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Community - April 6, 2011

Kohlberg directs film shown at Sundance

by Kate Daly

Jim Kohlberg of Portola Valley leads a double life. The family man is known in the creative world as a director, producer and writer, yet in the business world, he's known as chairman of Kohlberg Ventures and involved with Internet, consumer products and healthcare companies.

His latest movie, "The Music Never Stopped," has been showing in the Bay Area since March 18 at independent theaters and art houses. It debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, in January. This month the film is being shown in 20 more cities across the country.

The low-budget feature film (rated PG) starring J.K. Simmons and Lou Taylor Pucci is based on a real case that neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks wrote about in the essay, "The Last Hippie."

A teenage boy runs away from home, and develops a brain tumor that impacts his memory. Nearly 20 years later he reunites with his parents and works with a musical therapist who discovers that playing oldies, such as Beatles, Dylan and Grateful Dead songs, can reignite the patient's memory.

"The audience really reacts well to this film; it makes people cry, it makes people laugh," Mr. Kohlberg said. "When they walk out of the theater they want to talk about it more."

At a recent private showing at the Aquarius in Palo Alto, the movie received a standing ovation. Local family friends bought out all the seats and invited Mr. Kohlberg to come speak to the crowd. Mickey Hart, the drummer for the Grateful Dead, made a guest appearance, too.

Both of the men had spoken at Sundance about the film. Mr. Hart "is so involved in musical therapy, he wanted to be more involved in the marketing," Mr. Kohlberg explained.

Mr. Hart talked to the audience about "the power of music to reconnect," particularly when working with Alzheimer's and brain injury patients. He gave the example of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, who is recovering from being shot in the head several months ago. "One of her main treatments is music therapy," he said.

The film's storyline revolves around music, so getting approval to use certain songs was key. Mr. Kohlberg said as soon as the iconic rock musicians such as Mr. Hart embraced the project, everything fell into place rather quickly.

A year ago, the crew spent five weeks filming in New York, using one camera for most of the scenes. A distributor, Roadside Attractions, picked up the film in early January, and now it's being shown nationwide.

"We need all the viral help we can get," Mr. Kohlberg told the audience.

The movie already has more than 20,000 fans on Facebook, but box office numbers determine when and where the film will play.

"This is not a blockbuster," Mr. Kohlberg admitted, but the numbers are still coming in.

"The Music Never Stopped" is the first film he has directed and produced. Mr. Kohlberg co-founded a production company in 1999 and has produced the films "Two Family House," "Runaway" and "Trumbo."

He also directed the play, "All My Sons," in Mountain View a while back.

Mr. Kohlberg said, with no formal background in drama or film, it's writing that got him hooked on making movies. He sees himself primarily as a storyteller, and right now is in the midst of sealing several deals, including publishing a book, "a San Francisco-based noir novella right after the dot.com bust."

Other film projects he's currently working on are a political thriller and two based on the books, "Home in the Morning" and "Outlander."

He is busy developing a lot of ideas because he acknowledged, "the odds of any of these films happening is small."

Go to themusicneverstopped-movie.com for more information, including local showings.