Soulful, spirited, political—the 17th Sonoma International Film Festival has a line-up of stories from around the world with an emphasis on Cuban film—it kicks off tonight
ARThound loves a great film, one whose story speaks right to my heart. This year’s 17th Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF), which kicks off tonight, features over 115 hand-selected films from 22 countries—features, documentaries, world cinema, and shorts. Two hundred filmmakers and celebrities will attend and participate in premieres, Q&A’s and panel discussions spread over five glorious days in Sonoma. The festival is also one long party, offering pass holders world-class cuisine from local artisans and exceptional wine from Sonoma vintners in “The Backlot,” SIFF’s culinary hub, a one-of-a-kind hospitality tent on the North side of Sonoma’s City Hall. Whether you’re a passholder or come for individual film screenings, this festival has a to offer. It all starts this evening with an opening night party, two opening night films and an after party. If you’ve missed my previous coverage of the festival basics and Big Nights, here are the links explaining all about the passes vs going solo—
ARThound’s top picks in the World Cinema category:
In choosing these must-see films, I’m looking for something that I won’t be able to see elsewhere, countries that are less represented/new directors generating a buzz, a unique story with an international point of view, and the promise of cinematic magic. SIFF doesn’t provide critics with screeners, so putting this information together requires lots of research and some guesswork. Given the ascendency of Latin cinema, I recommend attending as much as you can of this year’s Vamos Al Cine programming. This wonderful series, initiated three years ago by Claudia Mendoza-Carruth, began as programming for the Spanish speaking community but has morphed into one of the festival’s biggest draws. This year, it offers 10 films, emphasizing distinctive new voices from Columbia (2), Cuba (4), Dominican Republic (1), Mexico (2) and Venezuela (1). There’s an emphasis on Cuban cinema with 4 Cuban films and several Cuban directors and actors in attendance.
Everything is Fine Here— Iran | 2012 | 75 min. | Dir. Pourya Avarbaiyany (in attendance)
On the verge of her marriage, Arghavan a 25 year old writer who is newly engaged and acclaimed, with an invitation to lead a prestigious writing workshop in Germany, is gang-raped in a deserted area of Tehran. In a strict, conservative society where young women are expected to be virgins before marriage, the crime is that of her assailants but the catastrophe is hers. Overwhelmed by rumors, her life turns into a nightmare and her pending marriage and her relationship with her parents are threatened. The film addresses Iran’s perplexing state of gender inequality and the battle of the individual in a discriminatory society to cope when a tragedy occurs. In 2011 in Iran, there were reports from Human Right Agencies chronicling 6 brutal rapes of Iranian women and in some of these cases, Iranian officials blamed the victims. Iran’s women face a host of laws which limit their rights in marriage, divorce and child custody. In some cases, their testimony in court is regarded as less than half that of a man’s. This young director is from Tehran. I can’t wait to hear how he managed to make a film like this. Screens: Thursday, April 3 (12:15 pm) Vintage House and Friday, April 4 (9:30 pm) Murphy’s Irish Pub
Melaza—Cuba | 2012 | 80 min. | Dir. Carlos Lechuga (in attendance)—With the closure of its local sugar mill, the picturesque (fictional) Cuban town of Melaza has become desolate and lifeless. School teacher Aldo (Armando Miguel Gómez) and now-unemployed Monica (Yuliet Cruz) eke out a meager living, going as far as renting out their tiny home to the local prostitute for extra cash. When they get in trouble with the authorities, resulting fines lead to more desperate measures. This beautifully filmed, contemplative first feature explores the social crisis in the Cuban sugar factory neighborhoods following the dismantling of many production units. It poses the question of how to survive in a country in crisis.
This is Lechuga’s first feature film. Director’s statement: “While the post-production process went on, I began to realize that a love story was being told that in the end left an optimistic taste, but which, like molasses (melaza), hides certain bitterness. The bitterness of a tragedy set up in the Tropics, with a brilliant sun, green sugarcane and lovers holding each other’s hands, awaiting the worse.” Screens: Thursday, April 3 (8:45 pm) Murphy’s Irish Pub and Saturday, April 5 (7:15 pm) La Luz Center
Chronic Love (Amor Crónico)—Cuba | 2012 | 83 min. | Dir. Jorge Perugorria (in attendance)—This exhilarating and energetic blend of fact and fiction follows flamboyant Cuban-born/New York-based singer and Grammy nominee Cucú Diamantes on her first tour of Cuba. This unique road film interweaves footage of her cabaret-style performances with a fictional love story. A love letter to Cuban cinema, to Cuban music and to its people. Directed by Cuban actor and visual artist Jorge Perugorría (famous for his part as Diego in Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s fresa y chocolate (Strawberry and Chocolate), 1994). Screens: Friday, April 4 (8:00 pm) Sebastani Theater and Saturday, April 5 (5:00 pm) La Luz Center
The Butterfly’s Dream (Kelebeğin Rüyası)—Turkey | 138 min. | 2013 | Dir. Yilmaz Erdogan—Turkey’s submission for Best foreign Language Oscar which had a long gestation period—seven years of screen-writing and two years in pre-production. Set during World War II in impoverished Zonguldak, Turkey, the film is the real life story of the bond between two young poets long forgotten by history—Muzaffer (Kivanç Tatlitug), the optimist romantic, and Rüştü (Mert Firat) the pessimist dreamer—whose brotherly camaraderie is based upon their shared loved for the written word and their mutual misfortune. Forced to work in the coal mines, they both contract tuberculosis and fall in love with the same woman, an aristocrat’s daughter, played by star Belçim Bilgin, who is also Erdogan’s wife. The title is from an ancient passage by Chinese thinker Chuang Tzu, in which he pondered his dream of being a butterfly. Erdoğan’s gorgeously-shot film addresses the nature of reality and the power of artistic practice to mitigate hardship. Screens: Saturday, April 5 (3:15 pm) Burlingame Hall and Sunday, April 6 (10:00 am) Murphy’s Irish Pub
Field of Amapolas (Jardín de Amapolas)— Colombia | 87 min. | Dir. Juan Carlos Melo Guevara— Filmed very close to director Juan Carlos Melo Guevara’s hometown of Ipiales in the Nariño region of Colombia, this is the first feature film to ever be shot in the area. When accused of collaborating with the enemy in the ongoing guerilla war in Colombia, farmer Emilio, along with his nine-year- old son Simon, is forced by rebels to vacate his piece of land. After relocating with the help of a relative, Emilio and his son face such an economic struggle that Emilio to takes work in the illegal poppy (Amapolas) fields belonging to a local drug lord, who happens to be his cousin. Meanwhile, Simon meets and befriends Luisa, a girl his own age. She is obsessed with playing with a puppy dog she can’t afford. Simon steals it for her every day, but returns it each night. One day, the cousin discovers Simon’s secret and decides to use him for his own greedy plan.
This is Guevara’s first feature as director, screenwriter and producer. Director’s statement: “The idea was not only make a portrayal unique to the film history of Colombia, but to make a story through the point of view of two kids who can only see their reality with innocence, without speeches or academic criticism; that’s why this is not a film about war, on the contrary, the war is only a stage where life, dreams, and hopes can continue.”Screens: Sunday, April 6 (11:00 am) La Luz Center
Half of a Yellow Sun Nigeria | 2013 | 113 min. | Dir. Biye Bandele—For the first time, SIFF17 welcomes a film from Nigeria, first time writer-director Biyi Bandele’s acclaimed Half of a Yellow Sun, an adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s bestselling novel of the same name.
This epic chronicle of family drama and tribal violence begins in 1960 and leads up to the Nigerian-Biafran War which ended in 1970. The film tracks war through the story of headstrong twin sisters Olanna (Thandie Newton—Crash, The Pursuit of Happiness) and Kainene (Anika Noni Rose), privileged girls from Lagos, who return home after their respective university educations abroad. Both make similarly scandalous decisions. Olanna defies familial expectations and convention not only by becoming a sociology professor herself, but also by moving in with firebrand academic Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor—12 Years A Slave, Children of Men) in the college town of Nsukka. Kainene assumes management of the family business and falls in love with an English – and married – writer (Joseph Mawle). The loyalties of the sisters are tested amidst the horrors of the Nigerian Civil War, and the rise and fall of short-lived republic of Biafra. The main focus is on the Olanna and Odenigbo whose passion is ignited over political protest but things get rocky when Odenigbo’s battle-ax mother (Onyeka Onwenu) comes to visit. An uneducated village woman with a mean and scheming personality, Mama is determined to split up the lovebirds up any way she can, and nearly succeeds.Rich in period atmosphere, evoking a strong sense of how these Nigerians lived their lives day-to-day, and how devastated they are when war and all its atrocities rip that fabric apart. Screens: Friday, April 4 (11:00 am) Murphy’s Irish Pub and Sunday, April 6 (2:30 pm) Vintage House
The 17th Sonoma International Film Festival is April 2-6, 2014. All films are screened in seven intimate venues, all within walking distance along Sonoma’s historic plaza
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