Today movie theaters coast to coast will be showing "Brave," the new animated film based on the spunky Scottish princess named Merida.
San Leandro residents have a special connection to this cinematic event.
"Brave" was produced by Katherine Sarafian, who attended local public schools which, as she told Patch, helped lay the foundation for her career with Pixar Animation Studios, which partnered with Disney to make and distribute the film
Sarafian started at Roosevelt Elementary School and advanced to Bancroft Middle School before graduating San Leandro High's Class of 1987. She went on to attend UCLA and its noted Film School, which led to a job as assistant to the production manager of "Toy Story."
Over the years she rose through Pixar's ranks. "Brave" is her top professional accomplishment to date. She steered it through literally years of production, during which time she gave birth to two sons, ages three and three months old.
Sarafian, 43, lives in nearby Oakland with husband Meher Gourjian, a visual effects specialist whose production credits include work in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." (Link to recent photo of the couple.)
In her own words
In between a promotional tour in Europe and a quick jaunt to Asia, Katherine Sarafian carved out some time for an e-mail interview about how her San Leandro upbringing helped lay the groundwork for her current success.
"It's been interesting connecting the dots of my life, leading up to this career," Sarafian wrote. "I was definitely inspired by some San Leandro teachers, particularly Dale Chilcoat (art) and Roy Glover (music/choral) and EVERY English teacher I've ever had.
"Producing a feature film requires one to use one's writing skills, as well as music, art, math, science, interpersonal abilities, design skills, counseling/listening and everything I learned from team sports (collaboration, trust, discipline, teamwork)."
Sarafian, who was active in several student groups, added that those extracurriculars were also helpful:
"I was Key Club president at San Leandro High, and also on the student council, so I learned a lot about running meetings. And now, of course, I run a LOT of meetings!"
But one set of experiences rose above the rest.
"My fondest memories of high school and middle school, and even elementary school at Roosevelt, are all music-oriented. Choir concerts, gigs with the Pirates of Pizzazz or the Notables; the musicals we put on at Roosevelt and Bancroft. I learned so much about show business, which is my true love, during these years. I have happy memories of the Notables tours and all of my years singing with those groups. To this day, I am a choir geek. I am an 18-year member of the Pixar Singers, Pixar's own a cappella group!"
Katherine Sarafian is the middle of three children raised by Alice and Richard Sarafian, who moved to San Leandro's Bayovista neighborhood when Katherine was three.
Eldest child Karen is a teacher in Elk Grove. The youngest, Stephen, is a doctor with Kaiser-Permanente in Oakland.
Sarafian's Armenian heritage and religious upbringing have been a central influence. Her father was pastor of the Saint Vartan Armenian Church of Oakland until his sudden death due to a heart attack in 2009.
Her mother, Alice Sarafian, remains active in San Leandro civic affairs in addition to providing some grannycare for her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren.
"Katherine enjoyed being in the limelight," Alice Sarafian told Patch. "No matter what she put her mind to she succeeded at."
(Editor's note: This is truly a small-world story. Chad Pennebaker of Kiwanis first alerted me to Katherine's role in Brave. Jack Papazian of San Leandro Leadership helped me reach Alice Sarafian to fill in the details of Katherine's youth. I ran out of time to contact some of Katherine's former high school friends, such as John Pennebaker and Melissa Deadrich. I hope they and others will leave comments and help tell the story. But what really blew me away was my conversation with Alice Sarafian. We met at Zocalo Coffeehouse. She said that if I had been going there for any length of time I had probably met her husband, who used to go there to prepare his sermons. No sooner had she spoken than I remembered seeing a white-haired man bent over a stack of books marked with dozens of Post-it notes. He was such a fixture at the shop that owner Tim Holmes came to the funeral services, Alice Sarafian said, adding, "That was nice, a gesture of respect.")