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‘Grasshopper for Grandpa’ to Screen at Ojai Film Festival

The Ojai Film Festival presents a screening of acclaimed documentary film Grasshopper for Grandpa at 2:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 9, 2015, at the Ojai Arts Center.

Focusing on  celebrated Chinese bar and restaurant that is the sole remaining landmark of Santa Barbara’s Chinatown, Grasshopper for Grandpa is the story of Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens, a celebrated institution in Santa Barbara for more than 60 years before closing its doors in 2006 with the retirement of owner Tommy Chung.

Opened in 1947 by Tommy’s father, Jimmy Yee Chung, it’s now the last visible remnant of Santa Barbara’s once small but bustling Chinatown. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Chinatown was located between State St. and E. Canon Perdido St. in the center of downtown.

The film is a portrait in three acts about Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens and explores why the place was so special to so many people.

Act One sets the history. Act Two goes into why the special few who made Jimmy’s possible, like owner Tommy Chung and 30-year bartender Willy Gilbert, had that effect on so many patrons and passersby. And Act Three comes seven years after it was closed, with new owners who were longtime bar patrons, Bob Lovejoy and his son Clay.

"My goal was to try and find out what made Jimmy’s so special," said director Casey McGarry. "That’s one of the questions I asked every one of the people I interviewed. At first, I was running with this idea of 'establishment as character’ because the building itself and the location are such central figures from an outside perspective looking in. But after doing a good amount of research on the place and talking to the right cast of characters, it turned out what really made Jimmy’s so special, was the people."

McGarry likens the cocktail lounge to the television show Cheers, featuring its own cast of regulars that couldn't bear to see the place go.

"It had the cast in place: Willy Gilbert, the longtime bartender who was the Ted Danson figure; Esther (Willy’s wife) the cocktail waitress who had attitude and sass just like Rhea Perlman’s character, Carla Tortelli; Nancy Nufer, an actress who lived in the house directly behind Jimmy’s and looked just like Shelly Long; the postman; the lawyer; the doctor; the whole cast of characters; just like the TV show. (Truth is stranger and funnier than fiction)," he said. 

At the center of that surreal world was Jimmy's Oriental Gardens' owner and paternal figure.

"And then of course there was Tommy Chung, the owner and the father of that family," McGarry said. "His father, Jimmy, embraced the tradition of customers as an extended family and Tommy continued to create that gracious atmosphere. I was lucky to stumble upon such a great local story and fortunate to have been granted such access into the complex yet irresistible world of Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens."

Grasshopper for Grandpa premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in February (2015) to wide acclaim and two sold out screenings. A follow-up screening at the Marjorie Luke Theatre in Santa Barbara on a Sunday matinee March 1, 2015, played to a packed house.

Following a lively Q&A with the director, producers and some of the cast, a longtime patron Federico Hill commented on Facebook, “Thanks for the excellent film and 35 years of good times!”

Grasshopper for Grandpa  will screen at 2:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 9, at the Ojai Film Festival in the Arts Center, located at 113 S Montgomery St, Ojai, CA 93023.

— Maureen McFadden co-produced Grasshopper for Grandpa with Casey McGarry and Milo Wolf. 


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