Ali Afshar has been on countless movie sets as an actor and producer, but the location of the Petaluma native’s latest project is on a special patch of land — his childhood home.
“Stand at Paxton County,” one of 11 movies he’s shot or shooting in Petaluma, is set to finish filming on the 200 acres of ranchland in the Sonoma Mountain hills this week.
The street, Lila Lane, is named after his mother, Leila Kasra, a prominent Iranian poet and lyricist, who helped craft some of the most popular songs in the country’s history. She succumbed to breast cancer when Afshar was 15, the year after the family named the road.
Afshar and his family lived on the 20-acre parcel in the 1970s and ’80s. He has fond memories of sprinting down the long driveway to Old Adobe Road whenever he could spot the encroaching school bus. Not once did he beat the bus, but that quarter-mile run became symbolic later in life as a drag racer and world champion driver, a passion that grew out of his love for cars and motorcycles.
Much of Afshar’s childhood was portrayed in the film “American Wrestler: The Wizard,” a highly-acclaimed picture that starred Jon Voight, William Fichtner, George Kosturos and Afshar, among others, chronicling his journey as an immigrant child and state wrestling champion at Casa Grande High School.
“Being Iranian and coming here in the hostage crisis to small town Petaluma with a population of 10,000 — when we came here nobody wanted to (interact with us),” Afshar said, looking down the hillside in front of the house. “It was very prejudicial; it was very tough to get along when all you wanted was to be a kid and fit in. … Through wrestling, I was able to get the town and the school turned around and behind me.”
“American Wrestler” was one of four movies Afshar brought to Petaluma in 2017, backed by Forrest Lucas of Lucas Oil. By the end of the 2018, he will have produced 11 total movies in various parts of the city, and estimated he’s injected $40 million into the local economy with patronage at many restaurants and businesses.
When it comes to recommendations, Afshar usually tells crewmembers about McNear’s Saloon, Petaluma Creamery and Cucina Paradiso.
The production company also rents five homes year-round to help house the 100-person crew. However, more than half of the crew stays in hotels, providing large amounts of taxable dollars.
Afshar’s long-term goal is to build a movie studio in Petaluma, solidifying a pipeline between the city and Hollywood to help channel more money into the local economy. But to get to that point, Afshar said he needs more eyes on these pictures, and called for better support from movie-watching Petalumans.
“I could build a studio up here if I could just get people to know about (these films),” he said. “We don’t have $20 million to market it, so we’re relying on friends to get the word out so we can keep it going.”
Most of the crew has been consistent throughout each Petaluma production. Afshar describes it as a “family atmosphere” that stems from Lucas’ mantra, “it costs nothing to be kind.”
The inside of the green house at the top of the hill has been transformed with different props like furniture, books and paintings designed to reflect a traditional ranch home. When the shooting moves outside, the common area doubles as a make-up studio.