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Claremont roots lead to LA Film Festival

It’s not a terribly long drive from Claremont to Los Angeles. But Claremont native Kurt Pitzer has taken what might be called the long road home.

A writer and independent film producer, among other endeavors, Mr. Pitzer and his wife, Kimberly Levin, a writer and director, are returning to California from their Brooklyn, New York base, with their film Runoff, chosen as one of the films in this year’s LA Film Fest, a showcase of independent films that takes place from June 11 through June 19. Both hope that they may see some Claremonters at the film’s showings on June 12 and June 15 at the Regal Cinema Theaters.

Produced by Mr. Pitzer and written and directed by Ms. Levin, Runoff is a story of the struggles of a rural farm family. Filmed against the backdrop of working farms, the story is described as a “stirring family drama” that asks, “How far will we go to save our families?”

Ms. Levin grew up in Kentucky, then studied at Brown and Kenyon Universities, majoring in biochemistry. She was involved in a project testing wastewater for pollutants when she received a directing internship with well-known director Jon Jory at the Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky. Her path led to New York, directing plays Off Broadway, studying film at New York University and eventually meeting Mr. Pitzer, who had recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. The pair began working together on stories ranging from the coal mines of West Virginia to the aftermath of war in the Balkans. They were married in 2009.

For his part, Mr. Pitzer attended Chaparral Elementary and El Roble Intermediate Schools in Claremont and graduated from Webb School in 1984. From there, he went to and graduated from Wesleyan University in Connecticut in 1988.

During a career that it would not be an exaggeration to call adventurous, Mr. Pitzer has been a commercial long-line fisherman, and a relief worker and reporter from some of the world’s most turbulent regions. In 2003, he was an embedded journalist with the US Army’s 3rd Infantry Division during the invasion of Iraq. His contact and friendship there with Dr. Mahdi Obeidi, the former head of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear centrifuge program, led to helping the Obeidi family escape to the United States and their collaboration in writing The Bomb in My Garden in 2004, which is now being developed into a film. He has written for the Boston Globe, the Sunday Times of London, Los Angeles Times, BBC Radio and People. He was a winner in 2007 of the Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize for documentary work in Kosovo, Serbia and Bosnia.

Growing up was a bit more peaceful.

Mr. Pitzer recalls walking through acres of citrus trees on his way to Chaparral Elementary School. He passed only one house on the way, where he recalls, “a pair of bloodthirsty dogs never failed to make a run at me, filling my mornings and afternoons with dread.”

At the corner of Base Line Road and Mills Avenue, now a Vons Market shopping center, there was a field where mistletoe grew high in the branches of a giant sycamore tree. “On New Year’s Eve, my Mom celebrated by ringing a cowbell from our front porch. Our closest neighbors were my grandparents, nearly a mile away, so nobody heard.”

Though Claremont has changed over the years, there are some consistencies. “My sister and I decorated our bikes on the Fourth of July with colored paper in the spokes. Mom was in the shopping cart drill team and Dad was in the lawnmower brigade,” Mr. Pitzer remembers.

Maybe you can go home again.

—Pat Yarborough

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