TRANSPLANTS: A series on Becoming Topangan
Artist and filmmaker Ela Roth Capone, 42, is the driving force behind Topanga-based TheoFilms. This production company is celebrating three of its projects being chosen by the prestigious Ethos Film Awards for their 2023 International Film Festival.
They didn’t win a prize this time, but just being selected in three categories felt like a big win after what’s been a difficult year for Roth Capone. She credits the Topanga community with helping her through the worst of times.
“I first heard of Topanga eleven years ago at a party in Highland Park, LA,” said German-born Roth Capone. “Just the name Topanga stuck with me. Then maybe three years later, I worked with another filmmaker who had a place in Topanga—Michael Kastenbaum. I also connected with other creatives here: James Mathers, Allen Branson and Alex Syverson from Corazón. I could tell Topanga was a very artsy area and I felt happy here, like I belonged.”
At that point, Roth Capone didn’t have her green card, but whenever she came to Topanga to visit over the next seven years on a tourist visa, it felt like home.
During one visit, James Mathers (“a beautiful creative force” says Roth Capone) introduced his friend, Joey Capone, a filmmaker, writer, producer and actor.
“When we first met, Joey and I didn’t know that we both made films. We connected just on the heart level. Then after a month, we realized we were both filmmakers. In the beginning, we were only interested in each other and nothing else. That was extremely beautiful. Meeting Joey here made Topanga an even stronger force for me.”
They married and soon became parents to Matilda. This was the start of the pandemic, so they moved to south of Berlin to live with Roth Capone’s parents, who helped look after Matilda while they made their third short film, “Ice Fishing.”
“It was a super-cold winter,” said Roth Capone. “It was unusual. The lakes around where we lived were frozen.” Growing up in Orange County, California, Joey was deeply suspicious of the frozen lake, but his wife told him she’d seen cars driving on it, so not to be afraid.
“I told him to trust it, and within two weeks he came up with a great story for the setting, wrote the script and we finished the shoot. Perfect timing, because the day after we finished filming, the ice started melting.”
The couple decided to make their home in Topanga, a place they both loved. “It was pretty much a no-brainer that we should be in Topanga. We had a network of friends and fellow creatives,” said Roth Capone.
As soon as her green card came through, she and Matilda (then two years old) drove to Topanga from Seattle in early December 2022 to find the family a place to live and be here for Christmas. Joey had to stay a couple of days longer to finish a job.
Joey stopped in Portland, Oregon en route to Topanga. While walking across a road, he was hit by a speeding car and killed. He was 37.
“I never felt such a deep and lasting pain before,” said Roth Capone. “I wanted to fall apart into atoms and follow Joey into the universe.”
The couple always felt they were connected on a spiritual level. “I felt it when he passed, as I had to let go of my love. For me, Joey’s still around.”
Roth Capone had to decide whether to stay in Topanga or go back to Germany. “I was in such shock that it took months to come to terms with the loss. I had no permanent home. I had lost my main person who was connected to the system in America and provided for us. The only thing that kept me going was the goal to get “Ice Fishing” out there. I felt that if I went back to Germany to be with my family, I’d be leaving Joey behind. I decided to stick with our plan for “Ice Fishing,” and TheoFilms,” says Roth Capone who received incredible support from the Topangan community.
“That Christmas, Allen Branson, Alex Syverson and James Mathers made sure I wasn’t ever alone,” she said. “They knew and loved Joey. They made sure there was a fire and we were warm. Such kindness. I don’t think it would have been better anywhere else for me at that time.”
After Roth Capone began coming to terms with the shock and loss, she met Claudia Udy from Topanga’s Love School. “We connected immediately. I found a way for Matilda to go to the Love School. There I met two other women who had lost their partners and had girls pretty much the same age as Matilda. We lived together for three months so I could stabilize. They knew what I was going through. That was extremely helpful.”
When Roth Capone felt ready and able to move forward, TheoFilms began getting busy again and she focused her creative energy on the production company she created with Joey.
“I found a new business partner, Keith Kirts, and things started developing nicely,” she said. “I’m sure it wouldn’t have been as easy a transition anywhere but Topanga. For me, Topanga is the place to be and I don’t know if I could ever leave again. Matilda is super-happy here and I enjoy the community. Topanga is such a strong force.”
Written and directed by Joey Capone, “Ice Fishing” is an eight-minute short film starring Joey Capone and Siebe Schoneveld. Ela Roth Capone was producer and director of photography. The film received an enthusiastic response when it was screened at the 2023 Topanga International Film Festival.
With “Ice Fishing” and TheoFilms’ first documentary, “Two Mothers,” competing on the festival circuit, Roth Capone is focusing on her next project, a feature narrative, “Impact Red.”
“It’s my most ambitious project and I really love it. I’ll direct. The crew I’m gathering is strong. It’ll be shot in Santa Monica, Topanga beach, the Blue Ridge Mountains and Denver.
“We don’t have funding yet. Does anyone need a tax write-off? If anyone has a space they can donate where three or four filmmakers can work, that would be wonderful. Filmmaking can be stressful but it’s also incredibly fulfilling.”
Ela Roth Capone has a daughter to raise and Matilda is her priority, but she also needs to feed her creativity, and make Joey’s and her dreams for TheoFilms come true. Dreams have a way of coming true in Topanga.