You’d have to search high and low to find a couple of guys more into cinema than Napa’s Christopher Rusin and Shahin Gholami.
The two film buffs met a decade ago while working at Giovanni and Donna Scala’s Bistro Don Giovanni, and their mutual interest in cinema became evident almost from the start.
That passion, nurtured by friends and family over the years, prompted them to team up two years ago on a serious film project.
Come Sunday, their labor of love, an independently produced drama about a serial killer, receives its world premiere at Another Hole in the Head Film Festival in San Francisco.
Rusin and Gholami are all het up at the prospect of screening their first feature film for a crowd of strangers.
“Our film, which is titled ‘Fell,’ is a character study on the consequences of abuse,” Rusin, the director advises. “It’s a creeper without the gore.”
“And it has an ending that leaves viewers hanging, so to speak,” producer Gholami says with a “that’s-all-I’m-telling-ya” grin.
The seed for this disturbing drama was planted two years ago during a late-night discussion, the producer/director team revealed.
“We started shooting with $300 in the bank,” adds Gholami, a native of Tehran whose family was uprooted to Germany during the turbulent revolution of the ’80s. He notes that his passion for freedom and expression led to his study of film.
Gholami settled in California at age 22. He’s been working in the Bay Area hospitality industry for a decade. In 1999, he founded Baby Joon Film, where he continues to pursue his lifelong dream and career in film.
Rusin said he and Gholami were able to shoot this feature-length film for costs just remarkably shy of $7,000. Primarily self-taught, Rusin, a Napa native, has traveled to more than a dozen countries, camera in hand, as a professional independent filmmaker for public, government and private clients.
Gallery owner/artist representative Liz Lopez, who serves as line producer and publicist for “Fell,” sums up the path to production this way:
“With 300 bucks, Gholami as assistant director, his camera, his brother’s roommate’s ranch, an art studio, a boatload of creativity and a band of motley executives, Rusin fearlessly, and with unwavering focus as supreme ringleader, articulated and directed a band of pure talent in what resulted in a stunning display of collaboration.
“A domestic landscape of dreary obscurity laced with incest and brutality becomes the breeding ground of conflict in this terrifying and visually beautiful thriller, ‘Fell.’
“Disturbing? Absolutely. Important? Maybe ... we think so.”
“‘Fell’ is a genuinely creepy film that portrays the terror of abuse and the cycle of pain that follows Leah as she tries to stitch old wounds and heal,” noted Mike Skurko, producer of SFIndiefest 2010, which is screening the film twice this month. “A painful and haunting film that displays real pain and a saga of suffering.”
Behind the scenes
Starring in the film is a relative newcomer, Cheryl Fidelman, whose early roles were on New York stages. For the past five years she has pursued her acting career in California. Playing her mother is New York native Kari Wishingrad, a resident of northern California for more than two decades.
A fortuitous encounter led the pair to the Napan who wrote the screenplay for “Fell.”
In fact, it was writer Jesse Wanamaker who insisted that the film’s protagonist be a young woman, as fictional serial killers are seldom female.
Many area residents were cast in supporting roles and the film was shot, for the most part, in Napa and Yountville, with a few scenes filmed in San Francisco.
Cast in featured roles are Johnny Murillo, Kharma Aveline Fisher, Robert Kaywin, Jeffery Davis, James Camblin, Steven Danner, Jacey Vanda, Robert Ericson, Keely Dervin, Jarrod Rusin and Philip John Rusin.
The production team pays special tribute to a local artist to whom they say they are indebted for his role in bringing “Fell” to the screen.
Art and set director, as well as costume designer, well-known Napa Valley artist Reuben Godinez was able to help put the wraps on the production just two months before he died at age 34.
“Reuben was not limited to a palette of paint,” Lopez pointed out. “He could successfully take $20, two dresses from Goodwill, a spool of thread, a box of sequins and a hot glue gun and create the entire set design for a feature film, including the full surrealistic wardrobe for the lead female serial killer.”
“He was the one who picked the color for this film,” adds Gholami. “He’s the guy who told us, ‘Yellow is the new black,’ and dressed Leah in beautiful yellow. It was ironic then when we were shooting one of the final scenes in Union Square in San Francisco that we happened to notice — and include in the film — a shop window full of yellow dresses.”
Gholami and Rusin are grateful for “the support and generosity of Napans that we experienced (over the period of two years). It was amazing and we’re so grateful.”
Several businesses — including Pancha’s in Yountville as well as the Green Door and Studio B in Napa — cooperated by allowing scenes to be filmed inside. Others, such as Antiques on Second and Cuvée Restaurant, helped with production and casting efforts, Gholami said.
The world premiere of “Fell” takes place Sunday at 9 p.m. at the oldest continuing operating movie house in San Francisco, the Roxie Theater, located in the heart of the Mission District, at 3117 16th St., between Valencia and Guerrero.
The film will get a second showing as part of Another Hole in the Head Film Festival — at 7 p.m. on July 27 at VIZ Cinema, located at 1746 Post St., between Webster and Buchanan, in San Francisco.
To purchase advance tickets for either screening, log onto www.sfindie.com.
The two filmmakers intend to screen “Fell” at other film festivals at home and abroad this year and early next year.