A decade after locals scour a seaside community in search of missing 10-year old, Donovan Reid, a young man claiming to be the boy, suddenly appears, physically unscathed, at the local police station.
Stunned that his cold case may be finally resolved — but doubting the identity of the freshly surfaced young man — a local detective is bent on uncovering the truth of the case.
And so begins “Donovan Reid,” a film co-written and directed by Petaluma High School graduate Austin Smagalski. The film makes its debut Feb. 2 at SF IndieFest.
“Donovan Reid” follows the 20-year old man as he navigates his new life with the missing boy’s parents, acquaints himself with the boy’s childhood friend, and endures constant pressure from the small town detective trying to discover his true identity.
The film has every element of a great crime drama: unexpected plot twists and tension, exploration of identity and memory, and themes around relationships, loss, and grief, all set against the backdrop of picturesque Dillon Beach, where much of the film was shot.
“I knew very early on that I wanted to shoot up in Sonoma County, so we really wrote the movie based on some locations up there,” said Smagalski, who now lives in Los Angeles. “And I knew I wanted to cast people from Sonoma County, so a lot of the actors and crew are locals.”
Local actors in “Donovan Reid” include Weston Lee Ball, Anthony Martinez, Lydia Revelos and Kimberly Kalember, among others.
Smagalski, who first studied film at the Petaluma campus of Santa Rosa Junior College before transferring to and graduating from Cal State Monterey Bay, said he wrote the first draft of the “Donovan Reid” screenplay in 2017. He began filming shortly after seeking revision help from co-writer Eddie Hamel in 2018.
“With this project, I had been trying to figure out how to get a feature-length film made for a while, and I had brought scripts to potential producers and I kept asking for permission, for somebody else to let me make a movie,” said Smagalski. “I just didn’t find that it was going anywhere fast enough, or that I was going to have the kind of creative control that I wanted.”
Smagalski, 25, decided to take things into his own hands and with a limited budget, sought out locations he had easy access to, which also includes a home in Petaluma.
The story line in “Donovan Reid” deals with issues of memory. The style was clearly influenced by films like “Fight Club” and “The Prestige” which Smagalski says helped define the types of movies he hoped to make when he first ventured into filmmaking. This is the kind of movie, hesaid, in which the big revelation at the end changes how the film is viewed the second time around.
The smattering of clues and the clever character development throughout the film offers interesting twists, particularly in regard to the identity of the young man. The story line is also deeply rooted in the place where it takes place. Dillon Beach feels as much a character as the rest of the cast.
“I’ve always really liked stories about identity. I really like the idea of somebody trying to take someone else’s identity,” he said.
If You Go
What: Screening of “Donovan Reid” at the San Francisco Independent Film Festival
When: 7:15 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2; and 9:15 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7. Festival runs Jan. 30-Feb. 14
Where: Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., San Francisco
Admission: $13 for “Donovan Reid”; festival pass, $220-$250