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Reel World 

Wednesday, Jan 13 1999
Hearts and Minds
Barbara Sonneborn is 30,000 feet above California, but her voice registers clearly over the phone. "I don't get knocked over by glitz and flash," the East Bay filmmaker says, explaining her calm temperament on the eve of the Sundance Film Festival. "I have a general sense of optimism but I'm not going with any expectations."

It's a healthy attitude, since 23-year-old first-time narrative filmmakers seem to draw every bit of the fleeting heat generated at Sundance by agents, distributors, and network TV producers. When Regret to Inform, Sonneborn's personal, passionate film about the toll of war, receives its world premiere in the documentary competition -- without stickers, buttons, or T-shirts, mind you -- will the right people be paying attention?

Sonneborn spent 10 years making Regret to Inform, although in a sense the film began that vertiginous March day in 1968 when an Army officer arrived with the news that her husband had been killed in Vietnam.

"It's a subject which entered my life in a most devastating way," Sonneborn says. "The film sprang from a great need to explore and understand why my husband had gone off to die in -- not Vietnam specifically, but war."

In the ensuing years, Sonneborn spent countless hours talking with veterans and other widows about forgiveness, reconciliation, and the long-term effects of war on people ("I've sat late into the night, knee to knee, hearing pretty horrible stories") and the environment ("When we choose to wage war, it goes on forever").

Momentum is building for Regret to Inform, which received the International Documentary Association's ABC News Video Source Award for its use of archival footage, and is also a finalist for an Independent Spirit documentary award. Oscar-winning New York producer Walter Scheuer (From Mao to Mozart) donated the 35mm print that's screening at Sundance through his Four Oaks Foundation. (Independent filmmakers are always scrambling for money, so I'm completely guilt-ridden over the cost of this call from Sonneborn's last-second, pre-Sundance flight to L.A.)

Meanwhile, PBS's "P.O.V." series has expressed interest in broadcasting Regret to Inform this summer. However, if Sonneborn doesn't land a theatrical distribution deal, she says she'll personally take the film to every festival (Regret to Inform premieres locally in March at the S.F. International Asian American Film Festival), university, and high school she can. "It's a serious film about serious issues that need to be discussed as we enter the new millennium," she says. "When I was in high school, I didn't think my husband would end up dead in six years."

The Mouse That Roared
Sometimes it seems like every crappy independent movie made in New York City scores nationwide distribution, even wretched half-baked drivel like The Daytrippers, Slaves to the Underground, and the upcoming The 24 Hour Woman. So it's nice to see San Francisco's Sarah Jacobson reversing the westward flow: Her self-distributed, no-budget wonder Mary Jane's Not a Virgin Anymore begins a one-week run this Friday, Jan. 15, at Manhattan's Cinema Village. ... A tip of the cap to local filmmakers Vicky Funari and Jennifer Maytorena Taylor, whose genre-busting Paulina was just named one of five finalists for a prestigious and lucrative Independent Spirit documentary award to be bestowed in March. Paulina storms into the Lumiere Feb. 12 -- so all you emancipated valentines: Mark your calendars.

By Michael Fox

About The Author

Michael Fox


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