Director Nancy Kelly is a rebel with a cause

Showing this Friday and Sunday at the Sonoma Film Institute is the documentary "Rebels with a Cause," written and directed by local filmmaker Nancy Kelly. While James Dean didn't have a cause, Kelly found a handful of Rebels with an important one: saving the Marin-Sonoma Coast.

The film tells the inspiring tale of how back in the 1950s and 1970s a group of local farmers, environmental activists and politicians launched a small movement to preserve the stretch of land outside of San Francisco from developers looking for their next big project.

At the Friday showing, both Kelly and her editor/husband Kenji Yamamoto will present the film and answer questions afterwards.

Along with moving up north to the Marin area, Kelly had read the book "San Francisco Wilderness Next Door" by John Hart and found herself intrigued about the local history.

"It captured my attention long before the documentary came along because I moved there specifically for the access to the parks," said Kelly in a telephone interview.

Kelly found living in the San Francisco bay area so challenging because it was so relentlessly urban.

Kelly was later was invited to meeting with Nancy Dobbs, CEO and President of PBS affiliate KRCB. Dobbs had read "Saving the Marin-Sonoma Coast" by L. Martin Griffin and both women had the same idea in mind.

"I was in a meeting with her and she asked me if I'd be interested in telling that story because she was interested in it because she had read 'Saving the Marin-Sonoma Coast,'" said Kelly, "and I was just interested because it's really unusual to have so much public land set aside, and especially so close to a big city."

When the research began, the team found themselves constantly researching up until the very end of the shoot.

"We researched the whole time," said Kelly, recalling they were always hiring new people to search the public libraries for older maps and any miscellaneous information they could use.

When it came to interviewing of the farmers and politicians that helped make the Point Reyes National Seashore a reality, the most difficult interview to get was former Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, who was the Secretary of the Interior under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

"When I asked Mr. Udall if I could bring my crew to Santa Fe to interview him about the Point Reyes National Seashore - he had played a significant role in its creation-he said 'no.' [laughter] and I didn't really know if I would have a film if I didn't have him, so I said to him 'Mr. Udall, 'no' doesn't work for me!'" said Kelly.

Kelly was eventually able to sync with Mr. Udall's busy schedule and found a time to meet up with him when he was visiting family in the bay area.

Having premiered the film last October at the Mill Valley Film Festival, it sold out after day one. The film later went on to win the Audience Favorite Award Best Documentary - Active Cinema that weekend.

"The reaction has been a filmmaker's dream," said Kelly.

"I made such good friends with the head of the box office in San Rafael so that I could get any tickets that were released or turned back or anything! I did manage to get everybody in that I needed to get in," said Kelly.

"During [both] screenings at the Mill Valley Film Festival people were yelling and clapping at the screen and cheering for different things; pieces of the stories they knew, or pieces of the land that they knew and didn't know how they were saved," said Kelly.

After both screenings, Kelly brought the 'Rebels' out on stage and invited the audience to meet them and the audience gave them standing ovations both showings.

"It was touching. It was really touching," said Kelly.

Kelly invites local environmental heroes to the screenings outside of Marin to talk about what they're doing in their communities, and how people can get involved.

While Kelly and Yamamoto are currently showing the film across the country, they have no plans at this time to start their next documentary.

"It's going to probably take us another year or so to get 'Rebels' out to its audience, that's typical for an independent film, so that's kind of what we're doing and we feel we won't be able to take on anything new until we get this in place," said Kelly.

"Rebels with a Cause" is showing March 8 at 7 p.m. and March 10 at 4 p.m. at the Sonoma Film Institute located in the Warren Auditorium in Ives Hall.

Admission is free to SSU students with ID, $6 for non-students with ID.