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Tough Darts

Tiburon's little festival that can

By Gretchen Giles

Like the incredulous tagline of the old Berkeley Farms diary ads ("Cows? In Berkeley?"), there is, almost incredibly, an international film festival . . . in Tiburon?

Yep. Now in its third year, this six-day event ambitiously shows some 240 films from 50 countries at the Tiburon Playhouse's three screens, March 12-18. Eclectic and broad, offerings include films that were shot in Tiburon (such as Hugh Grant's forgettable Nine Months, interesting solely because it was indeed shot in Tiburon), a look at the masterly state of modern Polish cinema and a tribute to Charlie Chaplin as seen through two new and revealing documentaries.

Film producer Saul Zaentz (Amadeus, One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest) joins producer Lloyd Silverman (Snow Falling on Cedars) and Pixar Studios' Brad Bird to discuss the past, present and future of filmmaking in a Saturday morning panel. Director George Stevens (Shane) will be honored, as will Italian director Luchino Visconti (Death in Venice) and documentary directory Robert Snyder (Michelangelo)--all of which is rich but traditional film-festival fare.

What is most unusual about the TIFF is its slate of five movies made by Marin-based filmmakers.

San Rafael video producer and editor Jeffrey French is among them. An associate of Francis Coppola's Zoetrope Virtual Studio, an online community of filmmakers, French workshopped every detail of his short feature, the 27-minute Win Each Way, through his Zoetrope Virtual Studio comrades.

Shot both in England and at San Rafael's Mayflower Inn--as close as it comes to a traditional British pub on this side of the pond-- Win Each Way concerns itself with a dart contest between two old chums. One has gone off to pursue his dream of becoming a professional jockey; the other has stayed in the village, and when he loses his life savings on a horse race in which his friend the jockey rides, the two settle the debt over darts.

French calls Win Each Way (the title is taken from English horse-racing slang) a "calling card" for the feature-length film he's currently raising money and interest for. Titled Mugs Away, slang meaning that the loser goes first, that project is also about darts.

"My films aren't really about darts, but darts are the backdrop," he protests with a laugh. "I went to film school and was trying to find something that I felt passionate about to use as a [metaphor] for my feature filmmaking," French says by phone from his San Rafael home. "I started playing [darts] six years ago and fell in love with it. I felt it to be a very beautiful sport, or rather," he laughs, "it is while you're playing it; it's not much fun just to watch. There's a lot going on at a dart board, a competition between two people--it's like chess."

Win Each Way has already screened in the U.K. at the Cardiff Screen Festival, but the Tiburon festival marks its rather grand U.S. premiere. French is hoping that this "calling card" will be enough to help him reach his rather modest--in filmmaking terms--goal of the $1 million needed to produce Mugs Away.

"I'm shooting this on a very low budget, and a lot of it will come from the good graces of people in Liverpool," he says, explaining that that coastal city is eager to help artists in anticipation of being Europe's "City of Culture" in 2008. With that deadline looming, Liverpool is madly helping artists in order to help get cultured-up, and French is obliging by setting Mugs Away there.

"They'll loan me locations," French explains, "and the film office there will help me with casting. Plus, I've been all over England and I just love that city. I really like the people. They're very superstitious, and a lot of my stories are about how superstitions affect people's lives."

Promoting one film while scrambling to lay the foundation to make another is a full-time job on its own. French handles it sanguinely. "I'm very lucky that after 10 years of working in film and video production, I've been building up markers," he says. "I'm calling them in now."


The Tiburon International Film Festival begins on Friday, March 12, and screens films through Thursday, March 18. An extensive listing of all films and events is found at www.tiburonfilfestival.com or call 415.381.4123.

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From the March 10-17, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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