Chico screenwriter fights for stolen script


CHICO, Calif. - A Chico screenwriter fought long and hard to finally see his film out in US theaters -- a film released without his permission to critical acclaim in Germany years ago.

Chico's Stephen Zotnowski wrote the screenplay to his film "Barefoot" back in 1999.

It was soon sold to a Southern California studio.

Not long after that studio went bankrupt.

But while on a trip in Siberia in 2005, Zotnowski was speaking to a translator who revealed a shocking discovery.

"A German filmmaker had somehow gotten a hold of the script and made it in Germany in 2005," Zotnowski says. "It won best German film of 2005 which is always funny for me to say that."

To be exact, it was awarded the German Media Award Bambi for Best German movie of 2005.

Zotnowski fought for years to win the screenplay back and it was finally released to American audiences just two weeks ago, including on his hometown screen at Pageant Theater.

"I live a couple of blocks from here. I see my movies here," he says. "And when I was watching films here prior to 2005 even I thought I'd never see that screenplay again. So to see the movie poster and now have seen the movie here, it's great. And it's still not quite registered yet."

It's no blockbuster, with just an online and 19-city release.

But the film has been a relative hit so far both at home and abroad, including places like Turkey and Romania.

"People are watching it all over the world in addition to Chico. And so it's doing really good business in that first run, but not at the theaters, it's now online," he says.

But Zotnowski cares little about the film's commercial success, just getting it released here is a victory in itself.

"I cared about this screenplay, I created it," Zotnowski says, "and after it was taken from me and other people had used it it was just important for me to get it back and see it myself."

He says the biggest reward is that his 9-year-old daughter, who coincidentally as old as the German version, finally gets to see what he worked so hard to make.

"I'm pretty proud that she can see her dad, you know, the film that she had heard about is real and it's fun."

"Barefoot" runs through Thursday night at Pageant Theater.

It can also be found online on iTunes and will soon be released on Netflix.