Big Screen Berkeley: PlayGround Film Festival

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Jeremy Solterbeck’s Noel Coward-informed Climax: one of the films being shown at PlayGround Film Festival at two Berkeley venues, tells the story of a high-society couple planning a very special occasion.

I’m not speaking from experience, of course, but I have to believe that adapting a play for the big screen isn’t easy. Tough decisions must be made: are you going to film an Olivier-style Shakespearian adaptation, sticking to every jot or tittle of the original text, or are you going to trim a little fat from the edges? Is your adaptation going to be little more than a filmed version of the play (making for a dull and static — if faithful — representation of the original work), or are you going to open up the story and take it places it could never go on stage?

These haven’t proven to be particularly formidable challenges for the good folks at PlayGround and Dances With Light. Based in the Bay Area, PlayGround has produced over 100 short plays since 1994, while Dances With Light has been in the film biz since 1979. In one of the best synergistic developments since one teenager got his chocolate in another teenager’s peanut butter, the two have combined forces for the 2nd Annual Playground Film Festival, screening at Rialto Cinema’s Elmwood at 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 1 and at the Zaentz Media Center, 2600 10th St., Berkeley at 6:00 p.m. and 8:00  p.m. on Saturday, May 4.

This year’s festival features six ten-minute films – all directed by local filmmakers — adapted from short plays developed at PlayGround. Remarkably, all six are surprisingly cinematic, the language and grammar of film seamlessly enhancing and expanding upon the stage roots of each story.

Despite being low-budget independent productions, the films all look like a million bucks and are uniformly well-written and well-acted, with especial kudos to Stacy Ross and Nick Sholley as a high-society couple planning a very special occasion in Sean Owens and Jeremy Solterbeck’s Noel Coward-informed Climax, and Lisa Noble as a bored schoolteacher in Amy Harrison and Kirk Shimano’s Miss Finknagle Succumbs to Chaos.


If there’s a common thread running through the festival, it’s one you might not expect. In appropriate defiance of the odds, mathematics plays a significant role in two of the featured films: something called ‘knot theory’ is central to the plot of Diane Sampson and Berkeley resident Bruce Coughran’s Undone, while probability and coin flips are essential components of Miss Finknagle.

The other films are Obit, in which a man and daughter pen an anticipatory death notice; The Secret Life of a Hotel Room, in which a dirty bedspread changes the lives of all who encounter it; and Aegis, a hilariously depressing examination of how a car company makes its branding decisions.

The entire program clocks in at around 75 minutes. For more information, please visit PlayGround Film Festival. 

Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more Big Screen Berkeley reviews here.

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