The Sonoma International Film Festival ended its 18th run last month and it met or exceeded all expectations in fun, films and friendliness. Centered around the historic Sonoma Plaza, which is transformed to Sonomawood every spring, over 200 filmmakers from 26 countries gathered to celebrate film, in general, and promote their films, most specifically. And that they did it with a bang!
The heart of most film festivals is the ‘Indie’ film. These, typically low budget, films employing lesser or unknown actors are usually produced without benefit of an existing distribution channel. This festival, like others around the country, offers an opportunity for broader audiences to see the films, initiate a buzz and, hopefully, excite a distributor that picks up the film for digital distribution and/or release in actual movie theaters. As Kevin McNeely, Executive Director of the Sonoma festival has been quoted, “Making a film requires a lot of hard work, talent and tenacity. It’s not easy to get a film into theaters and we want our festival to be a launching pad for filmmakers.” The Sonoma International Film Festival exceeds that goal.
With seven (7) venues within walking distance of Sonoma Plaza (including one dedicated to Spanish language films), a Backlot Tent and Box Office, a VIP/Hospitality Center and 20 Restaurant partners, it is an amazingly well executed logistical operation implemented by the staff and over 200 volunteers (this writer was one of them) during the 5 day event.
The Backlot Tent witnessed nearly continuous musical performances by a variety of individual performers and groups as well as a “Kick Off Party” on Wednesday, “Whisky A Go Go” themed party on Thursday, “Prom Night” on Friday and the Latin themed “iVamos al Cine Fiestal” on Saturday night. Each event uniquely decorated to the gasps and giggles of the party goers.
But it is the films that are the heart of the festival. In the Short Programs there were Art & Design, Animation & Special Effects and Narrative. “Lava” was a colorful love story between two volcanoes, produced by Disney’s Pixar studio and soon to be released! There were also seventeen (17) Short Films preceding features. A crowd favorite, “My Mom’s Motorcycle”, by Douglas Gautraud, was smart, crisp, funny, nostalgic and very warmly presented. It only runs 4:59 minutes and it ends with you wanting more while knowing it was perfect as is.
Of course Feature Films were the main attraction and the Sonoma International Film Festival did not disappoint with “A Little Chaos”, Alan Rickman’s directorial debut starring Kate Winslett being the opening night feature at the Sebastiani Theater. Unfortunately, the closing night feature, “The Search” never made it. Receiving films from France and having a time based security code caused havoc so a substitution had to be made.
My favorite foreign language film was “Lion’s Heart (Corazón de León)” from Argentina. A romantic comedy that pits the charm and authenticity of a height challenged business man and a beautiful full sized lawyer. The film honestly pokes fun at the stereotypical responses of family and friends when one steps outside the ‘dating’ box. Very worth a home rental.
Another exceptional feature at the festival was “Sold”. The setting is in India and follows the story of a young (13 year old) girl sold by her family in the mountains of Nepal into sex slavery in India. The brave young girl risks everything to gain freedom and as a result helps free her fellow slaves. The film features Gillian Anderson, as a photo journalist and David Arquette as a social worker focused on breaking up the trade and save the children. The film is heartbreaking and yet triumphant. The Director, Jeffrey Brown, Producer Jane Charles and Arquette were on hand to discuss the making of the film on location close by the actual red-light district it shines the light upon. Again, very well worth home rental. Not suitable for people under 16 years old. “Sold” received the Audience Award in the World Cinema category.
In the Sci-Fi/Scary Movie category was “The House on Pine Street”. This film got mixed reviews from the audiences. A psycho-horror film uses some good special affects as a troubled pregnant mom tries to convince herself and her husband that a house is attacking her. The protagonist, actress Emily Goss does a credible job as the ‘haunted’ woman. Very intense and unnerving at times.
Perhaps the surprise hit was “The Winding Stream”, a documentary feature about the country music Carter Family dynasty that began with A.P. Carter, his wife Sara and Sara’s cousin Maybelle Addington in the mid 1920s. Maybelle married Carter’s brother Ezra in 1926, and from then on they were simply known as ‘The Carter Family’. Of course the family dynamics changed over the years with A.P. and Sara’s divorce and the eventual addition of Maybelle Carter’s daughter, June Carter Cash (from her marriage to Johnny Cash). Some of the Carter Family’s most enduring songs include: “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” “Keep on the Sunny Side,” and “Wabash Cannonball.” If you are a fan of Country music or even the history of early 20th century American music, this film, Directed by Beth Harrington, is highly recommended.
The festival does have official judges and the following films received honors in their respective categories:
Best American Independent Feature: “The Young Kieslowski”, directed by Kerem Sanga
Best World Feature: “Dukhtar”, directed by Afia Nathaniel
Best Documentary Feature: “Far from Home”, directed by Galen Knowles
Best Narrative Short: “God’s Got His Head in the Clouds”, directed by Gianluca Sodaro
Best Documentary Short: “Fish Out of Water”, directed by Cindy Allen
Best Animated Short: “Wirecutters”, directed by Jack Anderson
See more at: http://www.sonomafilmfest.org/film-festival-press-releases.html
Mark your calendar, April 1-5 2016and do not miss the 19th Annual SIFF!