By Noma Faingold
“Girl in Golden Gate Park,” an independent neo-noir film, written and directed by JP Allen and produced by his creative and life partner, Cathy Montosa, captures San Francisco’s beauty, while telling a mysterious story about the harsh realities of what it Is like to live here now.
Like the 2019 artistic triumph, “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” “Girl in Golden Gate Park” depicts characters who find themselves living at the margins, despite having grown up in a diverse, accepting city where they once felt like they truly belonged.
The three main characters are strong, resilient women. One is thriving and the other two are trying to survive. When we first meet Jean (played by Kim Jiang-Dubaniewicz), she is living in her car parked next to Golden Gate Park. But, she has a plan to get back on her feet, some of which involves plotting revenge for how her ailing father was treated and what led up to the two of them being evicted.
“The film is partly based on friends who were evicted,” said Montosa. “It’s about home.”
Montosa, who grew up in Winters, California and spent much of her nursing career in Santa Rosa, met Allen at a screening for his 2011 film, “Centaur.” They have been together for more than nine years, married for six and live in the Inner Sunset. Their home, overlooking the park, was used as one of the locations in “Girl in Golden Gate Park.”
Much of the film was shot in Golden Gate Park, including early morning nature shots. Sites included Stow Lake, Jean training at the Polo Fields, a small group practicing tai chi and a scene in front of the de Young Museum. The park felt like a fourth main character.
“We wanted to catch the magic of the park. It represents San Francisco,” Montosa said.
“Girl in Golden Gate Park,” is the 12th film Texas-born Allen has written and directed. When he moved to San Francisco 30 years ago, he instantly fell in love with the city and has been creatively inspired ever since.
“It’s my favorite place in the world,” Allen said. He has also lived in Seattle, Los Angeles, Ashland and Vancouver.
Montosa has produced four films under the couple’s Coffee and Language Productions. With “Girl in Golden Gate Park,” never has her involvement been more integral.
“My role is to collaborate with JP and make sure his vision is fulfilled,” she said.
According to Allen, Montosa helped refine the script, was involved in casting and was a crucial presence during the shoot, which was completed just before COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders were enforced in 2020.
“She watches the scenes pretty carefully, especially the acting,” Allen said. “She’s willing to tell me the complete truth if a scene is not working. It’s great to have someone who is really excited about the project.”
The film is more visual than previous work, which Allen sees as his evolution as a filmmaker.
“It’s better to let the images tell the story with film,” he said. Allen has a masters degree in Creative Writing/Scriptwriting from San Francisco State University and teaches filmmaking at California State University in Monterey.
In the first 12 minutes of “Girl in Golden Gate Park,” there is almost no dialogue. One brief scene early on shows Jean carrying a paper bag after leaving a grocery store. She walks past a homeless person sleeping on the street, mostly covered by a blanket. She stops and places a couple of energy bars in the person’s hand.
“The scene shows the hierarchy on the streets. Homelessness is not one thing. It’s harder to live under a blanket than in your car,” Montosa said. “The character has empathy.”
Montosa, who is an RN clinical psychology instructor at two facilities in Santa Rosa. She said her nursing skills transferred well to being a film producer.
“In nursing, you are working with people and taking care of problems. You are improving things.”
Allen has already written his next film called, “She Wolf.” While it sounds like a departure, he promises that it will be filmed in San Francisco and a reoccurring theme will be present.
“Every story we’ve told has one central idea: the meaning of home,” he said. “We’ve got to hold onto who we are and what the essence of San Francisco is.”
“Girl in Golden Gate Park” will screen virtually at the 2021 SF IndieFest, Feb. 4-21. For tickets, go to sfindie.com. For future announcements regarding subsequent streaming platforms, go to coffeeandlanguage.com.