The historic 1907 house, a few blocks from the Arcata Plaza, glows from its recent restoration. Sparse furnishings. No kitsch. Little evidence of the teen and 5 year old who live and do cartwheels there — or the additional two kids at last night's slumber party.
Humboldt-based screenwriter/director of The Wine of Summer (2013) Maria Matteoli is running on four hours of sleep. Yet she manifests elegant serenity in loose dark blouse and jeans, lipstick and slender silver earrings. These days, Matteoli juggles two ongoing film projects with parenting. This week, she's "a ballet mom." Her 13-year-old daughter is dancing at the Arkley Center for the Performing Arts.
"So much chaos," she says, smiling. "Coffee?"
Matteoli describes herself as a "sort of George Bailey character" from It's a Wonderful Life. Though she's lived in places like New York City, her Humboldt roots go back seven generations. Matteoli and husband Tim Probst bought their Arcata house about a year ago to move from Eureka. Matteoli feels comfortable letting her daughter roam in Arcata. It's not exactly Bedford Falls but the teen can walk to ballet lessons and ride her bike to the store. "It's great peace of mind," she says, "for my kids to have a little bit of that childhood freedom that we had growing up."
The distressed house needed work. About 11 people had been living there, hosting frequent house music shows. Initials were carved into historic raised panel wainscoting, which was also gouged from vertical skateboarding. The upstairs bathroom floor, degraded from 40 years of leaks, collapsed during renovations. But under the worn carpet, redwood subflooring. Wide long planks were restored to reveal texture and grain. "The redwood's beauty shines through," Matteoli says. "The historian in me loves that we were able to bring life back into something so beautiful."
History informs Matteoli's screenwriting. Her latest film project is Agnes, a 1950s period piece about a young actress in New York City. She came up with the idea while casting for her second feature film Lady of the Canyon, about the epic adventures of travel writer Isabella Burke in the 1870s. Matteoli wrote Agnes in record time, sending batches of 40-50 pages to her brother, who was incredulous. She recalls him asking her: "Did you just write a script in one weekend?"
"Four days," she says now. "40 years and four days."
"This is the 'yes' film," she says. After two years of pitching Lady of the Canyon to no avail, Agnes has attracted industry attention. At the time of this interview, deals were pending but she expects filming on Agnes to begin this fall in New York.
Matteoli's 2013 feature film The Wine of Summer (now streaming on Amazon Prime) is about a struggling Bay Area actor who travels to Spain for inspiration. Scenes were shot in Barcelona and in Eureka's Old Town. She and assistant director Malcolm DeSoto, who also traveled to Barcelona, edited the film from their neighboring apartments above The Speakeasy bar in Opera Alley.
Local filmmaker DeSoto's been working with Matteoli since her early music videos and the Love, Humboldt promotional series. He admires her directing skills.
"Making movies can be stressful," DeSoto says. "A lot of people, a lot of money involved. Things have to go right. Maria maintains balance, almost a family vibe. Everybody treats each other well."
Matteoli says the experience was a crash course in filmmaking. After earning her film degree from Humboldt State, Matteoli was advised to make a feature instead of graduate school. "So I made a feature film," she says. "And it was like 20 masters' degrees all in one. I was negotiating contracts and scheduling flights from Brazil. ... I slept two hours a night for two years."
Sleep deprived though she was, she revels in memories of working with actors like the Brazilian Golden Globe nominee who played an aging playwright's lost love. "I was standing on a street in Barcelona, directing Sônia Braga. Idyllic."
Maria's brother Mario Matteoli, an Austin-based musician, wrote the soundtrack for Wine of Summer. He now immerses himself in the music of the 1950s — think Eartha Kitt — as he writes songs for Agnes. Mario and Maria are two of seven siblings. Their mom is the oldest of 13. "We have approximately one million cousins," Mario says.
The family knew Maria was destined to direct films. The 4-year-old prodigy ordered family members around for a "Baby Mario Comes Home from Hospital" movie. She later wrote and directed an annual "Cruz Christmas Comedy," with roles for all those cousins. "It was impressive that she could wrangle all those cats and come up with anything," Mario says.
Aimee Taylor, owner of Shipwreck in Old Town Eureka, describes her longtime friend as "genuine and caring ... a superhero." Taylor has worked on many of Matteoli's early projects. She did costuming for Wine of Summer in Barcelona. "It was cool to see a project that I'd seen start small go through all the stages it takes to make a film."
Taylor considers her friend a teller of impactful tales. "I think she tries to write the way she lives," Taylor says. "She loves to find the beauty in the world."