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Film fest entertains kids, adults

EVA SAPPER, the inspiration behind the organization “Everybody is a Star,” performed at the Sebastiani Theatre in the film festival Children’s Program Saturday. “Everybody is a Star” is an organization that aims to promote self-esteem and success in special needs youth by linking them to film and music professionals. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

EVA SAPPER, the inspiration behind the organization “Everybody is a Star,” performed at the Sebastiani Theatre in the film festival Children’s Program Saturday. “Everybody is a Star” is an organization that aims to promote self-esteem and success in special needs youth by linking them to film and music professionals. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

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The 17th annual Sonoma International Film Festival took a break from serious documentaries and captivating features Saturday morning to cater to its youngest audience members in the Children’s Program at the Sebastiani Theatre.

The program began with the short, “Fortissimo,” by filmmaker Noah Wagner. The film, which Wagner created with his production crew as an undergraduate thesis project at New York University, follows an old mime struggling with his identity and a new friendship forged out of this crisis. After the film, film fest executive director Kevin McNeely brought Wagner onstage for an intimate Q&A, during which Wagner revealed that the Parisian-flavored film was actually shot in New York, along the East River, over a period of six days.

The young girl who helps the mime through his identity crisis, Wagner told the audience, was just 12-years-old during the filming, proving “that you can do anything.” Wagner inspired young audience members with his story of first using a camera when he was just 12 to film skateboarding, and honing those skills and passion to build a career.

Wagner said he wanted to showcase the dying art of miming. “Fortissimo,” he said, “means strong, but in music it means ‘play loud.’ In this film, we wanted to show that you don’t have to talk to be loud.”

The short film “Le Sauvetage,” funded by Halo, Purely for Pets, and featuring the famous Olate dogs, was shown next. It followed two French-speaking dogs in their attempt to “rescue” two lonely humans and bring them together.

During a Q&A, filmmaker Peter McEvilley told the audience the film was shot in just two days in Los Angeles. He explained how he shot the film to be reminiscent of old French classics, like “Amelie,” to be a “tongue-in-cheek” take on the typical Parisian romance story. He was inspired, he said, by a bumper sticker from an animal shelter that read, “Who rescued who?” McEvilley is a renowned composer and has written and produced music for companies such as Sony, Touchstone, ABC, NBC and Disney. In the last several years, he has started making films. He told the audience it was “a great time to get into the film industry because there is so much you can do now.”

In a touching series of performances, youth from “Everybody is a Star” danced and sang while a film of their journey into stardom, shot by McEvilley, aired behind them. “Everybody is a Star” is a not-for-profit organization that aims to showcase the abilities of special needs youth by linking them with music and film professionals, and producers to create films of their performances, allowing them to have the chance to be a “star.” McEvilley, and Sonoman Howard Sapper, founded the self-esteem-promoting program for Howard Sapper’s daughter Eva Sapper, and children with special needs like hers. Just before Eva Sapper was born, she had a stroke, followed by a series of seizures after birth, which was later diagnosed as cerebral palsy. While a senior at Sonoma Valley High School in 2012, Eva Sapper and her family came up with the idea for the program to allow Eva to not only showcase her abilities onscreen, but also to allow her to participate in the school’s senior project. After she sang “Love Story,” by Taylor Swift, on Saturday, Eva Sapper told the audience that doctors predicted she would neither speak nor walk after she was born. “Look at me, I can speak and dance and sing,” she said, beaming.

The highlight of the program was a performance by the Olate dogs, who won “America’s Got Talent” in 2012. Trainer Richard Olate grew up in Chile as one of 22 children, his son and fellow performer, Nicholas Olate, said. Nicholas Olate was also featured in McEvilley’s short, “Le Sauvetage,” and wowed the audience with his R&B melodies and raps.

Throughout the program, Nicholas Olate introduced the famous Olate dogs and shared the story of how his father came to America as a young man on the promise of becoming famous with his dog show. The Olate men and nine of their dogs performed their act, complete with a playground slide, a rolling cylinder and lots of barking for an enthusiastic crowd.

The children’s show was put on courtesy of local producer Howard Sapper and Halo, Purely for Pets.