—Roy Nolan’s Motto

By Margaret Van Every

roy nolan2017


Everyone knows Rambling Roy, ubiquitous documenter of everything worthy in our Lakeside villages. Roy’s been documenting all his adult life, starting back in 1955 in Montreal where he acquired on-the-job skills of filmmaking. A total novice, he chanced upon work with the National Film Board of Canada as schlepper and film loader. It just happened to be the largest documentary filmmaking organization in the world. Eight years later he produced, scripted, and directed his first 10-minute film, Country Auction, now a classic.

In his twenties Roy had no real career vision. His career moves were often the result of an impulse or conversation with a stranger. A bad snowstorm, for example, prompted him to abandon his job with the Film Board and leave Montreal once and for all. He drove to LA with fantasies of directing Hollywood films, but a bum in the studio parking lot persuaded him he’d be happier in San Francisco. Roy did a U-turn and after driving all night found himself approaching SF at sunrise, the Golden Gate swathed in fog, light just breaking through. “Wow,” he said, “I’d drive a cab in SF before I’d make a film in LA!”It was November 1963, the day JFK was shot.

A short time later, Roy, 28 years old, jobless, was seated at some luncheon next to the head of the Communications Department, UC Berkeley. This stranger said she was looking for someone to teach film editing at the new Film Department and she believed Roy was the man for the job. A college dropout after one year, Roy demurred, but this woman persisted and hired him on his experience with the Film Board. Roy soon began holding evening classes at the SF Art Institute.

The Bay Area during the 60s was the epicenter of cultural fermentation, and Roy made the most of it—taught film at UCB part time for three years and then at the SF Academy of Art. He had a retrospective exhibit at the SF MOMA and worked for KQED (PBS) doing camera on assignment. His subjects included Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, Mario Savio (Free Speech Movement), Joan Baez, and Peter, Paul, and Mary, among others. He documented returning Vietnam Vets, the Johnny Cash concert in San Quentin, and the Renaissance Pleasure Fair in Marin County.

In ’65 he formed his own film company, Roy Nolan Films (’65-’80), during which period he won gold medals for several documentaries. Noteworthy and a huge hit in Europe was his feature film Last Free Ride, which took three years in the making and captured the counterculture of the Sausalito houseboat people. During that time he also did a documentary on Cuba (’66). From the 80s to mid-90s he was transitioning to video and computers. Renaming his enterprise Nolan Productions, he produced several award-winning multimedia productions and subcontracted to the Disney Channel. Among those videos included portraits of Jack O’Neill, inventor of the wetsuit, and Siegfried Hansen, inventor of the spacesuit.

Itching for a change after 40 years of filmmaking, Roy took up remodeling homes, which he did for the next eight years. He then met Margarita Fettweiss and they drove an RV to Belize and Panama. They decided to settle in Mexico and in 2006 bought property on the shores of Lake Chapala at the base of Mt. Garcia. Since then he’s never been idle. “Margarita was production coordinator, interviewer, translator, and narrator in almost all of the videos we produced here,” Roy says. “She helped make these videos possible. Besides being best friends, we’re a good team.” Together they made three documentaries about the Lake Chapala area, The Spirit of Lake Chapala, In the Shadow of Mount Garcia, and Reformatting Retirement at Lake Chapala.

Roy is currently producing a fourth video in the series, Lakeshore Expats Visit Guadalajara. “These videos were made to inspire people anywhere in the world who are pondering what they’ll do with the rest of their lives,” Roy explains. In addition, he’s made others to promote LCS, local charities, and events, including the weekly Open Circle presentations for the past eight years, amounting to about 300 recordings.

Now in his 80s, Roy is making plans for the next decade. “I want to honor Neill James in a docudrama, using a treasure trove of historical photos and an actress to play Neill.” He’ll begin production as soon as he can get funding.

He’s also seeking sponsorship for a sequel to his 1966 on-location film Fidelisimo. He wants to find out what’s happened to the teenage Becados (scholarship students) that he filmed in ’66.  After the Revolution, Fidel set up a program to educate over a quarter million poor kids brought to Havana from all over Cuba. What are they doing now? While in Cuba he‘ll make additional videos about the current state of Cuban art and music.

Also awaiting funding is A Taste of Mexico—The Story of Mole, about the evolution of this national culinary treasure. Mole was the result of a competition announced by Moctezuma for the best dish in the realm using chilies and chocolate.

As though all this weren’t enough, Roy is soon to release his memoir Living My Dream as a Filmmaker. Simultaneously he’s assembling a short compilation of out-takes from some of his films to be packaged and sold with the book. Separately he’s packaging a collection of selected old films entitled I Was There and I Filmed It—San Francisco in the 60s & 70s.

Roy’s vision for the next ten years? Here’s a sampling:

“As I get older I’ll need a live-in housekeeper, a property caretaker and caregiver support on the premises. I want an energetic Mexican couple to fill this job and will need to prepare a living space for them in my home.”

“I plan to renovate the two casitas on my property and build several more to rent to older folks like me, possibly artists, writers and photographers. I want to create a small self-sustaining community powered by solar energy and completely irrigated. Since I enjoy designing and building homes, I’m looking forward to this and have already drawn up plans.”

“With over 60 years experience making videos and teaching filmmaking, I’d like to give classes in my home. The classes would be small and held when students are on vacation. I will arrange for credits to be given from the University of Guadalajara or UNAM to count toward students’ degree programs elsewhere. I may also give lectures in Guadalajara.”

What counsel can Roy give on how to maintain the spark for the remainder of our lives? “I realized at an early age that I had to find a need and fill it. My guiding philosophy has been to help make a better world while having fun doing it. My films accentuate the positive. Another important thing is that I’ve always worked with trusted associates. My goal for the next decade is to stay healthy, active, and continue making videos that contribute to creating a better world. I want my work to inspire the viewer to do the same. If only one person is inspired, then I have succeeded.”  Visit Roy’s website: where you can access many of his current and past videos.


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