Can a film about wealthy Silicon Valleyites still fill a theater during a recession?
Perhaps, if it remembers them as scrappy starters facing tough odds. "It's fun to root for the underdog," said Dan Geller, who made the movie "Something Ventured" with fellow San Francisco filmmaker Dayna Goldfine.
The new 85-minute documentary profiles such Valley entrepreneurs as Intel founder Gordon Moore and Atari founder Nolan Bushnell together with early venture capitalists including Arthur Rock, Tom Perkins and Bill Draper. The film describes these "high rollers" as laying the groundwork for the United States' start-up economy as far back as the late 1950s in the face of potential economic failure.
"I think that everyone in the film and everyone involved in making it hopes that it will inspire young would-be entrepreneurs all over the world to go out and develop new technology and start new companies, and these are the kinds of things we need in the world right now in the face of the current unemployment figures are bleak economic forecasts," Goldfine told the Weekly.
With its celebration of innovation, "Something Ventured" should fit right in at the inaugural Palo Alto International Film Festival, which is scheduled from Sept. 29 through Oct. 2.
Feature films and shorts will be shown at the Palo Alto Square at 3000 El Camino Real and the Aquarius Theatre at 430 Emerson St., both in Palo Alto. The movies were chosen because they are about technology, or were made with new technology, or are innovative in another way, organizers said.
Organized by the nonprofit Palo Alto Institute, which bills itself as a "creativity lab," the festival will also include speakers, discussions, workshops and screenings for kids.
A free outdoor screening of the documentary "Life in a Day" is the kickoff event, on Ramona Street between University and Hamilton avenues in downtown Palo Alto at 8 p.m. Sept. 29. The 2011 film, directed by Kevin McDonald, weaves together footage shot across the globe to give a broad picture of life on one day: July 24, 2010. It will be preceded by the 2-minute Cedric Vella film "YouTube My Facebook," which won an online-judged talent competition held by the festival.
Other scheduled films include "PressPausePlay," a documentary about the ways that a democratized culture can affect the arts. A screening is planned at the Aquarius Theatre at 10:30 p.m. Oct. 2.
Monte Hellman's romantic noir "Road to Nowhere" is at the Palo Alto Square at 7 p.m. Sept. 30, and 9:15 p.m. Oct. 1. "Drei (Three)," a film by Tom Tykwer of "Run Lola Run" fame, is a love triangle with a twist, showing at 10:15 p.m. Sept. 30 at the Palo Alto Square.
Tom Cruise narrates the Leslie Iwerks documentary "Industrial Light and Magic: Creating the Impossible," which will show at noon on Oct. 1 at the Palo Alto Square. Werner Herzog brings his auteurship to ancient French cave paintings in "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," set for screenings at the same theater at 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 1 and at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 2.
The festival's many speakers include: film editor and sound designers Walter Murch ("Apocalypse Now"); Tom Burton, director of Technicolor Restoration Services; visual-effects designer John Gaeta; Variety executive editor (and writer of the film "Road to Nowhere") Steven Gaydos; and Tom Sito, a veteran of animation production.
As for the film "Something Ventured," it is set for two screenings: at 4 p.m. Sept. 30 and 1 p.m. Oct. 2 at the Palo Alto Square. Filmmakers Geller and Goldfine say they plan to attend along with Molly Davis, one of the film's executive producers.
They linked with the Palo Alto festival by meeting executive director Devyani Kamdar earlier this year at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Texas, where "Something Ventured" premiered. Past documentaries by Geller and Goldfine include the acclaimed 2005 film "Ballets Russes," which featured interviews with veterans of pioneering ballet companies; and "Frosh," a 1993 portrait of life in a Stanford University dorm from move-in day to spring finals.
The filmmakers' experiences helped them better approach the big-name Silicon Valley subjects for "Something Ventured," they said. They knew to do their research in advance, reading books, interview transcripts and articles. Watching recorded interviews helped them see how a Reid Dennis or Don Valentine might be coaxed to open up.
"We first met with nearly all of the subjects in the movie without our equipment before returning some weeks later to shoot, so we had a sense of personality, energy and style," Geller said. "That let us know what they were like without the extra fuss of lights and camera around."
Both filmmakers said they found their subjects inspirational in how they ended up changing the world with Apple, Genentech, Cisco, Intel and other companies. They also found them surprisingly entertaining.
"Audiences have consistently remarked on how funny 'Something Ventured' is, and this comes directly out of the quick wit and good storytelling of the people in front of the camera," Goldfine said.
What: The first Palo Alto International Film Festival, with screenings, discussions, lectures and workshops
Where: Most screenings will be at the Palo Alto Square theater at 3000 El Camino Real and the Aquarius Theatre at 430 Emerson St., both in Palo Alto. Many speaker events will be at Talenthouse at 542 High St. in Palo Alto.
When: Sept. 29 through Oct. 2, with events in the morning, afternoon and evening.
Cost: Event prices vary (many screenings are $12), with multi-event passes available. A pass to all films is $115.
Info: For a complete festival schedule, go to paiff.net.