COURTESY PHOTO Bruce Arnold, lead
singer of rock group Orpheus, plays blues and reminisces at
Olompali State Historic Park with the Burdell Mansion, also
known as the “Grateful Dead House” because the rock band rented
it briefly, in background.
Novato gets reel: ‘A Century of Gentle Seasons: A History of Novato’
out on DVD
By Leslie Harlib
Wednesday, February 11, 2009 2:48 PM PST
Special to the Advance
Opening music throbs with the intensity of a caper flick. Softer
guitar riffs underscore images both historical and contemporary.
People whose names you’ve only read on Novato street signs come
alive as their descendents tell you inside stories of what they did
and how they lived.
All of this and more makes for entertaining as well as educational
viewing in a new documentary, “A Century of Gentle Seasons: A
History of Novato.”
Released last month by Zan Media, the hour-long DVD is the first of
what the Scioli family, who own and run Zan Media, hope will be a
series of documentaries that showcase the history and evolution of
“We’ve lived in the county for 26 years. Since we’ve been here,
everyone’s told us it would be great if we would make a film about
Novato history,” said Don Scioli, who with his wife Christine runs
the home-based film business that also employs their daughter, Niki.
The family tried to get sponsorships. When that failed, they forged
ahead and produced the movie themselves.
As Don put it, “We love Novato, and we loved the idea of this
project. We did this first one on our own time. We own the
equipment. We’re selling it for $20 and giving $5 of each sale to
School Fuel. This was another way to do something for the town.”
They filmed throughout 2008, interviewing a multitude of people.
“There’s no narrator. We let everybody we interviewed do the
talking,” Scioli explained. “They tell the story in their own
The filmmakers tried for as broad a range of topics as possible,
covering local history, events, horses, banking, farming,
viticulture, the Humane Society, 4-H and Trumbull House. It’s an
eclectic and surprisingly fascinating combination of images and
“We dug up things that people didn’t know anything about,” he said.
“Even information like how the Novato library got started in an old
railway car. Some people don’t care. But younger families who grew
up here, as well as the older generations, are very interested in
The Sciolis have previously made hundreds of short commercial and
advertising films. They also created and shot their own full-length
horror flick in Marin called “The Beckoning,” as well as a recent
documentary on the California wine industry, “A State of Vine.”
What’s most interesting about “A History of Novato” is that it’s
packed with “aha” moments about things we normally take for granted.
It includes anecdotes from lifelong Novato resident Yvette Jackson,
board member and docent of the Novato Historical Society; Herb
Rowland, owner of Pacheco Ranch Winery and great-great-grandson of
Ignacio Pacheco, one of California’s earliest pioneers; Marin County
Supervisor Judy Arnold and her husband, renowned musician Bruce
Arnold of the band Orpheus, and many more.
The Sciolis turn up golden history nuggets such as this one:
Legendary frontiersmen Kit Carson and John C. Fremont once went to
Ignacio Pacheco to commandeer his horses for a military campaign.
The wiley landowner was tipped off to their coming. He had time to
move his large, healthy herds to Mendocino, leaving only nags and
swaybacks behind. Fremont, upset at the lack of horses and believing
that a fast one had been pulled on him, was ready to challenge
Pacheco to a duel. Then Carson told him Pacheco was the best shot in
Northern California and considered the best swordsman in the whole
state. The would-be rustlers rode away without one Pacheco horse.
Another golden oldie: Novato wasn’t incorporated as a city until the
1960s, though it already had many city services in place by the
1920s. That’s because, during the ‘20s, it was an epicenter for the
thriving bootleg whisky trade coming out of San Francisco to Point
Reyes and into Northern California through Novato. If the city had
incorporated at the time, it would have gotten a police force, which
would have scotched the flow of illegal liquor — and eliminated the
illegal revenue that also poured into the region.
“In this day and age, it’s great to have this film, which preserves
forever this information and history,” said Coy Smith, CEO of the
Novato Chamber of Commerce. “It really paints a picture of what was
around then, and what life was like.”
Zan Media is also producing a sequel to this first film to coincide
with Novato’s 50th anniversary in 2010.
• To find out more about “A Century of Gentle Seasons,” call
897-8393 or go to