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Farm Documentary Is 'Home Grow'n'

An Ojai filmmaker hopes her latest effort will affect the vote on the open space measure that will be on Ventura County's fall ballot.

September 17, 2004|Fred Alvarez | Times Staff Writer

In a political season teeming with cinematic activism, Ojai filmmaker Dulanie Ellis is about to add her voice to the mix.

The Hollywood veteran tonight will play host at the premiere of her documentary on farmland preservation and smart growth, a film designed in part to influence Ventura County voters as they weigh a November ballot measure aimed at protecting open space.

The 45-minute movie explores local efforts to stem suburban sprawl by shielding canyons, hillsides and other unspoiled land from development. Voters here have enacted some of the strictest growth-control laws in the nation.

But the movie also looks at the need to plan for when those measures begin to expire in about 15 years.

To that end, "Home Grow'n" urges voters to support the upcoming open space measure, which would raise millions of dollars to buy vacant land and development rights needed to keep the county's rural feel forever.

"It's really a call to action," said Ellis, who has won acclaim recently for her work highlighting the need for more farmworker housing. "I like to do films where people can walk away and say, 'Now I know what I can do.' "

"Home Grow'n" joins a flurry of politically charged documentaries this election season.

From Michael Moore's anti-Bush "Fahrenheit 9/11" to a conservative counterpoint titled "Celsius 41.11" set to premiere later this month, documentary filmmakers have been scrambling like never before to get their movies -- and their messages -- in front of audiences before election day.

Ellis scrambled too. Although she started work on the film two years ago, the former Hollywood script supervisor hustled in recent months to finish the movie before voters decide the fate of the open space measure on the Nov. 2 ballot.

If approved, Measure A would create an open space district funded by a 10-year, 1/4 -cent sales tax increase that would raise about $25 million a year. The measure requires two-thirds voter approval.

"Clearly, people around the county desire to preserve farmland, but it's not clear how much they are willing to pay in order to do that," said Larry Yee, head of the University of California's farm advisor office in Ventura and co-creator of the Hansen Trust, which supports local agriculture. The trust gave $7,000 toward the film.

"I think Dulanie really pushed to finish the film before the election so that it might have some impact from an educational perspective," Yee added.

The film cost about $40,000 to make and brought together a wide range of supporters, including the Ventura County Agricultural Assn., low-income home builder Cabrillo Economic Development Corp. and the Ventura County Coastal Assn. of Realtors.

"I know some of us disagree on different aspects of [land-use issues], but we all agree that we want the best we can get for the county," said Kay Runnion, head of governmental affairs for the realty group.

Although skeptical at first about how the farm industry would be portrayed, the Ventura County Farm Bureau contributed $10,000 toward the project -- the most of any sponsor.

"I've watched in awe and amazement at how she has delivered," said Rex Laird, the farm bureau's executive director. "I think if anybody can do a fair, balanced, accurate presentation on this issue, it's her."

Ellis aimed to be fair and balanced but passionate as well. In fact, it was her passion for preserving local farmland, born two decades ago when she moved from Hollywood to Ventura, that planted the seed for this film and led to the formation of her own production company, Point of View Films.

Now she's set to premiere the movie tonight under the stars at historic Faulkner Farm near Santa Paula. The event will begin at 7:30 p.m. with live music and heirloom tomato-tasting, followed by the premiere at 8:30. The movie also will screen Saturday at 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. at the Theater on High Street in Moorpark and Sept. 25 at 4:30 p.m. at the Ojai Playhouse.

Eventually, Ellis intends to screen the film for lawmakers in Sacramento and has a date to show it in November at the American Farmland Trust's National Conference in Kentucky. Groups interested in seeing the film or purchasing copies can contact Ellis at dulanie@sbcglobal.net.

"The truth is, it's a California story and it's a national story too," said Ellis, who previously worked as an associate producer on documentary projects, including a film on the life and times of Rosa Parks that was nominated in 2003 for an Academy Award.

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