Geneva Anderson digs into art

The 14th Sonoma International Film Festival opens this Wednesday with a stellar line-up of cinema, food, and wine in gorgeous Sonoma

In Wolfram Hissen's documentary "The Running Fence Revisited," screening Saturday and Sunday at the Sonoma International Film Festival, iconic footage of the Northern, CA coastline is the backdrop for a tender exploration of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's 1976 Running Fence. The film was made in conjunction with the Smithsonian American Art Musuem's 2010 exhibition and acquisition of The Running Fence's archival documentation from Christo. Photo courtesy Erin Van Rheenen

This Wednesday, the curtain rises on the 14th annual Sonoma International Film Festival pairing 5 nights and 4 days of nearly nonstop screenings of new independent films from around the world with great gourmet food and wine.  Highly anticipated by its loyal audience of over 18,000, this festival which takes place in eight venues within walking distance from Sonoma’s charming town square has a lot to offer both locals and destination visitors.   “Our audience is very informed and film-savvy,” said festival director Kevin McNeely on Friday. “What gives our festival a very personal feeling is the chance to mingle with filmmakers and actors in our Backlot tent and at screenings and we absolutely deliver on the best in the film, food and wine.”

Susan Sarandon Honored as Thelma and Louise turns 20 

Susan Sarandon will be present this weekend at the Sonoma International Film Festival to receive the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award, given only twice in the festival’s 14 year history. Photo courtesy Sonoma International Film Festival.

 This year’s festival will honor acclaimed actress Susan Sarandon with its Lifetime Achievement Award on Saturday, April 9, 2011.  The award, given just twice in the festival’s 14 years honors a creative talent who, through the course of his or her career, has created a body of work which symbolizes the highest level of achievement in the motion picture art form. (Bruce Willis was the first recipient in 2009.)  Sarandon is most associated with her performances in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) Thelma and Louise (1991) but won her Oscar for Best Actress in 1995 for Dead Man Walking.  She has been nominated for an Academy Award 34 times and has appeared in over 70 films.  “She is a remarkable talent with an amazing body of work,” said Kevin McNeely, “and she has conducted her private life admirably–doing responsibly cool things with her celebrity.”  Among her many activities, Sarandon is a spokesperson for UNICEF and the Endometriosis Foundation of America (EFA).

The tribute will start Saturday at 630 p.m. at the Sonoma Veteran’s Memorial Hall, with a montage of clips from Sarandon’s films and an on-stage discussion with Sarandon about her career and upcoming projects.  Immediately after the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award, there will be a reception in her honor and a screening of Thelma and Louise (which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year).  The evening will close with the festival’s annual gala, held this year at the Sebastiani Winery.  

The Line-Up

The festival kicks off on Wednesday evening at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art with Marin filmmaker’s Fredrick Marx’s acclaimed documentary Journey from Zanskar and at the Sebastiani Theatre with Rob Hedden’s romantic feature film You May Not Kiss the Bride

Journey from Zanskar tells a moving and important story about the preservation of traditional Tibetan culture, which has survived in remote Zanskar with an untainted and continuous lineage dating back thousands of years.  The film tracks two monks who, with the blessing of the Dalai Lama, take 17 children through the Himalayan mountains to a near-by school to learn and thus preserve the future of their precious culture.  This inspirational film is also controversial.  Because it educates, it has been criticized (Zanskar Resource) for its role in creating a situation that may actually popularize remote Zanskar and thereby accelerate the destruction of its untainted culture and traditions.  You May Not Kiss the Bride tracks a Croatian mobster as he tries to arrange U.S. citizenship for his daughter by setting her up with an American photographer. (Journey From Zanskar, Wed. 6:30 p.m., Sonoma Valley Museum of Art) (You May Not Kiss the Bride, Wed. 6:30 p.m., Sebastiani Theatre)

Thursday’s evening line-up includes the French actor-turned-director Guillaume Canet’s Little White Lies, a drama about friendship which features Marion Cotillard (Oscar, Best Actress 2008, La Vie en Rose) and an ensemble cast.  Set at a beautiful vacation home, the film looks at the small cracks in the surface of relationships and pretenses that are hard to keep up in the face of an unexpected tragedy.  (6:30 p.m. and 9:15 p.m, Sebastiani Theatre (476 First St. East)

The weekend’s programming kicks into high gear Friday with concurrent screenings in all venues across town.   Among the 74 independent feature films, shorts, documentaries and other films screened will be Friday evening’s West Coast premiere of Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s Miss Representation, one of the most buzzed about films at this year’s Sundance festival.   The film explores the media’s deplorable impact on our society perception of women.  Through in-depth interviews with academics, newsmakers (including Katie Couric, Lisa Ling and Rachel Maddow) and politicians (Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, Condoleezza Rice) and actors (Geena Davis, Jane Fonda, Margaret Cho) and youth—basically women in all walks of life—-Newsom shows that we are all being sold (year after year) dated, limited and detrimental stereotypes of what it means to be a powerful woman.  Oprah liked this important film so much that her OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) snapped it up in February for their OWN Documentary Film Club that plans to do for film what Oprah has done for books.  Newsom will attend Friday’s 6 p.m. screening at the Sebastiani Theatre on the square.

Two additional documentaries that I consider essential viewing are German filmmaker Wolfram Hissen’s stunning The Running Fence Revisited and Suzan Beraza’s Bag It

The Running Fence Revisited celebrates Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s iconic Running Fence, the 24 mile white fabric fence that ran through Marin and Sonoma Counties for two weeks in 1976, that profoundly changed the way we all think about art.  This documentary contains precious footage of Jeanne-Claude’s last visit to Northern California in the fall of 2009 and provides a riveting snapshot of the couple’s intense and highly creative style of communicating.   There are numerous interviews with the farmers and community members who supported the controversial project and look back at it with humor and pride.  It also contains some of the most gorgeous aerial footage of our coastline to be seen.   If you’re looking for a film that celebrates life, nature, and art, this is it.  Saturday, 6:00 p.m., Sonoma Valley Museum of Art and Sunday, 6:45 p.m., Woman’s Club)

Bag It follows Jeb Barrier, an earnest guy who greatly resembles Jason Alexander a.k.a. George Castanza on Seinfield, as he explores the proliferation of plastic in our society, particularly single use disposable plastic bags. (link to trailer) After watching this film, you likely cringe every time you see a plastic bag.  Each year, Americans throw out an astounding 100 billion plastic bags, which will never break down because of their non-biodegradable makeup. As they sit in landfills for thousands of years, they merely break up into tiny pieces that absorb toxic chemicals, only to be fed into the soil and water supply or ingested by animals, particularly marine life. With landfill space running out, plastic bags are also likely to be burned at waste-to-energy plants where toxic chemicals seep into the atmosphere.  On March 28, 2011, the subject made the Wall Street Journal when journalist Vauhini Vara profiled Stephen Joseph, the lawyer who sued Kraft Foods to eliminate transfat in Oreos and is now suing several California cities trying ban plastic bags.  Joseph claims that paper bags are even worse for the environment.  Bag It debunks this and makes a compelling case for imposing a ban on plastic bags and is an educational must-see for everyone. (Saturday, April 9, 9:15 a.m., Mia’s Kitchen at Vintage House)

The festival frequently pairs a music documentary with a live music event. Following Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. screening of From Gershwin to Garland: A Musical Journey with Richard Glazier, Richard Glazier will give a 30 minute piano concert of some of the classics from the golden age of American song. (Saturday, 3:30 p.m, New Belgium Lounge at the Community Center)

And if you are fascinated with jazz, you won’t want to miss the artfully shot The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi, a tribute to the Bay Area jazz composer who pioneered the crossover of jazz into pop and did the unforgettable scores for Charles Schultz’s Peanuts animations.  Who can forget “A Charlie Brown Christmas” or the stellar hit “Cast Your Fate to the Wind”?  George Winston calls Vince Guaraldi and his music “a part of the deep heart and soul of San Francisco and of the experience of childhood and beyond.” Guaraldi’s daughter Dia, and the members of his original jazz trio, will all be at the Saturday screening.  (Friday, 9:30 p.m., New Belgium Lounge at the Community Center and Saturday, 3:45 p.m., Women’s Club)   

Nabil Elderkin’s Bouncing Cats is another inspiring musical documentary that explores hip-hop with a focus on b-boy culture and breakdancing as a tool for positive social change in Uganda where 49 percent of the population is under the age of 14.  The film tells the story of Abraham Tekya, a Ugandan–boy and A.I.D.S. orphan who created the Breakdance Project Uganda that is helping to rehabilitate the war-ravaged nation, child by child.  (Friday, 6:45 p.. and Saturday 12:45 p.m. at Women’s Club)  

Seattleite Karen Stanton’s documentary debut film A Not So Still Life, profiles Ginny Ruffner, one of the major artists of the modern glass/conceptual crafts movement whose fans include Dale Chihuly and Tony Robbins and most likely anyone who watches this film.  In 1991, at age 39, Ruffner, already a well-established artist, was struck by a car and the accident nearly killed her but didn’t put a dent in her spirit.  Glass is forged with fire and so is Ginny Ruffner.  An early party scene at Ruffner’s sprawling home, itself an artwork, is not to be missed. (Friday, 6:15 p.m. and Saturday, 8:15 p.m., Sonoma Valley Museum of Art)

Cinema Epicurea

Food is an area where the Sonoma International Film Festival stakes its claim.  Let’s cover their food films first.  Sally Rowe’s A Matter of Taste tracks British chef Paul Liebrandt, the force behind the legendary haute Tribeca restaurant Croton.  What’s great about this film is that she follows him on a hellish roller coaster ride in the elite food world.  In 2000, at age 24, at Atlas restaurant (on Central Park South), he earned three stars from the erudite New York Times food critic Williams Grimes (1998-2003) who praised his daring style and described him as a “pianist who seems to have found a couple of dozen extra keys.”  In the less flamboyant post-9/11 climate, however, he’s unable to repeat his success and has a rough patch that lasts 8 years until he hits his stride again with Croton, where is both chef and owner.  There’s mesmerizing kitchen action, with scintillating porn of him painstakingly creating his mind-warping masterpieces like chocolate covered scallops.  There’s a romance too.  And there’s lots of commentary from his colleagues in the world of elite food including our own Thomas Keller who built an empire from his legendary French Laundry Restaurant in Yountville and then went on to found the more urban Per Se in New York and who remains the only American chef to have been awarded simultaneous three star Michelin ratings for two different restaurants. (Screens Saturday 12:15 p.m., Mia’s Kitchen at Vintage House and Sunday, 12:30 p.m., New Belgium Lounge at the Community Center)

San Francisco-based food journalist Stett Holbrook and Marin documentary filmmaker Greg Roden made a late hour direct appeal to Kevin McNeely to screen “Food Forward,” their pilot for the upcoming PBS food series “Food Forward.”  The compelling film makes its world premiere at the festival on Thursday and shies away from food celebrities to tell compelling stories about committed people across America who are changing the way people eat.  “It’s all about people in Oakland and Manhattan who have rejected industrial food and are growing their own healthy sustainable food in urban settings.” said McNeely. “There are rooftop gardens in Manhattan that are producing enough food for the local farmers’ markets and beekeepers who are producing honey —it’s very cool.”  (Thursday 7 pm at Sonoma Valley Museum of Art).

Also making its world premiere is Robert Lemon’s ¿Tacos or Tacos? a short documentary inspired by the taco trucks of Fruitvale, in Oakland.  The film examines the genesis and metamorphosis of food truck culture into the upscale sensation that we are now experiencing nationwide.  Concentrates on the Bay Area and Austin, Texas, where Lemon is a doctoral candidate at UT.  (Saturday, 9:30 a.m., New Belgium Lounge at the Community Center and Sunday, 3:15 p.m. Mia’s Kitchen at Vintage House) 

“JoyRide” is a favorite of SIFF director Kevin McNeely. Alex Petrovitch and Katherine Randolph (Markwood Films) are what film festivals love to roll their dice on. The Los Angeles couple’s first feature film is written, directed, acted, and edited by them. "JoyRide" is about a couple that needs cash fast and decides to make a reality film about her brother’s drug dealing…they hit the road and are soon in over their heads. Screens Saturday and Sunday. Image: Markwood Films.


 Wine, Food and “Backlot”
In 2009, Sonoma was the first U.S. city to receive the distinctive “cittaslow”  (“slow city”) classification that includes not only slow food and a rich agricultural bounty, but a community attitude that savors life along with the finest food and wine.  This special ambiance infuses the festival too whose culinary center is “The Backlot,” a one-of-a-kind hospitality tent on the North side of Sonoma’s City Hall that is open to all pass holders.  Here, they can mingle and have lively discussions in a chic lounge environment while enjoying the best of wine country vintages and culinary delights provided by Wine Country Party and Events.  Wine and beer will be available for purchase with $5 tickets available at the box office. Sushi by Ed Metcalfe of Shiso Sushi will be served on Friday and Sunday in the Backlot. 

Over 23 wineries and the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance will be represented throughout the festival including Sebastiani, Gundlach Bundschu, Muscardini Cellars, Eric Ross, Banshee Wines, Haraszthy Cellars, Highway 12, Gloria Ferrer, Roessler Cellars, and Nicholson Ranch. A New Belgium Beer Garden and a Gloria Ferrer Bubble Lounge will be located in the Sonoma Plaza. Each screening venue will either offer full dining options or feature a sampling of snacks and treats provided by festival sponsors and partners. (Full description of the wine and food options at various venues.)

Closing Night Festivities: The festival closes on Sunday, April 10th, with an Awards Ceremony in the Backlot Tent at 8 pm.  Winners of the Jury Awards in all film categories including Features, Documentaries, World Cinema, Shorts, and Animation will be announced.  

Festival Details:
Star Pass $750 individual/$1,400 couple (Includes Monthly Cinema Series Hosted by Sonoma Film Society)

* All Access to Festival Films and Events at SIFF Including: pre-Opening Party at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Opening Reception at MacArthur Place, Festival Gala, Filmmakers Lunches and Dinners, VIP and After Parties, Opening and Closing Night Film Screenings, Spotlight Tribute, Awards Party, and Filmmaker Reception

* Fast Lane Entry to all Festival Events for priority seating

*All-Inclusive Food and Wine at the Hospitality Tent in our Back Lot

 Premiere Pass $300/$550

*Guaranteed Access to Festival Films and Programs during the SIFF including: Opening Night Film Screening and After Party, Festival Gala, Spotlight Tribute, Closing Night Film Screening and Awards Party.

* Four Food and Wine Tickets for the Hospitality Tent in our Back Lot

 Festival Pass $150/$275

*Access to Films and Programs including: Film Screenings, Panels and Discussions, and Closing Night Film Screening & Awards Ceremony.

 Day Pass $60

*Access to Film Screenings for Day Purchased


Single Film Tickets:  $15 general entry tickets can be purchased at box office.  Arrive 30 minutes before screening and wait to be seated.    


Venue Locations:

Sebastiani Theatre – 476 First St. East
Sonoma Valley Woman’s Club – 574 First St. East
New Belgium Lounge at Sonoma Community Center – 276 E. Napa St.
Mia’s Kitchen at Vintage House – 246 First St. East
Sebastiani Winery Barrel Room – 389 Fourth St. East
Sonoma Valley Museum of Art – 551 Broadway
Murphy’s Irish Pub – 464 First St. East
Sonoma Veteran’s Memorial Hall – 126 First St. West

April 3, 2011 - Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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