The Tale of a Movie, Part
From Zero to Distribution
(March 2002, Ojai, CA) Jane Cusumano
reached out to many people. Yet amazingly, since her death
she is touching the hearts of thousands more. This is the
true story of her legacy and how her adoring husband is making
her life-long dream and dying wishes come true.
Born Jane Melvin in Palo Alto, California,
her amazing talents were reflected through her art, her music
and her writing throughout her life. From playing Rachmaninoff
in concert at the age of nine to her renowned oil paintings
of famous racehorses to her restoration of a classic Wallace
Neff mansion, Jane never ceased to amaze and touch those around
her. A devoted mother and wife, she created beautiful gardens,
volunteered in her community, created sumptuous meals for
her family and raised her daughter and step-daughter while
often postponing her own dreams.
Jane supported her husband, Jim, as he took Catalytica from
a simple idea, to a successful public company. When Jane and
Jim decided to leave Silicon Valley for a more soulful, quieter
location, they found a welcoming community in the Ojai Valley.
By this time Jane had already written three screenplays. With
the capital from the sale of Jim's company as backing, she
had the opportunity to finally bring her dream of being a
filmmaker to fruition.
Shortly after moving to Ojai, Jane
was diagnosed with breast cancer and began chemotherapy and
radiation treatments. After completing her first round of
chemo, she flew to New York to watch her daughter, Polly,
graduate from Vassar with a degree in theater arts. Upon her
arrival, her hair fell out. But, being the resourceful, dedicated
mom that she was, she refused to let anything take the spotlight
away from Polly's accomplishment, and donned a just-in-case
wig she had purchased for the trip.
In 2000, the stage was set to begin production of "What
Matters Most"-- the location scouted, the cast and crew
hired, and the equipment rented. She remarked to her sister-in-law
that September 18, the day before she was due to go on location
in Vega, Texas was the happiest day of her life. The following
day she found out that her breast cancer metastasized. She
would need treatment again.
Most people would have quit at this point. The thought of
undergoing chemotherapy is taxing enough, requiring a commitment
of mind, body and soul. Yet Jane's purpose, to communicate
with a larger audience about the meaning of life, about being
true to oneself, about finding happiness while dancing in
the headlights of an old pick-up, buoyed her to go forward
with the movie.
Throughout pre-production, filming, and post-production Jane
underwent treatment. She grew sicker and sicker. Those on
the set didn't know the pain she endured. She gave each of
them an inspiring tour of the part of her soul revealed through
each character. And they gave back through the parts they
played on film.
Towards the end, Jane would lie on a couch, unable to get
up, editing and re-editing, pouring what little strength she
had into the movie.
The irony of making a movie called "What Matters Most"
as she fought for her life did not escape Jane. It was that
cosmic point in time when everything she worked for - putting
her daughter through college (Polly stars in the film), supporting
Jim through the ups and downs of business, writing this screenplay,
studying human nature - all came into play like the instruments
in an orchestra falling into harmony.
Three weeks after post-production Jane succumbed to breast
cancer. As she lay dying in the hospital, Jim asked if she
had any final wishes. In true Jane form, she wished the profits
from her movie be used to help other women fight breast cancer,
to fund aspiring filmmakers to finish their films, and to
support those in need in Ojai, the community that nourished
Bringing Jane's dream to fruition has been Jim's mission.
After her death, Jim took "What Matters Most" on
a seven-city tour across the U.S. from L.A. to D.C. with stops
in Ojai, Vega, Chicago, Dallas, New York and San Francisco.
The proceeds from these benefit screenings have gone to breast
cancer organizations and women's filmmaker groups. The Breast
Cancer Fund, SAG Foundation's Catastrophic Health Fund, George
Washington University Breast Care Center and Women In Film-
Los Angeles are a few of the groups who have benefited from
But here is the amazing thing: The film has lit a fire in
the movie community. It has been invited to eight film festivals,
returning home with several awards including: Audience Award
for Best Feature Film at WinFemme, Best Cinematograpy (Michael
Goi) and Flash Forward Award (Polly Cusumano) at the Portland
Festival of World Cinema and Best Director (Jane Cusumano)
at the Manhattan Global Film Festival. No one can believe
that it's an independent film. It's wonderful. It's touching
without the schmaltz. It's real and down to earth without
being tacky. Personally I don't understand how someone can
go from never making a movie to making this movie. It seems
impossible. It seems unlikely. It seems divine.
At this point the battle is Jim's. He can't continue renting
theaters, one by one, and showing Jane's movie. That's the
work of a movie distributor. So he is exploring distribution
options. He's learned that some companies fit the vision and
others do not.
Jim and Polly are carrying Jane's torch. They wanted to let
all of us know about the process they are going through. So
we can create the consciousness necessary to vault the distribution
The breast cancer community will be the beneficiaries of this
movie, in more ways than one. We will be touched by Jane's
vision as we watch the film. We will be financially supported
as profits roll in. Let's support Jim by thinking positive
thoughts and awaiting the news of a great distribution contract.
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