Don Lewis takes reins at Petaluma Community Access

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After more than a decade at the helm of Petaluma Community Access, which operates a local television and radio station, Executive Director John Bertucci is retiring from the position he’s held since June of 2008. Though Bertucci will remain at the station until the end of March, the board of directors recently announced it has hired Petaluma filmmaker Don Lewis as the new ED. Lewis officially started at PCA on Wednesday, Jan. 2.

“We were totally blessed to be able to bring Don in,” Bertucci says, a few days after the transition began. “Don definitely has the pedigree, the experience, the energy and the enthusiasm to keep things going here, and to build on what’s been done over the last 10 years. This is a win-win for Petaluma. I’m truly thrilled.”

In addition to working for many years with Boys and Girls Club, serving in Petaluma and other locations, Lewis has directed and produced a number of feature films. His 2011 documentary, “Worst in Show,” about Petaluma’s annual Ugliest Dog in the World Contest, was co-directed with John Beck, and played in film festivals across the country, winning a prize for Best Documentary at the Kansas City Film Fest. He also served as a co-producer of 2010’s “The Violent Kind” and 2012’s “Holy Ghost People,” low-budget action-horror films directed by Petaluma’s Mitchell Altieri and Phil Flores under the eye-catching directorial moniker The Butcher Brothers.

“You can’t produce a movie without learning how to juggle a lot of balls at once,” says Lewis, explaining the qualifications he plans to draw on as the new ED of Petaluma Community Access. “Similarly, if you work at a Boys and Girls Club, managing 30 kids and their parents, you learn quickly to get along with anybody and everybody, and to make anything and everything work. There are a lot of plates spinning in the air with something like PCA, so I see this as a similar situation. We have a very active board, a great staff, and a great group of volunteers. There’s a lot to do, and a lot to be done. I’m really excited.”

Asked if he’s ever managed a nonprofit organization before, Lewis jokes, “Well, the movies I produced never made any money, so …”

Though Lewis says he has no plans to direct or produce any content for the PCA television station, he does says he would like to teach some classes in the arts of editing and documentary filmmaking.

“That would not only be something useful for the community, but would give more people the skills needed to provide content for the television stations,” he says. “That’ll help us out in a lot of ways, because we really do want to put some renewed energy into what’s going on with our community television station.”

Lewis says he’s impressed with what Bertucci and the rest of the team have accomplished with the KPCA radio station, which launched in February of 2017, quickly becoming a hub of activity for local programmers with creative ideas for radio programs. He’d like to see something similar happen on the television side. Currently, PCA’s three channels are mostly used to broadcast city meetings, church services and local parades. There was a time, though, Lewis points out, in the days before YouTube, when local stations like PCA’s saw lots of creativity, with local community members hosting talk shows, comedy shows, live concerts and more.

“Because of the internet, a lot of the old ‘Wayne’s World’ kind of locally-made TV shows have faded away,” he says. “But I think there are still people in Petaluma who would like to make a TV show in a professional studio, with professional cameras. A lot of people are not aware of everything our facility has to offer. So if you like making movies but are tired of shooting them on your iPhone, come on down and check us out. We have great editing stations, green screens, everything you need.”

Other projects ahead of Lewis include revamping the stations’ two websites.

“They could use a reboot and a redesign,” Lewis says. “There should be one website covering both that televisions station and the radio station, but right now there’re two different websites. That’s something we’d have to raise money for, though. I think it’ll happen, and it’ll be a good thing.”

Until then, Lewis admits he has a lot of other things to learn about the operation while Bertucci is still around.

“I’m going to be leaning on John a lot for a month or two,” he says, “and I’m really grateful that there is this transition period put in place. I’ll have a good amount of time to pick his brain. He’s assembled a strong staff, and I’ll be depending on them a lot as well.”

As for Bertucci, as he eyes March and the start of his retirement, he admits he leaves PCA with a mix of sadness and pride.

“What we’ve done, I think, is quite an accomplishment,” he says. “We’ve gone through a lot of changes, shoring up the television side of things, and then launching the radio station, which has grown like crazy, and has become the new horse to hitch the wagon to.

“It’s been an honor to have served this long,” Bertucci continues, “and I’m proud of the staff we’ve got going right now. When I think of all the videos, programs and radio shows that have been created and broadcast over the last 10 years, I’m honored to have been part of making all of that possible. There have been enormous challenges, yes, but we’ve met them head on. It’s been an absolute joy.”

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