Gary Linehan, The Union Democrat


The Union Democrat

(From Nov. 7, 2013)

The movie may only last 22 minutes, but it has been years in the making.

"Jasmine," a short drama written, directed and co-produced by Steven J. Warner of Sonora, will receive its premiere Friday at the Sonora Opera Hall.

The screening, for cast and crew, is by invitation only, but Warner hopes for a wider audience on the film festival circuit.

He already has submitted it for consideration to the Sundance Film Festival, San Francisco International Film Festival and several others.

Shot in black and white on high definition digital video, the film follows the emotional journey of a shy, lonely hospital janitor who gets a second chance at life and love.

"It has some personal resonance to me," Warner said. "It's a fictionalized version of how my father met my mother."

The cast and crew is almost entirely local - with a couple of ringers brought in from San Diego and Los Angeles - and all of the scenes were shot in Sonora.

The primary location is the interior of the former Tuolumne General Hospital building, with exteriors including highly recognizable features such as the Sierra Railroad tracks and JS West hardware and lumber complex.

Born and raised in San Francisco, Warner moved to Tuolumne County at age 11, attending area schools and honing his theatrical chops on local stages.

He made his acting debut as the stuttering Billy Bibbit in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" in 1993 in Columbia and obtained a degree in writing and directing from San Francisco State University in 1996.

After working in television in Los Angeles and as production manager for an educational classical music program in San Diego, Warner returned to Sonora early this year as a caretaker for his father.

"That happening led to all these other things occurring and reconnecting with the community," Warner said.

He and Jay Newington, another former Tuolumne County film industry professional living in San Diego, had talked about making the movie years ago, but circumstances and locations in Los Angeles and San Diego did not work out.

"There just wasn't the feeling that it was the right thing to do," said Newington, the film's other co-producer. "I had some time off so we decided to pull the trigger and do it up here and it all fell together and made perfect sense."

The film was made on a low budget with professional actors, mostly working for free other than some expenses, Warner said.

Two of the principal roles are played by Sonora residents - Van Gordon as the janitor Duane and Ellen Stewart as his Aunt Lola.

Los Angeles actress Jayne Entwistle plays the title role of Jasmine, with San Diego actress Veronica Murphy as Fran, Jasmine's mother.

"The key person was of course Van Gordon," Newington said. "He was my dream Duane and I have to tell you he's brilliant, as we knew he would be."

As it turns out, Gordon wasn't jumping to come out of retirement.

"He kind of avoided our calls at first, but ultimately he did get excited about it," Newington said.

The cast also includes Julie Tidball, Jack Heinsius, Diana Newington, Sandy Palhegyi, Steve Palhegyi, Mitchell L. Ford, Harry Bruce, Jimmy Santos, Kelly Flynn, Roy Dohring, Jerry Day, Becky Ford, James Ford, Julie Johns, Steve La Vine, Robert M. Irwin, Gregory D. Vines, Karen Fowler, Kris Osward, Amy Lynn Brauer, Kebra Stapp, Kathy DiGiacomo, Jessica Cowley, Joann Rascon, Cheryl McIntire and Jim Garaventa

Executive producers are Jack Heinsius, Steve La Vine, Ann-Marie Persiani and Larry Warner.

Music is by Juan Abel Elias, with cinematography by Gary Torrijos, editing by Douglas Geary, casting by Cheryl McIntire, set decoration by Roy Dohring, costume design by Diana Newington and production design by Jay Newington.

"It was so much fun - a very pleasant, seamless experience, like working with your family," Newington said, who noted that he actually was working with his mother as the costumer.

He said the filmmakers will know by Dec. 2 whether "Jasmine" has been accepted into the Sundance festival.

"It has lots of potental," Newington said. "I dare you not to weep when you watch it - you're a real hard case if you don't."