by Noma Faingold
“Smile Again, Jenny Lee,” is Carlo Caldana’s third feature- length film as a director. But this time he decided to do it all: write, direct, act, produce and score the music. He also cast the independent mystery/drama and secured its Bay Area locations.
The retired State of California court administrator and Richmond District resident adapted his own novel of the same name and, of course, fi- nanced it. He made sure he was in the editing room and now he is handling the film’s distribu- tion.
Caldana admits that he had to wear all those hats because of the film’s small $350,000 bud- get, which came out of his own pocket, and a need to keep con- trol of the creative process.
“I wanted to make my own movie, my way,” he said. “I have a vision, an obsession for self-expression.”
The story of “Smile Again, Jenny Lee,” is about a driven and somewhat abrasive profes- sional tennis player, who is as- saulted off the court by an un- known attacker. Her injury is se- vere enough that she may never make it back onto the tour. With no income, her agent running off with her money and seemingly no one believing in her ability to make a comeback, she embarks on a journey to find the father who abandoned her when she was a child. By chance, she meets a kind, older stranger, Charles Landale (Caldana), who is willing to help her in her search.
Caldana, 64, worked with locally-based actress Monique Hafen, as Jenny Lee, and used a variety of San Francisco locations to enrich the look and feel of the film. He was able to use the Tonga Room at the Fairmont Hotel for one scene and he also shot a scene in the Nob Hill ho- tel’s glass elevator, which is no longer in use.
“I didn’t think the Fairmont would let us use it,” says Caldana. “We literally had a half hour.”
A few scenes were shot in the Presidio, which doubled for Reno and Pacifica settings.
“We couldn’t afford to go to Reno,” he says.
Caldana made sure he was prepared before embarking on the six-week shoot, which took place in 2015. He storyboarded every scene, which he says is the most creative stage of the film- making process. He worked painstakingly on removing dia- logue that was fine for his novel, but would not adapt well to the screen.
He said an important influence was silent film comedies.
“Films like that taught me to be economical. If a line doesn’t add anything to a scene, it is not necessary,” he said.
Caldana, who has lived in San Francisco for more than 30 years, grew up in Vevey, a small town on the shore of Lake Geneva, Switzerland.
Caldana’s first film, “Is Heaven There Yet?” (1984), had some success with international distribution. The slapstick come- dy played theatrically in Japan for 13 weeks and generated three times its budget. It also won a few festival awards, as did his second film, the 1988 comedy “Nincompoop.”
“Smile Again, Jenny Lee” has been screened at nearly 20 film festivals, but Caldana has no expectations going forward for his latest work.
“I hope to distribute it in New York, but I will take it as it comes,” he says. “I never did this for commercial success. Film is my life.”
“Smile Again, Jenny Lee” will be showing at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., Jan. 20-26, at 7:30 p.m. Writer/director Carlo Caldana will appear at a Q&A following each screening.