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Berkeley's California Typewriter

A new documentary explores the history of an iconic typewriter shop in the East Bay.



When driving by Berkeley’s California Typewriter, people may ask themselves: How does a typewriter repair shop stay in business? That question is among the many explored by the fascinating new documentary California Typewriter. An ode to the iconic machine, director Doug Nichol’s film reflects on the store’s history and present-day struggles, and features interviews with some notable typewriter enthusiasts, including actor Tom Hanks, historian David McCullough, and actor and playwright Sam Shepard, who passed away in July. Diablo spoke with Nichol about the film and its many East Bay connections.

Q: Why did you want to make a documentary about California Typewriter?
A: The whole project started when I brought an old typewriter in there for repairs. The people working there are just the most pure, good souls you will ever meet. I would go back with my camera to film them, and I loved hanging out there. Every customer who came through the door was interesting. It’s a very special place.

Tom Hanks. Courtesy of American Buffalo Pictures.

Q: The film shows California Typewriter shop owner Herb Permillion III working with Oakland artist Jeremy Mayer, who creates sculptures out of typewriter parts, scouring the Alameda flea market for old typewriters. What is that partnership like?
A: I liked how two guys would go there together with such different intentions: Jeremy is looking to take the typewriters apart for his art, and Herb is looking to fix them up and
sell them.

Q: Tom Hanks, who appears throughout the film, has more than 250 typewriters in his collection. Have you seen his affinity for typewriters firsthand?
A: He had 270 at the time we filmed. He likes to give them away as housewarming gifts, especially if people will use them to write letters and personal notes. When the film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival, Tom, Jeremy, and I went to a high school class to talk to students. Tom made sure to get the names and addresses of every student, and sent every one a typewriter.

California Typewriter will be available on iTunes starting November 21. californiatypewritermovie.com.


Mill Valley Film Festival

Catch East Bay flicks and filmmakers this month at the Mill Valley Film Festival, which celebrates 40 years of showcasing indie films from around the world. This year’s stellar lineup is packed with local highlights, including a sci-fi drama that examines artificial intelligence’s impact on filmmaking (Real Artists filmed at Oakland’s Chabot Space and Science Center); a thoughtful reflection on our country’s legacy of slavery (The Long Shadow directed by Berkeley’s Frances Causey); and a look into the United States’ burgeoning marijuana industry (Mary Janes: The Women of Weed). October 5–15, $15 general admission, mvff.com.        —Casey Cantrell

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