Seduced by Sonoma | Festivals & Awards | Roger Ebert

Seduced by Sonoma | Festivals & Awards | Roger Ebert.


To repeat again, this festival (click above) was co-founded by Carolyn Stolman and me in 1997.  I tried to have Roger Ebert attend (after all, he had given my 1970 film “Derby” 4 stars) but he never was able to.  Now this woman from came this year, and the way she describes my home town is the way it is.

And this is the festival where “Derby Bay” had such a wonderful kick off.


Of course, we call it the Plaza instead of the square, but what the hell.

How many of you will I see this summer?


Jerry Seltzer

Honoring someone you probably never heard of

As I rushed to Sonoma Market this morning to get apparently the only remaining Dungeness crab in the Bay Area (it is a tradition here, that is what you eat on New Year’s Eve), I ran into a friend who gave me some shocking news: a mutual friend, Ed Stolman, died last week of pancreatic cancer.

When I moved to Sonoma 20 years ago I knew no one who lived here, but soon found myself with some great friends.  And I can’t remember who put us together, but Ed and Carolyn Stolman and I quickly bonded, and the friendship lasted.

Ed was an amazing asset to the world:  originally from Chicago, he became the chairman of one of the leading hospital corporations and lived in Nashville.  The company was bought, so not being permitted to get back in the industry right away he became involved with the mayor of Nashville, and helped to restore the downtown area to its former glory and he opened a very successful steak restaurant.

And then (this portends of what came in Sonoma later), be bought a movie theater in Franklin Tennessee and kept it as a local gathering place, , helping to restore the square in front.  There was a store next to it, so he opened a candy store and convinced a chocolate ice cream bar maker in Chicago that he knew to let him keep them in business by buying into the company and bringing the bars to Nashville.  They were so good that he took them to gourmet food shows and eventually sold them to Mars Candy….they are the Dove bars.

His wife died of breast cancer, and he founded a breast cancer center at Vanderbilt Medical School.

Ed Stolman

Ed Stolman

He moved to the Bay Area, and after he and Carolyn were married, bought a house in Glen Ellen in Sonoma Valley.  They built a Tuscan Villa atop Sonoma Mountain and planted 1500 olive trees.  Although 65 at this time he proceeded to bring in the most modern olive press from Italy, and opened the Olive Press in Glen Ellen.  Today it is located in Jacuzzi winery in Sonoma when you come to visit the Commissioner, and yes, it is the same family as the whirlpool company.

Every year he would invite anyone who had olive trees to bring the olives to the press, and they would all be pressed together, and each would get the equivalent of their olives in this wonderful oil.

Now Carolyn was quite the busy person also.  She joined the Sister Cities of  Sonoma, tying in with other cities in Italy and other countries.  She had the idea to create an Italian Film Festival to create interest in the sister cities project and to help to restore the beautiful Sebastiani Theater.  She called me and said that she didn’t have the temperament to run it, but I could just be a “figurehead” and she would do all the work.  Sure, so for the next two years (1997 and 1998) I devoted most of my time, money and effort to this project, wondering what she meant by “figurehead”.

There were over 100 volunteers who worked with us.  We restored the theater with the help of the community, and there is a connection to Derby, of course.  Because of my relationship to the festival (which is in its 16th year), we were able to get “Derby Baby” a prime position in it this year which helped raise awareness of this great film.

Ed then turned to senior education, and helped establish a program at Sonoma State that is still in place, involving retired professors to teach, and seniors that want to get additional education.  He was also working on senior housing tied in with colleges around the country.  He was also instrumental in fund-raising for the Green Music Center at Sonoma State, a world-class concert venue that in the summer can open to a huge lawn area outside.  And these are only the projects I knew of…..he never stood still.

Ten years ago Judi and I received a leather embossed invitation for Ed’s 75th birthday at a 100 room castle (with a dungeon) in Tuscany. Of course we went, and the whole week had been planned.  We stayed at a converted 14th century monastery, and the castle was nearby, on top of a hill with the city around it.  Cocktails out on a huge landing overlooking the valley, dinner in a monstrous hall (I think there were between 75 and 100 of us……it could have held the flat track easily…..and then entertainment and Renaissance costumed dancers with flag bearers.  And we had to address Ed as “The Prince”.

Carolyn had a pain in her leg and had to use a cane.  Judi expressed concern that this could be a result of Carolyn’s earlier bout with breast cancer.  Judi was right.

Carolyn had worked with her friends at Avon to kept them involved in the women’s breast cancer program, and they established a garden at USF medical center in San Francisco and have become very involved with breast cancer programs.

Carolyn died of her cancer, but not without a great fight.  Ed was not about to get married again, but let us say he was not without the company of wonderful people, many of whom were women.  Ed has two sons, and a wonderful granddaughter.

I don’t know if anyone can fill this missing gap.  Let us just say he made a huge difference during his 85 years on earth, and who can ask for more than that.

Cars 2 and Sonoma

After I finished my stint with Ticketmaster, I moved to Sonoma in 1993.  I didn’t know a soul in town but my realtor, Peter Krause, was kind enough to connect me with some of the locals.

So I got to become friends with the Nicholas family, the Cuneos, the Germaines, the Stolmans, the Coats, the Sharps, the Smothers, Suzanne Brangham, the Lasseters and so many more.

Short summary:  Bob Nicholas and his father developed the butter-ball turkeys for Armour;  the Cuneos were the Sebastiani winery; Nicky Naylor Germaine is one of the nation’s leading realtors, her daughter Jenny was a great assistant to me and a great friend; the Stolmans had done so many things I may write about them later; Michael and Valerie Coats I had known from Bill Graham and BASS, wonderful PR and community person who had left “The City” to leave in Sonoma; The Sharps had emigrated from back East and developed a winery and sausage company; Tommy Smothers and his brother Dick helped us raise money in Oregon for Seltzer Park with a great performance; Suzanne Brangham represents the heart of this community:  she founded MacArthur Place hotel (stay there!), the General’s Daughter restaurant, Ramekin cooking institute, the Red and White Ball, and she drove teenagers on Friday night to events.  And of course John and Nancy Lasseter, with their wonderful sons, and he headed Pixar.

Photo by Glenn Franco Simmons.

In 1996 Carolyn Stolman called me.  She was quite a film buff and thought it would be a great idea to start an Italian Film Festival in Sonoma, with the proceeds to help restore the Sebastiani Theater, a beautiful 340-seat movie house that had been built on the Plaza in the early 30’s by the family, but has been sold and was pretty run down inside.  A resident of the town, Roger Rhoten, was managing it and really struggling to make ends meet.  His wife and friends worked with him; between movies Roger, who is quite a magician, put on live shows with local talent.

I thought it sounded like a good idea.  We would try and get Italian films; Sister Cities of Sonoma would be the sponsor and it would be quite simple.  Just one thing, Carolyn knew I was a promoter and “out there” so I would run it and she would just stay in the background (never happened).  She called in a number of her friends and we formed a volunteer board for the festival.  Our first thought was to tie in with the Mill Valley Film Festival and we met with the director; unfortunately he didn’t think it was a good idea at all.  So off we went.

I am not going through all the trauma and tribulations of the next year as that is a whole separate story, but lo and behold we came up with a festival (1 Italian film) for 1997.  We were able to get Francis Ford Coppola (who lives in Napa) to endorse us,  Ron Gibson lined up some sponsors, and then there was John Lasseter.

John had a great success with “Toy Story” in 1995, which changed animation forever….one of the highest grossing and best films of the year.  John lived over in Armstrong Estates, just about a half mile from the Plaza.  I contacted him and to say he lent a hand would be the understatement of the year.  We had some great programs already in the festival, including students from the local high school, a film on the Italian heritage in the area, and the Cuneos, Sebastianis, and Mondavi’s would be on hand, but we didn’t have the other spark we needed, and John provided it.

Because he had worked at Disney prior to coming to Pixar,  he was able to bring in Richard Fleischer who created and directed 20,000 leagues under the sea.  He also brought people from Lucas and ILM who had a fascinating session on the new techniques on special effects, and of course John had a wonderful presentation of what Pixar was doing and I remember clearly his showing a series of line drawing animation that he had done many years ago which I think he based Monsters, Inc on.  And he explained that the most important thing he learned at Disney is that the story and the characters in it carry the film even more than the animation.  And that has been the attribute that to me differentiates Pixar from  all the others in the field.

We “sold” the seats in the theater to our subscribers.  Their names are on the backs of the seats and with this and the other funds we, along with the Friends of the Sebastiani and Roger, where able to tear apart and reupholster every seat, lay new carpet, paint the theater and it is a gem of the community today.  Rudolph Fabrics obtained all the material at cost and provided supervision.  Many others helped.  And the following year we were able to raise money for stage lights for live performances.  I resigned the following year and it is now in its 15th year (be sure and attended, a wonderful small festival in the best town in the world).  Kevin and Rosemary McNeely now head it.  Kevin gave an out-of-work actor (so the story goes) a place as his roommate in New York.  As a result, Kevin and Bruce Willis are lifelong friends, and Bruce attends the festival (sometimes) and tapes video to promote it.  He and Demi were married in Sonoma.

John was and is a pillar of our community.  He also raises money for Juvenile Diabetes as one of his sons has the disease.  And this is great:  whenever a Pixar film opens nationwide, John makes certain it is booked at the same time for its run at the Sebastiani, which is primarily an art house.  And that helps to keep the theater going.  And John makes certain that other children’s organization are helped, as there is a separate organization set up under the Pixar name to work with various charities and groups.

Another great Sonoman is Steve Page, who is the head of Infineon Raceway, where Nascar comes every June as part of the national circuit to race on this beautiful 2 and 1/2 mile road course nestled in the hills.  Of course John and Steve know each other, John has driven the track, watches Nascar, and need I say more?

Now if I can just get him to watch Roller Derby at Craneway (Emeryville , Pixar’s headquarters is nearby) or in Sonoma County where he lives, maybe in three years or so you will see a film based on the 911 amateur Roller Derby leagues in 35 countries and the wonderful characters who skate in a theater near you.

beware the after party.

Resurrection Roller girls

Last Saturday night I drove to Rohnert Park to see the game between the local “B” team and the Shasta team.

Like so many other leagues it seems these days, this rather small population area (Sonoma County) had recently split.  The Sonoma County team is now skating in Santa Rosa (I have to see them soon), and Resurrection is actually what it says:  starting over.  Not that there are not good players that stayed, but this “B” league team was composed of skaters in their first game.  And they showed it.  For virtually all the early jams, the skaters were so concerned with merely being in the game that their concentration didn’t allow them to actually play with any strategy and the Shasta team, a lot more composed, followed an excellent game plan and even though the Sonoma team pulled even in the first half, by the second half the more experienced Redding area team pulled away.

Like all the other games I have seen, the fans are really into the game.  They cheered and supported their local representatives, even though it became apparent in the second half that they couldn’t match Shasta.  They never stopped trying and you could see them feeling better about themselves as the game went on.  And at the end, the teams high-fived each other and the fans, and stayed around for photos, and feelings of glory for skating the best they could.

That is one of the most wonderful benefits of this game.  The participants are so happy just to be playing, whether they win by 100 points or lose by 100.  It is so hard for those not involved to understand.

Personally, I have never been treated better by any of the teams I have supported (all of you).  The announcers were among the best I have heard, patiently explaining the games to the fans (even in my day we never assumed that everyone understood the game, and there were always new fans on hand, after 15 years), and both had great announcing voices (and didn’t try to “perform” or scream into the mike).

The event was at Sonoma Skate rink…..from a production point of view, I would like to have seen them add some more lighting for the event so that the spectators would have had more of an arena effect.  And of course, with all the officials, etc, there is a lot of dead time, which I would hope to see eliminated in the future, but realize, I am much more of a critic than others.

Afterwards I was able to go to my first after party, which was in Cotati at Brixx.  Good pizza and drinks (I stuck to root beer as I had a pretty long drive and it was memorial day weekend) and then Dee Jay showed up with her music studio, and I was able to dance with at least three women and left on a very high note.  (you can see photos on my profile page on facebook).  And I left with a Resurrection Tee shirt with “Commissioner” on the back and a Shasta tee shirt, so I am getting quite a collection.

Next week will be a “woo woo” homecoming for me.  For the first time since we skated at Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco back in 1973,  I will be attending the B.A.D. girls double header on June 11th, their initial appearance at Kezar, and the first time the modern Roller Derby game has been skated there.  I am certain they will have a great turnout.

So now there are 890 leagues in 33 countries, and all leagues, wherever you are, should realize you have a giant gorilla with you that most people don’t see or know about. and that is the tens of thousands of participants around the world in at least 33 countries.  There may be 1000 leagues before the end of the year.  Thank you all for staying with it!