Documentary filmmaker David Holbrooke will be premiering a new film called “Take the Hill” at the upcoming Napa Valley Film Festival (Nov. 7-11) at the Archer Hotel in Napa. The subject of the film is Napa County’s irrepressible humanitarian, Dick Grace of St. Helena.
Holbrooke, whose directing credits include “No Man’s Land” (2017), “The Diplomat” (2015), and “The Trials of Henry Kissinger” (2002), has created a personal portrait of Grace as an international humanitarian.
The film captures the story of how Grace’s life as a successful investment broker and winery owner was transformed through a random encounter with a 9-year-old African American boy with leukemia named Anthony Frazier. So significant was Frazier’s influence on Grace that upon the child’s death, Grace immediately flew from Katmandu, Tibet back to Birmingham, Alabama to deliver the boy’s eulogy.
To this day Grace believes “little Anthony” changed the entire direction of his life. “He made compassion and kindness real and true and good for me,” Grace says in the film. “And I just want to keep his message alive.” Frazier was, according to Grace, the catalyst to awaking Grace’s compassion.
“Take the Hill” offers a panoply of images and clips that follow Grace through a number of international travels he has routinely taken since Anthony Frazier’s passing: To Tibet, Nepal, China, and a thousand other locales reaching out to those he encounters in need. Grace’s great joy seems to be in personally entertaining children in hospitals, helping individuals with disabilities, and responding to the human challenges met by the personalities he encounters.
Yet the film cannot fully document the countless kindnesses and offerings of support to hundreds of individuals that Grace has “adopted” in his travels. Nor does it enumerate the many fundraisers for humanitarian causes at which he has assisted as Master of Ceremonies. Instead, what we see in the film are snippets of these encounters. One suspects there are an equal number of stories behind each clip.
Nor does it include mention of Grace’s “Unsung Heroes of Compassion” events -- mounted over multiple years between 2001 and 2014 in San Francisco. Those events – sponsored by the Grace Family Vineyards Association and the Wisdom in Action nonprofit – gathered several hundred individual humanitarians from around the world to meet with the Dalai Lama as representatives of the tens of thousands of others who, according to Grace, “quietly serve the disenfranchised and work to improve our communities through their personal efforts.”
Perhaps this omission is because the scope, breadth and diversity of the Grace’s humanitarian efforts are just too diverse and too unconventional to be documented in a single 24-minute tribute. Perhaps it’s because Grace’s individual acts of compassion do not fit into the neat categories of institutional philanthropy. Or perhaps this is simply Grace’s choice: to highlight the personal acts of compassion instead of the meaning of any single benefit he has endowed.
Actor, writer and fellow film director Peter Coyote also appears in Holbrooke’s film. He described this and other conundrums as challenges that Grace’s personality presents to filmmaking.
“Superficially he (Grace) is a bundle of contradictions. He’s a huge ego. But his ego is completely dedicated to helping other people. He gives away most of his money. But he drives an Aston Martin and has art all over the place.”
Yet Coyote describes Grace as a warrior against suffering, unkindness and injustice. “Both Buddha and Marines are warriors,” Coyote said. “They put their bodies on the line for what they believe.” Grace – who trained as a Marine -- is “at war with suffering. He’s at war with unkindness. He’s at war with injustice.”
This military analogy is, perhaps, the genesis of the title “Take the Hill.” And though Grace’s affluent lifestyle in the Napa Valley may seem like a contradiction to his humanitarian and philanthropic efforts, Coyote reminds the viewer “in real life contradictions don’t cancel each other out. They just coexist.”