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  • Significant Productions

    Michael B. Jordan, with Ariana Neal, plays Oscar Grant, who was fatally shot by a BART police officer in Oakland in 2009.

  • Danny Moloshok / Invision

    Ryan Coogler receives the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 26.

'Fruitvale' filmmaker has Sacramento ties

Published: Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 2AANDE
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jul. 10, 2013 - 11:02 am

The filmmaker behind "Fruitvale," a feature that won top honors at the recent Sundance Film Festival in Utah, has close ties to Sacramento.

Ryan Coogler, 26, took film classes at California State University, Sacramento, and also played wide receiver on the university's football team.

Coogler graduated with a degree in finance in 2007, moving on to film school at the University of Southern California, where he earned a master of fine arts degree in 2011.

Coogler is from Oakland, the setting of "Fruitvale," his debut feature film and winner of the dramatic Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at Sundance, which concluded Jan. 27.

"Fruitvale" tracks the last hours in the life of Oscar Grant, an unarmed 22-year-old man who was fatally shot by a BART police officer in the early-morning hours of New Year's Day 2009 at the Fruitvale train station.

Cellphone footage of the shooting was quickly uploaded to YouTube, inspiring outrage in Oakland and elsewhere.

Coogler was home on break from film school when he saw the footage, the "Fruitvale" director and screenwriter told host Amy Goodman of the television program "Democracy Now!"

"It was taken with cellphone cameras and video cameras from that time, so it was grainy, it was pixilated," Coogler said. "All you could tell was that he was a black guy wearing a certain kind of clothes, with a certain group of friends, and he looked like he could be any one of us. ... His friends looked like my friends."

Coogler approaches projects "with an incredible sense of heart and humanity," said Sacramento State professor Roberto Pomo, from whom Coogler took several film and theater classes.

Coogler had transferred to Sacramento State after the football program at St. Mary's – the first college he attended – was discontinued. He chose CSUS partly because it offered film courses, Pomo said.

"He was very eclectic – played football, majored in business and studied cinema," Pomo said.

Coogler always showed writing talent, Pomo said, "but the wonderful thing about Ryan is that he is honestly committed to learning and reading, and learning and reading some more. He is truly a man of ideas."

Coogler asked his professor to look over his application essay to USC's prestigious School of Cinematic Arts, Pomo said.

"When I perused the essay, I thought 'This is perfect,' " Pomo said with a laugh. "There is not much I can add to that. In fact, there was so much I learned from him."

Coogler developed "Fruitvale" through the Sundance Institute's Filmmakers' Lab. Actor and director Forest Whitaker produced "Fruitvale," and Octavia Spencer, who won a 2012 Academy Award for her performance in "The Help," plays Grant's mother. Michael B. Jordan ("Friday Night Lights," "The Wire") plays Grant.

Film distributor the Weinstein Co. acquired "Fruitvale" for a reported $2 million at Sundance. Weinstein is the distributor behind recent Oscar best-picture winners "The King's Speech" and "The Artist." A theatrical release date for "Fruitvale" has yet to be announced.

Other recent winners of Sundance's Grand Jury Prize for drama include "Beasts of the Southern Wild," in the running for best picture at the Feb. 24 Academy Awards, and "Winter's Bone" (2010), which also went on to become an Oscar best-picture nominee.

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