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“American Wine Story,” the documentary film with deep mid-valley roots, is scheduled for a week-long hometown run beginning Friday at the Darkside Cinema, 215 S.W. Fourth Ave. in Corvallis.

The documentary has been on a quite a nice run since its official premiere last April at California’s Newport Beach Film Festival, where it played to sold-out crowds and rave reviews. By the time Paul Turner and the Darkside’s crew dim the lights for its Friday Corvallis debut, the movie’s makers might also have inked a distribution deal for “American Wine Story.“

Not bad for a film that’s required years of work — and a Kickstarter campaign — to help raise its estimated $35,000 budget. (When you include in-kind donations, the total budget zooms to a lofty $70,000, said David Baker, the documentary’s director. That kind of money likely doesn’t even pay for one day’s catering bill on a “Transformers” movie.)

The movie tells six different stories about winemakers, and there’s a common theme: The featured winemakers each experienced a sort of “epiphany moment” and wound up ditching their day jobs to pursue the wine life. “Wine is a mid-life crisis industry,” Baker said in a previous interview about the film.

One of the stories, about Brooks Wine in Amity, serves as the movie’s unofficial heart. The movie traces how Jimi Brooks, a bohemian wanderer, became one of Oregon’s most respected winemakers. But when Brooks died of a heart attack at the age of 38, his sister, Janie Brooks Heuck, had to decide whether to step in to help save the winery for Jimi’s 8-year-old son, Paco.

The screenings in Newport Beach helped ease one of Baker’s worries about the movie, he said: “American Wine Story” obviously appeals to wine fans, but would the movie connect with general audiences as well?

It did. As another filmmaker told Baker during the festival, the movie’s underlying message is that “There are second chances in American lives” — a reference to the famed F. Scott Fitzgerald quote (usually taken somewhat out of context) that there are no second acts in American lives.

“American Wine Story” has since played in McMinnville (as part of the International Pinot Noir Celebration there) and at festivals in Mendocino, California and Prescott, Arizona. It also has been selected to play in locales that don’t immediately come to mind when you think of wine — for example, it’s scheduled to play in October in Birmingham, Alabama.

The distribution deal, if it comes, could help land “American Wine Story” in theaters, but it won’t make Baker or his colleagues rich. (In addition to Baker, Justin Smith and Kegan Sims of Corvallis and Truen Pence of Portland served as producers and cinematographers. Baker, Smith and Sims all hold down day jobs at Oregon State University.)

Over the space of the next three to five years, a distribution deal might help them break even — and that, Baker noted, is good for a documentary.

“This has gone farther than we had hoped or expected,” he said.

And the week of screenings in Corvallis gives the filmmakers — who plan to be at the Darkside on Friday and Saturday night with some of the featured winemakers — a chance to share their work and say thanks to the people who helped push the project along.

“It’s great that they can get out and see it,” Baker said. (mm)

Mike McInally is the editor of the Democrat-Herald. He can be reached at 541-812-6097 or


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