Even with Greta Gerwig’s Hollywood success, Sacramento is still making a name for itself in the film world. That’s why this weekend’s “A Place Called Sacramento” film festival is still needed as it celebrates its 20th edition.
The film scene has certainly gotten stronger here over the two decades Access Sacramento has put on the festival. Sacramento County’s nonprofit program for residents to practice both television and radio broadcasting has expanded the festival this year, turning what is normally a one-night-only premier of the films into a three-day event.
Gary Martin, executive director of Access Sacramento for the last seven years, said that the aim of the annual festival has always been to provide people with a chance to have a voice in their community and follow their creative passions.
“When you think back two decades ago, the filmmaking capacity for people in Sacramento was very low,” Martin said. “So the thought was, by creating ‘A Place Called Sacramento,’ you create an opportunity for people to start a film career, to go through the process of filmmaking from beginning to end.”
This year’s edition starts Thursday night at the Crest Theatre, when films from past years will be shown and three Access Sacramento community members will be inducted into the festival’s inaugural hall of fame.
A more exclusive affair is on Friday night: A “Roaring 20s” themed party and panel with two Access Sacramento alums, Tim Russ and Galen Howard, speaking about their beginnings and current careers in Hollywood. Russ has been a regular both on TV – famously, on “Star Trek: Voyager” – and in movies. Howard is a TV regular.
Saturday, again at the Crest, this year’s 10 films are shown and awards are given out. But the process starts much earlier in the year.
The festival begins to take shape each year in January, when Access Sacramento calls out for 10-minute, family-friendly scripts with some kind of focus on Sacramento. Of the scripts submitted, 10 are selected by a panel of judges to be produced for the festival.
The chosen scripts are announced in May. That same day, hundreds of volunteers come to meet the filmmakers, asking to be cast as actors or offering to help with various technical roles. Martin estimated that over 300 people were at this year’s event, many of whom had previously taken various courses provided by Access Sacramento.
Once films are cast, the teams work over the summer to shoot their films and edit them by the September deadline. Often, the writers also work as directors and producers of their films, seeing the process through from beginning to end.
And while the films are judged and awards and prizes are given out for several categories, participants are often cooperative, collaborating on things like making sure schedules are communicated so volunteers with expertise in certain skills are available to work on several films.
Kimberly Spears was taking an Access Sacramento class to support her passion as a writer when she first heard about “A Place Called Sacramento.” In 2018, she attended the script announcement and ended the night signed up to volunteer for three of the films.
This year, Spears wrote, directed and produced an autobiographical piece for the festival titled “Family Love.” She said the collaboration with others on creative work is affirming.
“It takes you to a place of instant confidence, because when someone else reads something that you have created, it just makes you feel like you’re doing something right,” Spears said. “And it exposes you, it allows you to stand out your comfort zone and actually own up to what you’ve written.”
Vert Wright had previously participated in both “A Place Called Sacramento” and other film festivals in town before deciding to collaborate on a script for the first time with his partner, David H. Perez Jr.
For Wright, the decision to try something new and intimidating to him was encouraged by the filmmaking community.
“Writing is one of the things that I’ve shied away from. It’s probably the thing I do the least,” Wright said. “The Sacramento filmmaking community is a very welcoming, nurturing environment. And I felt really at home from the start. So I felt comfortable doing more and more.”
After spending previous years as actors in the festival, Trey Van Dyke and Christina Castro decided to co-write a script for the festival. When their script, a comedy titled “Funny Money,” was selected, they co-directed it as well.
“We just talked about it and we wanted to see what it would take to be on the other side of the camera,” Van Dyke said. “We just gathered down in our little studio we have in our house and thought about what things in Sacramento intrigue us and what we wanted to write about.”
Castro said that as the two were each making a film for the first time, they prioritized organization and using their volunteers’ time as efficiently as possible.
“We knew it was a lot of stuff that we were unfamiliar with, so we tried to give ourselves as much time as we could,” Castro said. “We knew it was going to be kind of chaotic, as it was our first time.”
Now that films are finished and the only thing left to do is watch and celebrate, Spears said that she is grateful for the outlet Access Sacramento provides and for the people involved.
“The great thing about this process is that we all work together and we all support each other,” Spears said. “You know, ‘if you need me to do lighting, if you need me to, you know, do this role, we’re there.’ So it’s a friendly and welcoming competition. And whoever wins, we’re all happy for each other.”
If you go
Thursday: Films from festivals past shown at the Crest Theatre, three members of Access Sacramento Community inducted into inaugural hall of fame, and children’s films are shown. Doors: 6 p.m., show at 7. Cost: $11 (includes facility fee)
Friday: Hollywood Connection Panel and Party at Access Sacramento (Coloma Community Center). Drinks and snacks, Roaring 20s theme. 6 p.m., Cost: $25
Saturday: 10 produced films are shown at the Crest Theatre and awards are given out. Doors 6 p.m, show at 7. Cost: $16 (includes facility fee)