Those films are being celebrated with a Made in Siskiyou Showcase which will play first at the Empire Music Hall in Yreka on Saturday, Sept. 14 at 6 p.m. and again during the Flixx Fest itself on Thursday, Sept. 19 at 1 p.m.
A number of the films that will be shown at this year’s Jefferson State Flixx Fest were filmed in Siskiyou County. Those films are being celebrated with a Made in Siskiyou Showcase which will play first at the Empire Music Hall in Yreka on Saturday, Sept. 14 at 6 p.m. and again during the Flixx Fest itself on Thursday, Sept. 19 at 1 p.m. The filmmakers behind two of the locally made films recently shared a bit of their stories with the Siskiyou Daily News.
In addition to filming his short movie, “Luna” in Scott Valley, filmmaker Ross Williams also grew up in the area and completed all his schooling in Scott Valley before moving away for college when he was 18. His parents still live in the area, he said, as well as many of his friends, so he still visits about once a month.
Williams now lives in Talent, Oregon with his wife and two kids – a 15 year old boy and a 10 year old girl. He works as a freelance video producer and editor and runs XRATS Productions, making commercials and business videos for companies in Oregon and Northern California.
The Flixx Fest’s program describes “Luna” succinctly: “A young boy is haunted, while his parents grieve a death in the family." Williams explained that “it’s a twist on the little kid as a ghost story.”
The film was inspired by his daughter, Zoe, who, around the age of 6, “could creep my wife and I out by sneaking into our bedroom or just looking at us strangely,” he said. “One time while camping my wife took a photo of her in shadow, with her hair all crazy, and she looked like a ghost,” Williams described. He added, “I've been making films for almost 20 years now, and I love horror films in particular, so that image inspired me to make a movie with her as the ghost. There are so many films with little kid ghosts, so I wanted to come up with my own spin on it, something that would play with the genre.”
Williams wrote the film’s script several years ago, but said it took a couple years after that to actually make the film. “I wanted her to be older and more directable,” he said of his daughter, who is featured in the piece. Additionally, he explained, “it takes a lot of time and effort to make a film with no budget.”
“Luna” was filmed at the home belonging to Flixx Fest Executive Director Megan Peterson’s parents. Williams detailed, “There are a lot of old Victorian-style houses in Etna, and I have some connections with Megan and [Etna Chief of Police] Josh Short so I figured between the two of them we would be able to secure an old ‘haunted house.’
“... It was a house I'd walked by a thousand times as a kid, because it's right between the elementary school and the high school. I'd never been inside, but always found it interesting looking. It's not a Victorian style, but it's very old, one of the oldest houses in town and very unique looking. The inside is decorated with antiques, and it has great old wallpaper, which just added to the feeling of it as a haunted house. Plus Megan's parents understand what it's like to make a film, so they would know that when we shot the film there, we would essentially be taking over their house. They were super accommodating and it turned out to be the perfect location.”
“Luna” is not the only film that Williams has made in Siskiyou County. He also shot a short documentary in Scott Valley a few years back that was featured at the 2017 Flixx Fest. That film centered around Joe Hurlimann, an 85-year-old rancher, who's lived his entire life in Scott Valley. “He's kind of a local legend, one of those guys that everybody knows and likes,” Williams described, adding, “He was one of my best friend's dad growing up, and I really just wanted to tell his story.”
Williams has attended the Flixx Fest every year since its inception in 2015, but he acknowledged he was “pretty skeptical” when he first heard a film festival was going to take place in Scott Valley. “ I just didn't think the support would be there,” he said. On the contrary, he expressed, “There's always great audiences, they're very engaged in the films, which as a filmmaker is what you want when you go to a festival. It's very well run by Megan and team, they have a great crew of volunteers. I'm so proud that this community comes out to support independent films. It's turned into one of my favorite weekends of the year.”
More about Williams and his company, XRATS productions, can be found at xrats.net.
Like Williams, local filmmaker Steve Pestana has also watched the Flixx Fest evolve since its first year. He met Peterson and Siskiyou County Film Commission Director Larry Alexander in 2014 at a screening of Peterson’s Scott Valley-based film, “Heathens and Thieves.” At that time, Pestana said, Alexander and Peterson were contemplating starting up a film festival in Fort Jones – what would become the Flixx Fest.
“I was interested and excited that this event was going to happen in my new home town, Pestana said, “and I wanted to be a part of it.” For the first two years of the festival, he organized and headed up the Flixx Fest’s volunteer group. In the third year, he handed that job over to another person, and assisted with technical tasks, like helping the projectionist. He also served as a film screening/selection judge for the festival from 2015-2017.
“Last year I decided to make a film, so I stepped away from being a festival worker,” Pestana explained. That film, like the one he entered in this year’s Flixx Fest, was made in Siskiyou County. Called “Six People, Ten Questions” it is a documentary about homeless people who were living in and around Yreka in 2018. The film can be seen on YouTube by searching “Six People, Ten Questions.”
Pestana said he comes from a family of movie fanatics. “My two brothers and I used our family 8mm movie camera to make short films – mostly comedies – when we were teenagers in the late 60s and early 70s,” he shared. He went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in film production in 1977, but opted for a military career, which he said put his filmmaking aspirations on hold.
Following his military retirement and a second career working in contracting for California’s Stanislaus County, Pestana retired in 2011 and moved to Siskiyou County where he and his wife, Carol, and live in their “dream home” – an off-grid log home.
Pestana’s short film, “Our Sunday Spot,” was not only filmed locally, but also done in partnership with the Siskiyou County Film Commission. That partnership was the result of Pestana’s relationship with Alexander. He related, “Larry Alexander is an incredible friend to me and many in the Scott valley community. He not only contributes to the community through his business and as the Chair of the Scott Valley Fire Protection District governing board, but he is a very artistic and creative person. And he encourages others who have an interest in the arts.
“Following last year's Flixx Fest, Larry invited me and several other local film and music enthusiasts to form (in a very informal way) "Afterglow Studios" for the purpose of doing creative musical and film projects -with no serious expectation of financial reward -just fun, creativity and fellowship. ‘Our Sunday Spot’ is a result of that goal.”
Pestana describes “Our Sunday Spot” as “a short film that tells the poignant story of a heartbroken man, remembering happier times.” It was filmed entirely in Scott Valley by local film enthusiasts, he said, with virtually no budget. Additionally, the film’s music was composed and performed by local musicians; everyone involved in the production lives in Scott Valley.
He specifically mentioned that the music was composed and arranged by 20 year old Morgan Byers of Quartz Valley, who aspires to be a composer of film scores. "Our Sunday Spot" is Byers’ first film score, Pestana noted. He shared that Byers has also gotten an introduction to that career through contacts with a composer in Hollywood, and has attended a workshop with young composers from all over the world in Vienna, Austria.
The final credits for “Our Sunday Spot” include a pitch for filmmakers to come to Scott Valley to make a film, Pestana pointed out. “We included this with the hope that it might result in film productions, large or small, coming to Siskiyou County to make films. The Siskiyou County Film Commission and Afterglow Studios stands ready to assist in any way possible,” he said.
Pestana’s favorite aspect of the Flixx Fest is getting feedback from those who view his film. “Since, at the level in which I'm operating, there is no monetary measure of success, I'm in it purely for audience reaction – hopefully positive. You might say that someone like me lives for that feedback, and hopes for the best,” he explained.
Another draw of the Flixx Fest, he said, is “the wonderful combination of seeing local friends, making new local friends, and meeting filmmakers and film enthusiasts from distant places. It's an event that welcomes all comers with smiles and hugs (if you don't mind hugs).”