MV filmmaker chronicles last bastion of 'Valley of Hearts Delight'

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Photo by Monique Schoenfeld, Town Crier

Mountain View filmmaker Brett Schwartz chose a poignant theme for his short-subject documentary that cuts to the pith of life in our valley. His film, "Silicon Harvest," premiered recently at the ImageFest Film Festival in Palo Alto, held at Spangenberg and Cubberley auditoriums on March 27 in conjunction with the Cinequest Festival in San Jose.

The four-minute documentary chronicles the Olson Cherry Orchard on El Camino and Mathilda Avenue in Sunnyvale - what Schwartz calls "the last bastion of the 'Valley of Hearts Delight.'"

Surrounded by Silicon Valley high-tech companies, strip malls and condominiums, the cherry orchard has been in the Olson family for more than 100 years. Still operated by Charlie Olson, whom Schwartz calls "an incredibly fit rancher," the orchard - and the Olsons - are well known in the area.

Fascinated by this oasis in the midst of Silicon Valley sprawl, Schwartz immersed himself in learning about fruit farming during the project. "I wanted to show the orchard from the perspective of how things were years ago. The film is shot in black and white, with no sound at all," he said. In four minutes Schwartz manages to portray the quality of a mellow, but hardworking lifestyle - with sharp, crisp images of a ranch that was here long before the chip took over this valley's psyche and economy.

A second-year master's degree student in Stanford University's Film and Video Program (part of the Department of Communications), Schwartz also lets some of his Midwestern heritage and Eastern education guide his camera. He's from Chicago, but did his undergraduate work at Cornell University in New York State. With degrees in visual arts and in history, Schwartz said his interest has always been in "historical topics - it's what 'Silicon Harvest' is all about - the passing of an era."

Schwartz's next documentary is his thesis film. "It will look at interfaith relationships, something which has always interested me." He describes the film as "a wide, but not privileged, look at relationships, created from interviews with rabbis and couples of different faiths." Substantially longer than "Silicon Harvest," it will premier at Stanford's Cubberley Auditorium on June 12, along with other documentaries from the department's student filmmakers.

Schwartz doesn't have a favorite documentary filmmaker, but he does see himself going in the direction of television production when he completes his degree.

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