In Debut Feature Film, Alum Leverages Humboldt Connections

Cast on set in downtown Eureka

Filmmaker Maria Matteoli (‘04, Film Production) directs actors Kelsey Chow and Ethan Peck on the set of “The Wine of Summer” in Eureka’s Old Town.

IN THE SPRING, filmmaker Maria Matteoli (’04, Film Production) gave a standing-room-only Humboldt audience a sneak peek at her first feature-length film, “The Wine of Summer.” Although it has yet to be released, the production has already generated a lot of buzz within the community and beyond. The story begins, when, at 20 years old, Matteoli took her first trip to Spain. As she sat and sipped her wine, tinto de verano, she was stirred by the romance of summer, of youth and by a sense of beauty and nostalgia. “I wrote a little note to myself that I was going to make a film that captured those emotions,” she said.

"The Wine of Summer," written and directed by Matteoli, tells a story of love and longing in the intersecting lives of her characters, including James, who is portrayed by Ethan Peck, grandson of iconic actor Gregory Peck. The cast of “Wine” also includes Academy Award-winner Marcia Gay Harden.

James, the main character, decides to abandon his law career to pursue his lifelong dream of acting. After experiencing trials and disillusionment, he spontaneously travels to Spain where he has a chance encounter with the author of his favorite play, “Tinto de Verano,” and the plot unfolds from there.

In a way, James’ life has connections to Matteoli’s own experiences. From a young age, she expressed an interest in film and directing. “There’s literally a home video of me when I was 4, directing my family, saying ‘Dad, hold this pillow here,’” she says. “In first grade, my teacher told my mom I would be a director.”

Despite her natural gravitation to the art, Matteoli didn’t immediately work to make film her career. In her early 20s, she was considering a career as a lawyer until a cousin encouraged her to follow her passion. At first, Matteoli pursued a career in acting, but later discovered her true love lay in creating films. After living in Switzerland, Italy and Southern California, the seventh-generation Humboldt native returned to the area to pursue her education in film production. She completed the three-year program in a year and a half.

Since earning her film degree, Matteoli has written, directed and produced close to 50 short films. Her work includes pieces for the Humboldt Made series, “Love, Humboldt,” which highlights the people, places and products that make Humboldt County unique. At $1.3 million, “Wine” is her biggest, most ambitious project yet. Despite its big-budget feel, however, the production itself was locally driven.

the film crew on shoot

Behind the scenes, eight Humboldt State alumni contributed to the making of “Wine,” including Director of Photography and Associate Producer Andy Rydzewski (’06, MFA Film Production). Former Theatre Film & Dance professor Jody Sekas and four of his students also worked on the film. “It’s the best film script I’ve had the pleasure to work on,” Sekas says. Most of Sekas’ students were glad to have the production experience as part of their education and film major Brittany White earned an official credit as a wardrobe assistant for her contributions.

While her crew traveled to Barcelona and Los Angeles for filming, the movie was also shot on site in Arcata and Eureka. Three days of filming took place on the Humboldt State campus, but a majority of the local scenes were captured in Eureka’s Old Town. “Maria tried to keep it as local as possible,” says Karina Estrada, an executive producer who helped to fund the film. “So many local businesses supported us throughout the process, and we got to put that support right back into the community.”

The hometown connection was a unique experience for many of the film’s cast, including Peck. “It warms my heart to work on a project with so many ties to the local community,” he says. “The film is a story about personal interactions, and so it was really special to get to know the crew within the context of their lives. To meet families and friends and be included in Humboldt was so fulfilling.”

Also unique to “The Wine of Summer,” was the woman-power it packed. As a female and first-time director, Matteoli struggled to be taken seriously. So it was important—and empowering—for her to bring strong women into her production. “This truly is a female-driven film,” Estrada says. “It’s written, directed, produced and funded entirely by women. I’m proud to have that representation.”

By coming in on-time and under budget, Matteoli’s first feature-film experience proves she has the wherewithal to be a successful player in the film industry. Despite taking only three weekends to write, “Wine” is the culmination—fermentation, even—of a lifetime of experiences. “When I sat down to write, I told myself I had to make this movie this year,” she says. “And I’m not going to stop.”

Matteoli has entered “The Wine of Summer,” in a dozen film festivals throughout the country and internationally.

film poster

The official film poster

View the Trailer film poster

Movie still courtesy of "The Wine of Summer."