Following Sean

PBS Premiere: July 31, 2007Check the broadcast schedule »

Film Update



Sean teaches apprentice electrician classes for his Union Local 6. Sean is about to attend a week-long national training institute for this work in Knoxville, Tennessee.


Alex skipped a year of school and is now a sixth-grader in San Francisco.


Hon continues to live in her house in San Francisco. Her granddaughter, Casey (a med student doing her internship) and her boyfriend, live with Hon.


Johnny is retired in Sacramento. He spends his time gardening.


Rachel owns a medical clinic in Marysville, California.


Zhanna is a real estate agent in San Francisco.

Susie is semi-retired and living in Rough & Ready, CA. Teaches music part-time and does volunteer work with a peace center

Debbie lives in Grass Valley, California, and deals blackjack there.

Jonathan is a gold miner in Northern California.

Alex & Diana Arlyck both died in 2005 (within six months of each other). They did see the finished movie.


Independent producers grumble a lot. Especially documentary producers. Despite overwhelming evidence that we're in the middle of a renaissance, when we're not moaning about funding we're commiserating about how unrecognized and disrespected the genre is. The truth is that, while we still do take the occasional hit (such as Jerry Seinfeld's dismissive Oscar jokes), the field is flourishing like never before. People have discovered that reality (even a heavily shaped one) can be fun. We're legit.

Following Sean has had much wider distribution than I ever thought possible. After a wonderful festival run, Upstate Films and Shadow Distribution (the same team that had distributed Weather Underground) picked it up for theatrical release. We started at the Landmark Theaters in San Francisco and then moved to major and midsized cities across the country. Docurama/New Video acquired the home-video rights and POV invited us to join their 20th Anniversary season. The various "windows" of distribution (which follows what, when) now seem all up for grabs. Films get to audiences fast these days, so we've tried to be light on our feet and have tended to say "yes."

One of the most enjoyable (albeit excruciating) post-release experiences we had was making a French version. The film contains a great deal of first-person narration, and my fellow producer, Malcolm Pullinger, and I had to come up with a new narration that I would deliver in French. I speak French, but narrating is acting, and I discovered, to my horror, that speaking a language and acting in it are two entirely different things. Malcolm reads French but doesn't speak it. Together with a translator friend, and my French-born spouse Elisabeth, we finally put together a French track, line by painful line. It still sounds stilted to me, but the French seem to find it, I don't know, awkwardly charming or something, because the film played for four months in Paris. (Agnés Varda came to the opening.)

Indies also tend to give lip service to "connecting with our audience." This turns out to be harder to do than to talk about. That's why traveling with the film and taking questions and comments in city after city has been so invigorating. Most surprising to a boomer like me have been the energetic responses to the film's themes from people in their 20s and 30s for whom the '60s subject matter seems to read like history. Particularly enjoyable have been times when we've screened in San Francisco (for example at the Red Vic Theater in Haight Ashbury). Often Sean and his family have been in the audience and have participated in discussions. It turns out they really like the movie. This isn't always the case in the invasive (and exploitative) trade we ply. We can have great affection and empathy for our characters but they still may not recognize themselves onscreen. That Sean seems to is a relief — and a great pleasure.

— Ralph Arlyck