The Sonoma Valley Film Festival
festivals are amazing because they are huge, others because
they scrape the bottom of every barrel to get the most obscure
films in the world. Some put on a great festival by pulling
in every star and up-and-coming director they can get. The
Sonoma Valley Film Festival is a great festival for another
reason: because it is unreasonably cool.
know the image that a lot of people have of Sonoma: it's a
place where wine flows and the stores have seventeen types
of pate and no bologna. This may or may not be true, but there
are more true film fans in Winetown than in any other city
I've ever encountered. As I was walking around the city, not
even just in the areas where the festival was going on, there
were folks talking about the films and the festival, almost
all in glowing terms. As I said last
year, the town becomes the festival for a glowing weekend.
can a festival be? Well, Cinema Epicuria is the combination
of food, wine and films, so before most of the showings, there's
free wine, bread, cheese, and the like. And it was all so
good. They did movie-themed dining at various restaurants
around the screens.
to weasel my way into doing pre-show announcements for several
films, thus allowing me to watch them for free. The shorts
programs were all fantastic, easily the most consistent series
of shorts that I've ever been to. While I won't say too much
about them in favor of doing a complete article on the highlights
later, there were several that come close to the top of the
seven hundred or so shorts I've seen in the last year.
for the festival are amazing. The Sebastiani Theatre right
on the Plaza is an amazing theatre. Maybe I'm just a mark
for old movie houses, but I have to say that it rivals the
Castro in San Francisco and the Stanford in Palo Alto for
sheer force of impression. The Sonoma Cinemas, just a touch
outside of the heart of town, is a typical multiplex, but
it seemed to transform as the festival goers would come and
seem to take over the whole place, even though the fest only
used two of their screens. The House of Docs had the best
ambience. The Sebastiani Winery allowed the festival to use
their Barrel Room. They set up a screen in the middle and
along the edges of the room were huge barrels. It made for
a unique film going experience.
my favorite venue was the Lounge. The Lounge was the home
of films that stretched the limits. One of the theatre announcers
called it "our little piece of SlamDance." The Lounge,
and its host of Lounge Lizard pass holders, provided an awesome
viewing experience, as these were all the people you find
at the fests who are whacky and fun.
about the films? Everything I saw was fantastic. Though I
didn't get up to Sonoma until Friday and missed it, Mayor
of The Sunset Strip, about LA DJ Rodney Bingenheimer,
was the talk of everyone as the festival continued. I saw
several documentaries, including Jason Schachat's Cinequest
favorite Double Dare
and the excellent Sundance film Long Gone. I even managed
to see a narrative feature, the very strong film The Big
Empty. Another impressive fact is that the festival managed
to get so many filmmakers to attend and do Q+A sessions after
their films. Some of these, like the ones for Double Dare
and the Animation Shorts programs, were exceptional at showing
the world that exists behind the veil.
parts? The panel on Stunts featuring the folks chronicled
in Double and a couple of other stunt legends, was fantastic,
as was the panel on animation featuring Pixar head John Lassetter.
I really enjoyed the salsa they put out for public consumption
at the Lounge, and the sausage they served from the Sonoma
Sausage Company. The people in general were great, but the
filmmakers were so nice and I had several great conversations,
mostly while trying to drum up interest in my coming run at
of the festival, and the thing that made Cinema Epicuria far
cooler than any festival in the world, was the Saturday Night
screening of the silent film A Fool There Was. I love
silents, and the recent trend of providing new, modern accompaniment,
is great too. Composer Marika Tjelios provided a solid piece
to back A Fool There Was and its magnificent star,
Theda Bara. Now, what makes this even cooler is that the festival
had the chutzpa to hold a séance following the showing.
it was all the tricks of the early twentieth century spiritualist
movement, with table slams and spurting candles, but it was
a damn good show. I got to sit next to the medium, Miss Magda
Rockmore, and get a fine view of all the tricks I had always
read about. The fact that a festival would have a séance
following a screening just blew me away, and it was highly
entertaining. I will always remember this event, and if I
can remember a single screening after attending so many festivals,
it's an incredible thing.
said last year, a great festival makes you want to go out
a make a movie. Cinema Epicuria goes well beyond that: it's
a festival that makes you want to go out and dedicate your
life to movies.