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For Two Filmmakers, ‘California Is a Place’ You Haven’t Really Seen Before

In the summer of 2009, with signs of the Great Recession scattered across much of California, filmmaker Drea Cooper and photographer Zackary Canepari decided it was time to work together full time to document what they were witnessing around them.

“Zack and I have always been very interested in following stories off the beaten path,” says Cooper, who met Canepari in 2003 when they were both working as production assistants on a commercial.

Canepari had just moved back to the Bay Area from India, where he was a freelance photojournalist for three years, when the pair began a project they would later call ‘California Is a Place,’ an online series of self-funded, documentary-style short-films about the Golden State.

'California Is a Place'Their first piece, ‘Cannonball,’ follows a group of skateboarders in Fresno who view California’s foreclosure crisis as a perfect opportunity to find “skate pools” in abandoned or boarded-up properties.

“We just wanted to find those couple of guys whose point of view you never really hear,” says Cooper. “So it’s kind of a different take on something everyone has a connection to.”

Other voices they’ve captured include Minutemen along the U.S.-Mexico border and an out-of-work car salesman named “Big Vinny” in Alameda.

“We’re always trying to find unique characters that can develop stories without making it agenda based,” Canepari says.

Big Vinny from California is a place. on Vimeo.

PBS station KQED plans to package four “California Is a Place” films for their sixth season of ‘Truly California,’ a series that features and promotes independent filmmakers. The films will air on Sunday, October 17.

“Truly California” producer Elizabeth Pepin says the short films were unlike anything she’d ever seen before.

“Besides being visually stunning,” Pepin said, “they really give you a sense of what California is.”

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