliant minds that have made the Santa Cruz Film Fest possible

By Sarah Phelan

Recently, Santa Cruz Film Festival director Jane Sullivan came across a photo her father took of her when she was 6 years old.

"On the back of it, he had scrawled 'The Producer,'" says Sullivan, her baby-blue eyes registering amazement that her dad so accurately got her number when she was still so very young.

A local in the true sense of the word, Sullivan worked at the Cocoanut Grove and the old Cooper House in her youth, before devoting the next 20 years of her professional life to the arts in San Francisco, New York City and Sydney, Australia.

"Most of the images you see in print and ads are produced by people I've worked with. I like to work for people who are trying to utilize sustainable business practices. That's an important value for me," says Sullivan, whose clients and projects included the Advertising Photographers of New York, the NYC Art Director's Club, and Leap & Imagination in Learning's Sand Castle Classic.

An artist in her own right, Sullivan believes her true talent lies in shining the spotlight on other artists and nonprofits.

"There's a void in most artists' business acumen," she explains, in a voice so husky they ought to give her a radio show to promote her vision of "art as community."

Ironically, when the California native boomeranged back to Santa Cruz almost four years ago, she found herself working in San Francisco three days a week, instead.

"I wasn't feeling vested in this community. That's when I said, 'Aha, a film festival,'" Sullivan recalls.

Not that she had any prior experience running a film festival, but that didn't faze this rock star any.

"I like to make things happen. I like people, and I did a lot of homework, and because I have all that producing background, I asked good questions, and then some pivotal angels, some financial, helped pull it off. I did not do it alone, there was a ton of volunteers," she says.

This year, the festival, which runs May 29-June 6, has almost doubled in length from five days to nine, with Sullivan attending the Toronto, Sundance and Mill Valley film festivals to scout for hot films and talent.

"I've never thought of myself as a woman in business. I think of myself as a full-service human being. I infiltrate all sectors," says Sullivan, who once traveled around the world for 18 months, an experience she describes as food for thought.

"That trip helped me determine that I want there to be all configurations of opinion at the film fest, which is a great opportunity for the business and artistic community to gain greater awareness of each other, not to mention reintroducing Santa Cruz to a new group of visitors. We edit visually every day of our life. We can become complacent and rigid in our philosophies. We need the opportunity to see all points of view and know that we don't know everything."

The Producer: This is the fateful picture that sealed the 6-year-old Sullivan's fate.

The Hit Man

With 600 submissions this year--a threefold increase over last year's festival--Sullivan and SCFF co-founder Johnny Davis had plenty of goodies to choose from during long days and nights of screening.

Asked how this cheerful-faced charmer got sucked into co-birthing a project of this enormity, Davis says, "All I remember is walking into Jane's house, which happens to be next door, seeing a canister of film, and asking, 'So, you're interested in film?' And next thing, we were attending the CSUMB fest in Monterey."

Acknowledging the continuing presence of the ever excellent Pacific Rim Film Fest, Davis said the duo decided that since Santa Cruz lacked a film fest all its own, they'd better start one.

But two people do not a film fest make, as Davis, who coordinates the fest's 100-strong team of volunteers, readily acknowledges.

"In the early days, the train only had two passengers, but we were super driven and never said no to anything, and pretty soon interest was growing and people were coming out of the woodwork, and we got nothing but encouragement, so it was difficult not to keep running," he recalls.

A former member of the improv troupe Um ... Gee ... Um, Davis and fellow Um ... Gee ... Um-er Sarah Lovelady had already co-founded ScripTease, in which improv-ers face consequences for their actions.

"We tell audiences the rules and regulations, and if the teasers break the rules, the audience blurts out 'Strip!' in a deafening roar," says Davis, who admits having to do a full-on monkey on more than one occasion.

"You have to deal with it, find props to get in the way, including your fellow teasers," he says. The experience proved helpful when facing the challenges of putting on the festival--and got Davis involved in appearing in local films, six of which have been entered in the fest.

"Only one has been accepted so far: the locally shot Judgment Call, in which I play a very minor role. As a hit man. But my being in a film is no guarantee of it getting in," he warns.

So, is he the film fest's hit man? All Davis will say is that "Jane is the premier energy source, who blows everybody's socks off with her commitment to seeing a project through and knowing every aspect. Luckily, I have a pretty close energy level, but I'm so much luckier, in terms of learning from her huge wealth of talent and experience."

As for his personal film preferences, Davis can pinpoint the moment when he got sick of what he calls "regular Hollywood cookie cutters."

"I'd just watched Disney's version of Aladdin, followed by Titanic, and I swear to God, it was the same story line and dialogue right down to the line where someone says, 'Do you trust me?' That's when I realized there had to be something else out there."

And by that time, Davis had already started a website called actingresume.com, which led to the beginning of a local film coalition that's in the baby stages right now under the guidance of Jeff Wager. (Check out www.scfilm.org for details.)

And a Cast of Thousands

So what to expect of the second annual Santa Cruz Film Festival?

There are 155 films, representing 11 countries and organized into 40 programs, including 28 local films, plus animation, avant-garde and an 18-and-under youth-produced program.

Opening night kicks off with two local narrative films, Cheri Lovedog's Prey for Rock 'N Roll, which debuted at Sundance this year, and Clark Brigham's Save It for Later. And locals will want to look out for The Anarchist's Cookbook, which features former UCSC student Jordan Sussman, and Living in Missouri, which is peopled by a mostly Santa Crustacean cast. To round things off, the festival closes with Apocalypse Now Redux--which has no overt Cruz connex, but we bet some of you will somehow dream one up.

And films aren't all that's going on. Check out the parties, the panel discussions and a June 1 screenwriting workshop featuring Lovedog, Brigham, scriptdoctor Dan Bessie and casting director Judy Boulet. And don't pass up the opportunity to volunteer. As Sullivan, who gives big tips of her hat to the fest's communication director Arlene Maltman, graphic design guru Jenny Petter and SCFF board members Eric Thiermann, Dina Scopettone and John Bresnak, puts it, "We need all the help we can get!"

Call 831.429.1136 if you can volunteer to help. The Santa Cruz Film Festival runs May 29-June 6. Tickets go on sale May 15 at Streetlight Records, the Civic Auditorium and Metro Santa Cruz.

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From the May 14-21, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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