By KATIE WATTS / PETALUMA CORRESPONDENT
“A good portion of what we do is social work,” says John Bertucci, the 57-year-old executive director of Petaluma Community Access. “We’re a social resource.”
The nonprofit public television station provides three channels of community, educational and governmental programming to local viewers — and an opportunity for Petaluma residents to learn how to make their own films and television shows.
“Cameras and equipment are the bait to get people to come in,” Bertucci says, smiling.
Although the current staff is small — four part-timers plus himself — Bertucci said they all understand the “magic” of public access television.
“This is a generous, forgiving place where people can make mistakes and experiment, where collaboration and communication are their own reward. And we take people wherever they are on their learning curve,” he said.
PCA opened its doors in 1996, then on the Casa Grande High School campus. For the past five years, it has been located at 205 Keller St.
Currently, PCA is expanding — much to Bertucci’s delight.
“We’re getting our studio back. It’ll be great to have a place where the camera can roll, you can switch between two cameras and don’t have to edit,” he said.
“Now, more people can come in. And anyone can walk through the door. We’re democratic, non-denominational and equal opportunity.”
He laughs. “People say ‘I want to rent a camera,’ and we say, ‘No, you have to be a member, and then you can use them. These are your cameras, equipment, editing stations.’ These three channels belong to Petaluma.”
The nonprofit is stable, he says, and has a good board and strong infrastructure. Its annual budget of about $225,000 is largely funded by a 1.24 percent fee tacked onto Comcast and AT&T television bills, with additional revenue from membership fees and business sponsorships.
Caitlin Wicks, 25, is PCA’s community outreach and development coordinator. “We are a way for the community to access itself,” she says. “Even the name. Community Access means so much more than public access television.”
She believes PCA exists to “reflect on what Petaluma means to Petalumans and what’s happening here — a way for everyone to be aware of it.”
Is it working? She nods emphatically. “Since December we’ve had close to 40 new members and five classes, with more coming.” Classes are offered in Final Cut Pro, video production, interview techniques, script writing and video production for Spanish speakers. There’s a particularly large demand for the Final Cut Pro classes. “People want to know how to use the software to edit videos, and we want to facilitate that, at an affordable price,” she said.
What’s affordable? Wicks says three hands-on sessions of Final Cut Pro cost $60. The three-hour interview techniques class costs $25. “Other places, it would cost $500.”
You do have to be a PCA member. Membership is $30 for students, seniors and low income persons; $50 for other individuals.
Also coming up, Wicks says, is a series of community film screenings with guest speakers, moderators and question-and-answer sessions. They’ll be airing the first week of each month.
The first film, “Sweetgrass,” is a documentary on Montana sheep ranchers. Wicks hopes it will change the way viewers think about film, change their thoughts about agriculture and life, and “hopefully what it means to be a Petaluman, because we have so much agriculture in our town.”
PCA is the only place the film can be seen, she says: it’s not publicly available. The screening will be in PCA’s new lounge. It’s free, but donations are accepted, she says.
Then, in early June, the film “Girl Model” will be shown, relating the experience of being a model, the stereotypes of femininity within our society and the conflicting messages girls receive from the media and society.
Wicks sees PCA “as a meeting ground, a crossing station, for people to meet and share skills.”
It also films and archives major community events — for example, the Butter & Egg Days Parade on April 27. “This year,” she says, “we’ll have a large camera crew roaming the crowd. For them it’ll be another opportunity for hands-on journalism experience.”
Zach Smith, 23, is PCA’s station manager. What he likes about PCA are the “invaluable training skills you can learn, and carry beyond this facility, use them to create programs, get new jobs, market yourself, help with shooting home videos.
“We help people get projects done, people from so many different backgrounds.” He laughs. “I’ve helped people who didn’t even know how to click a mouse. We give the public a means of learning technology and the tools to learn the platform of communication. It gives them a voice to use television and the Internet through multimedia.”
Anybody, he says, “can walk through our door. It doesn’t matter if you’re 13 or in your later years. We’ve seen it all and produced many things through those people.”
Petaluma Community Access offers a Film and Video Mixer at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 23 at Aqus Café. The event offers a chance for those involved in all aspects of film, video, television and animation to get together The café is at 189 H St. Cost is $10. Visit pca.tv to learn more about the event, and what PCA has to offer.