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A courtroom drama over puppy mills, animal rights and radical activism is playing out in Petaluma.

You’ll find out the verdict next spring, when the feature film “The Wrong Side of Right” is released.

Picturesque Petaluma, the backdrop for several films over the years, is hosting Petaluma native Ali Afshar’s independent production, in the midst of filming at several locations in and around town.

Wednesday, the team — including stars Lea Thompson, Sherry Stringfield, James Remar and others — filmed courtroom scenes inside a rarely used county courtroom inside City Hall.

“I think it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world,” said Afshar, who grew up on a family ranch on Old Adobe Road and attended Old Adobe Elementary School, Kenilworth Junior High School and Casa Grande High School.

“I was visiting my brother who lives in Bodega Bay, and I literally pulled off the side of the road and said, ‘This is it! This is where we should film’,” he said.

Petaluma will play a fictional California town called Marshfield in the movie and dozens of locals may see screen time as extras. Afshar also hired several local residents to help with production and feeding the crew.

Larry Peter, owner of Petaluma Creamery and Spring Hill Jersey Cheese, and his wife, Diane, are hosting several members of the cast at a Tomales home that was used in the movie “Scream,” and are providing much of the catering for the staff of five dozen.

Diane Peter will appear as one of the jurors in the film.

“It’s so fun. And he loves it,” she said, teasing her husband about the Hollywood glamour. “He loves the stars, the excitement.”

“It’s nice to bring money into Petaluma,” said Larry Peter, whose creamery storefront will feature in scenes to be filmed Thursday.

Locals Suzie Fox, Carrie Leenerts and Deborah Haas were happy to be extras, playing spectators in the tiny courtroom.

“It’s an amazing experience,” Fox said. The women were asked to bring five changes of clothes and accessories.

“So exciting,” added Leenerts “I have a new appreciation for making movies, how much work goes into them.”

The stars themselves spoke glowingly of their time in Petaluma, praising the Cucina Paradiso restaurant downtown and Peter’s ice cream and cheeses.

“Honestly, he makes the best, best, best ice cream in the world,” Thompson said, sampling from a bowl of creamy pistachio ice cream Peter brought to her.

After Thompson finished her last scene Wednesday afternoon, she said she wished she had more time to spend in Petaluma before resuming filming of her current ABC Family series “Switched at Birth.” She filmed once before here, in 1986 for “Howard the Duck.”

“So I already knew that this is the best-kept secret in Northern California,” she said. “It’s a great town. It’s grown so much, but in the right direction.”

Remar, who appeared in “Django Unchained” and “Dexter,” plays a dog breeder who defends himself from what Afshar and executive producer Forrest Lucas, president of Lucas Oil Co., describe as “radical animal activism.”

After leaving Petaluma, Afshar became a racecar driver, created ESX Motorsports and races for Subaru of America, where he is a two-time NHRA national champion. He has acted in several TV and film roles, including his productions of the “family-friendly ‘Fast and Furious’-style” movies “Born to Race” and “Born to Race, Fast Track.”

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Racing is where he met Lucas, who is financing the $1.5 million production.

Afshar said the film isn’t a “propaganda piece,” but is meant to make people reconsider financially supporting national animal rights groups that they contend veer into extremism instead of actually protecting animals.

The animal-activist protagonist finds herself “on the wrong side of right,” Afshar said, hence the title.

Petaluma benefits from the spending the cast and crew do while in town, some for as long as two months.

The crew has taken up most of three hotels in town and another two west of town. The staff will rent about 250 bed-nights in Petaluma, which means an influx of hotel taxes, plus income to restaurants and local stores while the crew calls Petaluma home for several weeks.

Sherry Stringfield, from the long-running TV show “ER” and the “Under the Dome” CBS series, plays an animal control officer in the movie.

She said she hopes to take advantage of down time after filming by enjoying Sonoma County’s bounty, checking out local-recommended wineries and food shops.

“This just seems like a nice place,” she said, “full of real people.”

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.

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