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Chris Smith: Santa Rosa parents cheer their son’s breakout hit 'The Peanut Butter Falcon'

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What’s that buzz?

It’s the notable excitement stirred by “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” an independent film that sprang in large part from the imagination of Santa Rosa native Michael Schwartz.

The movie stars a man with Down syndrome, and it features Dakota Johnson, Shia LaBeouf and Bruce Dern. It opened in LA a week ago and will show Aug. 23 at Santa Rosa’s Summerfield Cinemas.

The full-length film is being talked up across the nation and the Internet: the other day Schwartz, in Florida for some screenings, had four interviews on his day planner.

I won’t go into the movie much here; my colleague Dan Taylor will have a full story on it in Sunday’s paper. I’m most interested in how the cinematic adventure is playing with co-writer/director Michael Schwartz’s greatest fans.

GEORGIA AND STEPHEN Schwartz, both of them Santa Rosa physicians, remember the early videos by their restlessly creative boy that failed, literally to make the grade.

Such as: A pre-Christmas assignment at Santa Rosa High tasked Michael and his classroom partners with producing a video-accompanied report on animal rights.

Michael’s vision for the project prevailed over those of his classmates. The students traipsed to Santa Rosa’s malls and queried the Santa Clauses about the treatment and care of their reindeer.

Recalls Georgia Schwartz, “Needless to say, they had to do that project over.”

MICHAEL, NOW 40, wasn’t born knowing he wanted to be filmmaker. When he graduated from SRHS in 1996 and enrolled at UC Davis, his vocational aspirations were undefined.

What he and everybody close to him knew was this: His life’s work would involve creativity that makes people smile.

He was out of college, living in Southern California and working as an entry-level film editor when he befriended Tyler Nilson, a young man intent on becoming an actor.

They clicked. “Together, they’re this bigger, more complex entity of energy,” Georgia Schwartz said.

In 2014, Michael and Tyler made a short film, “The Moped Diaries.” They entered it in film festivals and it did quite well.

THEN THEY MET, at Zeno Mountain Farm, an acting camp in Southern California, a man in his mid-30s with Down syndrome and a serious, lifelong urge to perform. His name is Zack Gottsagen.

And “The Peanut Butter Falcon” was conceived.

Michael and Tyler wrote the script for Zack. Michael’s parents remember the day, about three years ago, when Michael was home in Santa Rosa and, standing in the kitchen, acted out the story for his family.

Recalls his mom, “I thought, ‘This is good, it could go somewhere.’”

She and Stephen said it has been something to behold, how their son and Tyler toiled to create and to attract talent and financial backers to their full-length film.

Michael’s folks saw the movie draw standing-room-only crowds and ovations at the South by Southwest film festival in Austin, and they were in LA last weekend for its premiere there.

Now, with the whirlwind building, Georgia Schwartz is urging her son to make sure he’s getting enough sleep.

You can contact Chris Smith at 707 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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