ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

Welcome to Violetta’s world: SF Opera’s La Traviata Encounter—an evening of opera, drinks & sinful soirees, Saturday, November 19

South African Soprano Pretty Yende as Violetta in SFO’s dazzling new production of Verdi’s “La Traviata.”
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

For one night only, experience the romance, drama and passion of Verdi’s beloved opera, “La Traviata,” in a new and unforgettable way. First, listen to the music as the curtain at War memorial Opera House rises on the lavish salon of Parisian courtesan Violetta Valéry andAct I of Shawna Lucey’s new SFO production is performed in its entirety (approx. 30 minutes) with full orchestra, chorus and principal cast. South African Soprano Pretty Yende is Violetta and dashing Chilean-American tenor, Jonathan Tetelman, is Alfredo Germont singing the famous drinking song, “Libiamo ne’ lieti calici,” as well as their beautiful duet: “Un dì, felice, eterea, mi balenaste innante” (One happy, ethereal day you flashed before me). The SFO chorus will sing “Si ridesta in ciel l’aurora” (The dawn is awakening…). The Act closes with an impassioned display of Violetta’s vocal agility in her impassioned aria, “Sempre libera degg’io trasvolar di gioia in gioia” (It’s strange I shall always be free to fly from adventure to adventure).

Afterwards, the action moves into War Memorial Opera House’s gorgeous lobbies which have hosted opera audiences for decades, that have been transformed for one night only into exclusive party zones offering an immersive evening of food, drinks and dancing. The upper lobbies, recalling Act II, transport you to Violetta’s country Garden of Eden, capturing the feeling of passionate lovers secluded in nature. Interactive activities will round out the essence of heavenly love. The lower levels will tempt you to indulge in the sinful decadence of fellow courtesan Flora’s gambling party, with liquor and treats. It all culminates in a collective tribute to Violetta’s remarkable life with more drinking, dancing, love and lust in a Parisian Day of the Dead celebration for the ages.

Food and Traviata-themed specialty cocktails will be available for purchase, and all lobby experiences run concurrently after Act I until 10 p.m.  Some lobby areas will feature adult content; suggested for guests 21 and older, discretion is advised. Costumes are welcome, but ensure your fabulous look will not impact other guests’ enjoyment of the Act I performance in the theater! 

Details:

Tickets: $39 to $100 except VIP Box-level tickets ($189) which includes an exclusive, complimentary champagne pre-show reception beginning at 6pm, with lobbies opening to all ticket holders at 6:30 pm. Themed drinks and bites will be available for purchase throughout lobbies. The 30 minute performance begins at 7:30 p.m., and lobby experiences will continue until 10 p.m. Tickets and more information can be found at sfopera.com/encounter.

November 15, 2022 Posted by | Dance, Food, Opera | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 45th Mill Valley Film Festival starts Thursday—what to watch

Still of M.F.K. Fisher from Gregory Bezat’s documentary, “The Art of Eating: The Life of M.F.K. Fisher,” which has its world premiere Tuesday, October 11, at MVFF. Fisher,”Mary Frances,” to her family and friends, wrote thirteen books during twenty-one years of residence in her “Last House,” in Glen Ellen which was built for her by Bouverie Preserve landowner and architect David Pleydell-Bouverie. It was there, between 1971 and 1992. that she welcomed friends such as Julia Child, James Beard, and Maya Angelou for conversations at the table. Photo: courtesy Gregory Bezat.

The forty-fifth Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF45) kicks off Thursday evening (Oct 6) with Rian Johnson’s all-new whodunnit, “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” with plenty of talent on stage in conversation, followed by the always wonderful Opening Night Gala at Marin Country Mart Larkspur. Screenings start full force Friday and run for 10 days with a line-up of 145 films representing 34 countries, including 49 premieres (four of them world premieres), 74 features, and 71 shorts.  Big Nights (Spotlights/Tributes/Centerpiece/Special awards) were covered in my previous article (read it here).  Here are films from the standard line-up that stand out for their exceptional storytelling and relevance. Many of these have guests in attendance and brief engaging discussions will follow most screenings. 

ARThound’s top flicks:

“The Art of Eating: The Life of MFK Fisher,” world premiere Tuesday, Oct 11, 7pm, Smith Rafael Film Center & Thursday, October 13, 2pm, CinéArts Sequoia

M.F.K Fisher in Whittier, CA, January 4, 1938. Image: courtesy Gregory Bezat.

Steeped in beauty, Gregory Bezat’s sumptuous documentary is a must-see, exploring the life and legacy of M.F.K. Fisher (1908-1992), one of America’s most influential writers who spent the last decades of her life in the Wine Country. The film pieces together Fisher’s life over three-quarters of a century: from her upper middle-class childhood in Whittier, CA, through her marriage and move to Dijon, France, her divorce and return to the US, her remarriage and young widowhood, and her emergent role in shaping our ever-evolving relationship with what we eat and how we live. She was best known for her incisive gastronomic writings in hundreds of magazine articles and thirty-three books including “Consider the Oyster,” “How to Cook a Wolf,” “An Alphabet for Gourmets,” “Map of Another Town,” “With Bold Knife and Fork,” and “The Story of Wine in California.” When Fisher settled in Napa Valley, it was 1952, and a local food revolution was underway, with chefs and activists intent on supplanting industrialized food with a cuisine based on simple, fresh, local ingredients. Over time, she took her place as the patron saint of this new movement. With thoughtful comments by Alice Waters, Anne Lamont, Ruth Reichl, Clark Wolf, Jacques Pépin, and Michele Anna Jordan, all of whom considered her a friend, this is a finely-crafted homage to a woman whose humor and appetite for life inspired millions. The visuals are stunning: instead of a simple pastiche of old photos, the camera gazes directly at certain photos for extended periods, frequently returning to shots of her at her typewriter or to glamorous Hollywood-style shots that capture her beauty and verve—especially her miraculous eyebrows whose unruly arches were as individualistic as she was. Like the nourishing dishes that Fisher wrote about, thrown together from the bounty on hand and to suit one’s mood, I can imagine watching this film once a month forever and never growing tired of it.

¡Viva el cine!

MVFF’s ¡Viva el Cine! series has captured my heart and I’ve been a devotee for its nine years of programming. This year, it offers 11 award-winning Latin American and Spanish language feature films from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Spain, the US and Uruguay. Curated by MVFF programmer João Federici, the series’ spellbinding storytelling and special guests make it an increasingly influential forum for the exploration of Latin American and indigenous history/justice, culture and identity and an increasingly important anchor for the festival.

“Argentina, 1985” Monday, Oct 10, 6:45 pm & Tuesday, Oct 11, 11 am, both Smith Rafael Film Center.  (Santiago Mitre, 2022, Argentina/US, 140 min, Spanish with English subtitles)   

Ricardo Darín as prosecutor Julio Strassera in a still from Santiago Mitre’s “Argentina: 1985,” Argentina’s 2023 Oscar submission for Best Foreign Film.

One of the most significant legal trials in Argentina’s history is the basis for Argentinian director Santiago Mitre’s (“Paulina,” “The Summit”) riveting new feature, arriving at MVFF fresh from rave reviews at its Venice Film Festival world premiere. This compelling courtroom drama begins in 1983 when, after finally re-establishing democracy following decades of military coups, Argentine President Raúl Alfonsín authorizes prosecutors Julio Strassera (Ricardo Darín), Luis Moreno Ocampo (Peter Lanzani), and their young legal team to try nine military leaders for crimes against humanity.  It’s an enthralling high-stakes David vs. Goliath battle. The team works under constant threat and roadblocks to gain justice for those estimated 9 to 30,000 citizens who were tortured, murdered or disappeared under the terror of Argentina’s right-wing dictatorship and its ruthless silencing of political opposition. The trial was the world’s first major war crimes trial since Nuremberg in 1945-46. Through courtroom testimony — adapted from original records — Mitre lays out the harrowing wake of the last junta whose impact still resonates in the country today.  Veteran actor Ricardo Darín’s psychologically charged portrayal of the uncompromising bulldog Strassera is a sight to behold.  As a foil to the heavy intensity of the courtroom, Mitre intersperses scenes from Strassera’s family life with his kids.

“Chile 1976,” US premiere, Oct 8, 7pm & Oct 13, 2pm, both Smith Rafael Film Center (Manuela Martelli, Chile, Argentina, Qatar, 2022, 95 min, Spanish w/ English subtitles)

Aline Kuppenhiem as Carmen in a still from Manurla Martelli’s debut film, “Chile: 1976.”

Chilean director Manuela Martelli’s debut feature is set during the country’s dreaded Pinochet era (1973-1990) when the country was ruled by a military junta headed by General Augusto Pinochet,who seized power after the democratically-elected socialist government of Salvador Allende was overthrown in a U.S. backed coup d’état.  Pinochet’s systematic suppression of political parties and persecution of dissidents lead to thousands of deaths and thirty years later, the country is still reeling.  “Chile 1976” tells a powerful fictional story that delivers a sharply-focused snapshot of Chile’s sociological cosmos in this period.and that, by any stretch of the imagination, could be true. The elements are familiar to those devotees of Latin American cinema—a wealthy upper-middle class housewife, Carmen (Aline Kuppenheim) so ensconced in her cozy bourgeois lifestyle—renovating her elegant beach house—that she is unaware of what evil is transpiring in the country; an intermediary—local priest Father Sanchez (Hugo Medina); a victim—Elías (Nicolás Sepúlveda), a young fugitive from the law who has been shot and urgently needs help and a hiding place.  Hardly cliches, these components/characters are masterfully deployed by Martelli. The idrama hinges on Kuppenheim’s acting and transformation into someone suddenly shaken into political awareness, who commits to helping and, in so doing, joins the fight to end the reign of terror. 

“Holy Spider” Bay Area premiere, Tuesday, Oct 11, 4pm, Smith Rafael Film Center (Ali Abbasi, Denmark 2022, 106 min, Iranian languages with English subtitles)

Zar Amir-Ebrahimi, winner Best Actress at Cannes 2022, in a still from Ali Abbasi’s thriller, “The Spider.” Image”

An Iranian film is a rare treat at MVFF.  Here’s a Cannes winner with a storyline about a female Iranian journalist hot on the trail of a serial killer who is murdering prostitutes in one of Iran’s holiest cities.  This thriller is Iran-born, Denmark-based director Ali Abbasi’s third feature, (“Border” MVFF41, Cannes’ Un Certain Regard Award winner and Oscar nominee) and he delivers a mesmerizing cat and mouse nail-biter based on the embellished true story of Iranian serial killer Saeed Hanaei (Mehdi Bajestani). Nicknamed “Spider Killer,” he slew 16 prostitutes in 2000 and 2001 in the northeastern city of Mashad, Iran’s third largest city and a major Islamic pilgrimage site, dumping their bodies in plain sight.  After his conviction, Bajestani became a folk hero to the religious right for claiming to be on a holy mission to cleanse the city of prostitution.  Abbasi shot the film in Ahman Jordan and employs a violent murder mystery to deliver a critique of Iran’s punishing theocratic system, where women seem to always be guilty of something, even when they’re the victims of cold-blooded murder. The film takes artistic license in introducing a fictional investigative journalist from Tehran, Rahimi (Zar Amir-Ebrahimi), who won Best Actress at Cannes 2022, where the film screened in competition), who shows up in Mashad eager to solve this long-running case.  When she teams up with a local reporter (Arash Ashtiani) who is in contact with the killer, they concoct a plan to use her as an undercover sex worker to lure the killer out.  What unfolds is a mesmerizing push-pull game between journalist and killer.

“Living” CA premiere, Monday Oct 9, 7pm & Tues 10/11, 2:30pm, both CinéArts Sequoia (Director: Oliver Hermanus, UK, 2022, 102 min)

Bill Nighy in a still from Oliver Harmanus’ period drama, “Living.”

Sometimes life offers you a second chance…it’s called tomorrow.  

In Oliver Harmanus’ beautiful period drama, “Living,” English actor Bill Nighy, gives a brilliant performance as a severely repressed career bureaucrat in a public works department in 1952 England.  His robotic, joyless paper-shuffling routine has earned him the nickname “Mr. Zombie” and, indeed, he seems hardly alive. When he learns he has six months left to live, he vows to make his final days meaningful.  But how? The rift between him and his only son and daughter-in-law is so wide that even his attempts to communicate about his diagnosis fail.  It is through a fortuitous conversation with a young kind co-worker (the sparkling Aimee Lou Wood), that he finds connection and hope.  He shifts his focus to bringing happiness to others through shepherding a small public works project and, in this generous act, is able to face death with peaceful acceptance.  Adapted by Nobel prize winning novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, this poignant remake of Kurosawa’s 1952 masterpiece “Ikiru,” which translates as “to live” in Japanese, finds its meaning in its name and message. Nighy’s mastery of every expression as a buttoned-up person who blooms briefly but so meaningfully is thoroughly inspiring.  The production design and period costumes are Oscar worthy. 

“Tukdam: Between Worlds” North American premiere, Wednesday Oct 12, 6:30 pm and Friday, Oct 14, 5pm, both Smith Rafael Film Center (Director: Donagh Coleman, Finland, Ireland, Estonia, 2022, 91 min)

A still from “Tukdam: Between Worlds” of a commemoration ceremony, prior to cremation, at the Benchen Monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal. Image: Donagh Coleman.

In what Tibetans call “tukdam,” some advanced Buddhist practitioners who meditate at the deepest level of consciousness right before death, die but their bodies do not show the usual signs of death—rigor mortis, smelling/decomposition—for days or even weeks.  They remain slightly warm around their heart area with radiant skin and complexion and in the meditation position without their trunks collapsing.  According to Tibetan Buddhist tradition, consciousness is still present and they are between two worlds.  Director Donagh Coleman, who is currently working on his medical anthropology PhD at UC Berkeley, where his dissertation is on tukdam, tracks a team of forensic anthropologists at University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds. He captures interviews with Western scientists, Tibetan medical professionals, the Dalai Lama, and respected bhikkhus in the U.S. and Tibetan refugee communities in Dharamshala and Chauntra, India, and in Kathmandu Nepal. This spellbinding documentary explores current research into tukdam, in which the cessation of brain function, breathing, and heart activity, all Western indications of death, are not necessarily life’s clear-cut end but instead a pliant threshold. Applying Western science to ancient traditions and belief systems proves there is more data to be mined.  Beware:  you will see lots of corpses, some in severe decomp.

Details:

MVFF45 is October 6-16, 2021.  Tickets: purchase online and in advance as most films will sell out. Most films are $16.50 general admission, $14 CFI members.  Special events, parties, and receptions are more.  Streaming pass (for CA residents only) allows access to all online films, programs, conversations. $145 general, $105 for CFI members.  Single streaming of film or event $8 general; $6 CFI members. Complete schedule and ticket purchase: https://www.mvff.com/.

Don’t despair if the film you want to see is “at rush.”  Check the film/program’s specific page on the MVFF website at noon on the day of the program you want to see.  Tickets may be released and available for immediate purchase online.  Rush tickets are also available 15 minutes before show time at the screening venue.  It’s first come, first serve, so join the line to wait about an hour before the screening.

Venues: Smith Rafael Film Center, San Rafael; CinéArts Sequoia, Mill Valley; Lark Theater, Larkspur; BAMPFA. Berkeley; The Roxie, San Francisco; Sweetwater Music Hall, Mill Valley; Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, San Francisco

October 4, 2022 Posted by | Film, Food | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 45th Mill Valley Film Festival is October 6-16: Big Nights Galore!

Following the West Coast premiere of Darren Aronofsky’s drama, “The Whale,” star Brendan Fraser, will appear in conversation and receive a MVFF acting award on Thursday, October 13 at Mill Valley’s Sequoia Theater. Frasier, the subject of Oscar buzz,  recently received a six-minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival for his acting as a 600 pound gay literature teacher who is confined to a wheelchair, trying to reconnect with his 17 year-old daughter and binge-eating himself to death.  Photo: courtesy A24

The 45th Mill Valley Film Festival, October 6-16, has its pre-pandemic groove back, offering 145 films from 34 countries—49 premieres, hot tickets from Cannes, Berlin, Venice, an eclectic mix of features, documentaries, shorts, world cinema and films with a special Bay Area stamp. The festival is live, with theaters at full seating capacity, and several films and programs can be streamed from home. Tickets for non-CFI (California Film Institute ) members are on sale now and going fast.  Most in-theater screenings, save a few big nights, are available now. This won’t last for long, so browse the program and don’t dally in pre-purchasing tickets.  Several of these films will figure in the looming Oscar race and it’s very gratifying to say “I already saw that,” and even more meaningful if you’ve experienced an on-stage conversation.  Below, ARThound covers this year’s eight big nights and a follow-up article will cover recommendations from the standard program.

BIG NIGHTS:

Thursday, October 6, 6 pm: Opening Night—Glass Onion: A Knives out Mystery, CinéArts Sequoia and Smith Rafael Film Center:

A scene from “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.” Image: Netflix

Humor, a whodunit mystery and wonderful acting from a star-studded cast—opening night is Academy Award® and Golden Globe®-nominated filmmaker Rian Johnson’sGlass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” with talent in attendance. A follow-up to “Knives Out” (MVFF42) starring Daniel Craig as amazing sleuth Benoit Blanc, this smart Netflix mystery begins when a group of old friends all receive an unexpected invitation in the form of an intricate puzzle box.  What begins as a game however soon turns into something more nefarious as the guests arrive at their mega-rich host, Mile’s (Edward Norton) private island.  Wherever Benoit goes, murder is likely to follow.   With quick wits and aplomb, the guests are soon entangled in solving a puzzle that will reveal Benoit’s murderer.  

Enjoy an on-stage chat with the celebs in attendance—writer-director Rian Johnson, actors Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., and Kate Hudson, producer Ram Bergman. Don’t forget the optional MVFF Opening Night Gala at Marin Country Mart Larkspur celebrating the glamor of cinema with delicious local cuisine, great music and flowing spirits shared with attending special guests, filmmakers, film fans.

Saturday, October 8, 6:30 pm: Armageddon Time—Tribute to James Gray, Smith Rafael Film Center

Banks Repeta and Anthony Hopkins in a scene from “Armageddon Time.” Image: Focus Features

In “Armageddon Time,” his eighth feature film, acclaimed American director James Gray returns again to New York, this time to his childhood stomping grounds, the area between Brooklyn and Queens. He has orchestrated another brilliant character study, as well as a powerful exploration of racism, white privilege, and parenting.  The film rests on two exceptional young actors: Banks Repeta, 14, and Jaylin Webb 16.  Banks Repeta stars as Paul, a white kid living in Queens in the early 1980s, hoping to escape his parents’ working-class suburban life and become an artist.  When he befriends Johnny (Jaylin Webb), his Black public school classmate, his education in life begins; it then ratchets into high gear when he transfers to an elite private school where racism is du jour. Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong play Paul’s weary parents, with Anthony Hopkins as his astute grandfather, the one person who gets him and talks openly with him about racism, civil rights, mistreating Blacks and his own experience as a Jew.  Paul wises up, awakening to the difference between what his parents and other adults preach and what they actually do.  It’s all set against the backdrop of the soon to be Reagan-era with the appearance of some Trumps as well.

Sunday, October 9, 5 pm—Women Talking: Spotlight & Mind the Gap Ensemble Award, Smith Rafael Film Center

A still from Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking.”  L to R: Michelle McLeod stars as Mejal, Sheila McCarthy as Greta, Liv McNeil as Neitje, Jessie Buckley as Mariche, Claire Foy as Salome, Kate Hallett as Autje, Rooney Mara as Ona and Judith Ivey as Agata. Michael Gibson © 2022 Orion Releasing LLC.

With a cast that includes Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy, Ben Whishaw, and Frances McDormand (in a tiny but crucial role), Canadian director Sarah Polley has found her own version of a horrific true story from 2011, which inspired Miriam Toews’ 2018 novel of the same name. The events took place in an ultra-conservative Mennonite colony in Bolivia and involve a group of men who were convicted of drugging and serially raping over 100 women from their community. In “Women Talking,” the women hold a secret meeting to decide how to respond to being drugged and raped by the men in their sect. Their poignant daylong deliberations in the barn’s hayloft reveal the various ways that women respond to violence and the choices they can make.

Representing the ensemble, inimitable Frances McDormand will appear on stage in conversation. She has received four Academy Awards, two Primetime Emmy Awards and one Tony Award, making her one of the few to achieve acting’s Triple Crown.  Thoughtful and feisty, with over four decades of acting experience, McDormand is sure to wow us.

Tuesday, October 11, 7pm—Till: Mind the Gap Centerpiece Award: Creativity and Truth, CinéArts Sequoia

 
(L to R) Jayln Hall as Emmett Till and Danielle Deadwyler as Mamie Till-Mobley in a scene from “Till,” directed by Chinonye Chukwu. Photo: Lynsey Weatherspoon/Orion Pictures.

“Till” is the true story of Mamie Till-Mobley (Danielle Deadwyler) and her dogged pursuit of justice for her 14-year-old son, Emmette Louis Till (Jalyn Hall) who, in 1955, was lynched while visiting his cousins in Mississippi. Writer-director Chinonye Chukwu (Clemency MVFF42) focuses the horrific story on the grief-stricken mother, a teacher, who boldly decides to seek justice for her son and whose action changes the course of history.  The cast includes Whoopi Goldberg.  Writer/director Chinonye Chukwu will appear in conversation.

Thursday, October 13, 7pm—The Whale: Tribute to Bredan Fraser, CinéArts Sequoia

To play the lead character in Darren Aronofsky’s “The Whale,” Brendan Fraser wore a prosthetic suit that added anywhere from 50 to 300 pounds depending on the scene. He spent up to six hours in the makeup chair each day to fully transform into his character, a 600 pound morbidly obese man.  Image: Getty

Friday, October 14, 6 pm—Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths: Spotlight on DANIEL GIMÉNEZ CACHO + Presentation of the MVFF award for Acting, Smith Rafael Film Center

Daniel Giménez Cacho in a still from Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths.”  Image: MVFF

Five time-Oscar®-winning director Alejandro G. Iñárritu (“Biutiful,” MVFF33; “The Revenant”) delivers what has been called an “immersive and visually-intoxicating modern day epic” centered on Silverio (Daniel Giménez Cacho), a renowned Mexican journalist and documentary filmmaker living in Los Angeles who returns to Mexico after being named the recipient of an prestigious award.  Silverio is unaware of the impact this trip will have on his psyche and each of his days in his homeland brings profound hallucinogenic revelations about his identity and what it means to be human.  My first experience of Spanish born Mexican actor Daniel Giménez Cacho was in Argentine director Lucretia Martel’s period drama, “Zama” (2017), where he gave a captivating performance as a magistrate in a remote outpost in 18th century Argentina.  This multiple Ariel award winner is best known in the US for portraying Tito the coroner in “Cronos” (1993).

Saturday, October 15, 6pm—Nanny: Spotlight on Nikyatu Jusu, CinéArts Sequoia

Ana Diop is Senaglaise nanny Aisha in Nikyatu’s drama “The Nanny,” an intense immigrant story inflicted with supernatural horror elements. Image: MVFF

Sierra Leonean-American filmmaker Nikyatu Jusu’s debut feature drama, “The Nanny,” premiered at Sundance and is the first horror film to win the grand jury prize. Ana Diop plays Senaglaise immigrant nanny, Aisha, who is living in New York and lands a job as a nanny caring for Rose (Rose Decker) the young daughter of affluent Amy (Michelle Monaghan) and Adam (Morgan Spector). Aisha is working to provide a better life for her six-year-old son, Lamine, who she left in Senegal and hopes to bring to the US. Just as she gains confidence that things will work out, she experiences a haunting presence in the couple’s home as figures from West African folklorewater deity Mami Wata and Anansi the Spidercome to life. Increasingly freaked out, she struggles to distinguish dreams from reality and to find balance between her two worlds. DP Rina Yang’s dynamic cinematography brings these eerie visions to life. Both Director Nikyatu Jusu and actor Ana Diop will appear on stage in conversation.

Saturday, October 15, 7 pm—Spotlight on Noah Baumbach: White Noise + Presentation of the MVFF Award for Screenwriting

Adam Driver in a scene from Noah Baumbach’s “White Noise.” Image: MVFF

Writer director producer Noah Baumbach’s “White Noise,” the film version of Don DeLillo’s 1985 National Book Award-winning novel of the same name, was the opening night film at Venice Film Festival. MVFF is honoring Baumbach with a special screenwriting award. This is his first film since his acclaimed “Marriage Story” (MVFF42 Ensemble Award) and he’s been a MVFF regular over the years—“The Squid and the Whale” (MVFF28) and “Margot at the Wedding” (MVFF30).  The film follows DeLillo’s plot closely with brilliantly punctuated scenes from its star cast. Jack (Adam Driver) is a star professor at a Midwestern college, who pioneered the field of Hitler studies. He and his fourth wife Babette (Greta Gerwig) share four ultra-modern children from their various marriages in a happy household. Don Cheadle adds a striking supporting twist as Murray, a professor starting a new field of Elvis studies with whom Jack shares kinship and friendly rivalry. Things begin to unravel as a toxic cloud drifts into their environs, prompting mass evacuation and giving voice to existential fears.

Details:

MVFF45 is October 6-16, 2021.  Tickets: purchase online and in advance as most films will sell out. Most films are $16.50 general admission, $14 CFI members.  Special events, parties, and receptions are more.  Streaming pass (for CA residents only) allows access to all online films, programs, conversations. $145 general, $105 for CFI members.  Single streaming of film or event $8 general; $6 CFI members. Complete schedule and ticket purchase: https://www.mvff.com/.

Sold out? Don’t Despair: Check the film/program’s specific page on the MVFF website at noon on the day of the program you want to see. Tickets may be released and available for immediate purchase online. Also, there are always rush tickets available 15 minutes before showtime at the screening venue. It’s first come, first serve, so join the line to wait about an hour before the screening.

Venues: Smith Rafael Film Center, San Rafael; CinéArts Sequoia, Mill Valley; Lark Theater, Larkspur; BAMPFA. Berkeley; The Roxie, San Francisco; Sweetwater Music Hall, Mill Valley; Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, San Francisco

September 25, 2022 Posted by | Film, Food | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Say cheese!—the CA Artisan Cheese Festival is Saturday at Grace Pavilion with cheese and accompaniments

Tomales Farmstead Creamery’s Atika is just one of the cheesy delicacies at Saturday’s California Artisan Cheese Festival. Atika, a blend of sheep and goat milk in roughly equal parts, smells like warm melted butter and crème fraiche.  This a farmstead cheese: the goats and sheep are raised and milked on the same farm that the cheese is made and the milk is as fresh as it can possibly be. Aged at least 5 months, Atika has a buttery and tart flavor. ARThound loves Farmstead Creamery because it reached out to Marin’s beloved artist, Tom Killion, who created the woodcut that ultimately became their beautiful label. Photo: Kelly J. Owen

After a two-year pandemic pause, the California Artisan Cheese Festival returns live to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds’ Grace Pavilion and Shade Park with a single event, an Artisan Cheese Tasting & Marketplace, this Saturday, May 7 from 11 to 4 p.m.  Traditionally, this popular cheese tasting extravaganza and marketplace has concluded the weekend long festival, providing a chance for cheese enthusiasts to buy all the fabulous cheeses they’re tasted along with new, limited-production, and rare artisan cheeses as well as other amazing products. This year, over 60 award-winning cheeses will be offered for tasting and sold at this event, along with all sorts of accompaniments including wines, ciders, beers, chocolate, crackers, salts, spices and other artisan products.  The Festival will be expanded to include the adjoining outdoor Shade Park area so guests will have more room to relax and enjoy the experience, including live entertainment by local Sonoma County-based Jazz band, King Street Giants. “We are excited to be back in-person this year and featuring so many local favorites and over a dozen new purveyors,” said Judy Groverman Walker, the Event Producer of the California Artisan Cheese Festival.   Here are this year’s participants.   Tickets: $30-75; purchase directly at venue.  

May 5, 2022 Posted by | Food, Wine | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 25th Sonoma International Film Festival will honor Jacqueline Bisset and screen her new film, “Loren and Rose,” Friday, March 25

Jacqueline Bisset, Golden Globe winner, who has appeared in over 50 films, will receive SIFF’s Cinematic Excellence Award on Friday, March 25. The special program includes the Northern CA premiere of her newest film, “Loren and Rose,” and an on-stage Q & A with Bisset and director Russell Brown.  Photo: GUILLAUME COLLET/SIPA/Shutterstock

SIFF (Sonoma International Film Festival), hasn’t yet released the full programming for its special 25th anniversary edition, March 23-27, but it’s started dropping announcements like well-paced hors’d ouvers. Its latest delectable—Jacqueline Bisset will be honored with the festival’s Cinematic Excellence Award on Friday, March 25, at the historic Sebastiani Theatre on Sonoma’s plaza.  The award celebrates Bisset’s five plus decades of cinematic achievement and will be presented following a special screening of Bisset’s new feature film, “Loren and Rose,” and an on-stage Q&A with Bisset and director Russell Brown.

“I am thrilled to be seeing Loren & Rose in this environment after such difficult years of waiting for genuine cinema screens. Thank you to SIFF for this recognition,” said the legendary star of “The Deep” and “Day for Night”.

A truly international film star, the British-born Bisset has undertaken a diverse range of dramatic and comedic challenges in the more than 50 films in which she has appeared, winning raves from critics and fans alike. She has worked consistently since her debut nearly 60 years ago as an extra in “The Knack and How to Get it.” Her 2014 Golden Globe for her supporting role in the acclaimed BBC mini-series “Dancing On The Edge” reflected acting skills honed through collaborations with some of our era’s greatest directors. Bisset’s career includes roles in John Huston’s “Casino Royale,” Peter Yates’ “Bullitt,” George Seaton’s “Airport,” François Truffaut’s Day for Night,” Sidney Lumet’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” Peter Yates’ “The Deep,” J. Lee Thompson’s “The Greek Tycoon,” and George Cukor’s “Rich and Famous”. Over the expanse of her career, she has appeared in more than 100 films and television shows and has been nominated for a Golden Globe five times. In 2010, she was awarded France’s Legion of Honor. Based in Los Angeles, Bisset divides her time between America and Europe.

“We are honored to present international film star Jacqueline Bisset with the SIFF Cinematic Excellence Award during our historic 25th festival,” said SIFF Artistic Director Kevin W. McNeely. “She has lit up the screen from the moment she appeared in some of the most memorable films of our collective conscience, and continues to do so to this day.”

Jacqueline Bisset stars in director, writer, producer Russell Brown’s latest feature drama “Loren and Rose,” in which a single meal frames the story of an indelible bond forged between Loren, a promising young filmmaker (Kelly Blatz), and Rose, an iconic actress (Bisset) looking to reinvigorate her career.  

SIFF prides itself on its poignant dramas, many of which weave food and wine into the story. “Lauren and Rose” is set around a pivotal lunch from which a friendship develops between two women whose love of art, understanding of grief, and faith in life guide them through personal and creative
hardships. I can’t wait to see Bisset on screen again…her acting is real, so vital, inviting you inside her characters. She is often quoted for saying: “There is an eternal humanity that crosses through all people, and it’s more interesting often when it’s about struggle – not people with champagne glasses.” (Screens Friday, March 25 at 6PM at the Sebastiani Theatre and Saturday, March 26 at 11:30 AM at Vintage House. Both screenings include Q&A’s with Bisset and Brown. Bisset will receive the SIFF Cinematic Excellence Award after the Q&A on Friday, March 25.)

SIFF Culinary Events: Beloved chefs Jacques Pépin and Joanne Weir, who are best known for their PBS television shows, will also be at SIFF to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Tickets to these sumptuous events are going fast and were first offered to SIFF passholders. Don’t dally in purchasing.

Chef Pépin will attend SIFF Thursday, March 24 to receive the first SIFF Culinary Excellence Award and a $10,000 donation to the Jacques Pépin Foundation during its highly anticipated SIFF | Devour! Chefs & Shorts Culinary Event Honoring Chef Jacques Pépin. This is the third collaboration between SIFF and Devour! The Film Food Fest. The evening includes a five-course dinner from five prominent chefs who will each prepare one course that will be paired with a food short film and wine. Participating are: Ken Frank (La Toque), Michael Howell (Devour!), Roland Passot (La Folie, Left Bank), Seadon Shouse (Timber Cove Resort) and Ari Weiswasser (Glen Ellen Star). Wines: Anaba, Bee Hunter, Breathless (Sparkling Brut), Chateau St. Jean (Cinq Cépages), and Viansa.

Chef Joanne Weir will host a special Plates & Places Lunch on Friday, March 25, at the festival’s Backlot tent, during which she will share segments from her PBS show, “Plates & Places,” filmed on location, to bring the flavors of Spain, Morocco, and Greece to diners’ plates, along with wonderful wines and Thomas Adams Chocolates.

Details: The 25th Sonoma International Film Festival starts Wednesday, March 23 and runs through Sunday, March 27, 2022.  Buy discounted passes and tickets to special culinary events at sonomafilmfest.org

February 13, 2022 Posted by | Film, Food, Wine | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rancho Gordo’s Steve Sando has a new bean portrait by Jason Mercier

Rancho Gordo founder Steve Sando commemorated 20 years of glorious beans with a portrait from Jason Mercier. Image: Rancho Gordo

Pop trash artist Jason Mercier fascinates me with his meticulous mosaic portraits. He’s outdone himself with his new portrait of Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo beans—he’s captured Steve’s essence in heirloom beans.  As materials go, the humble heirloom bean is just about perfect, varying in color, size, and texture and it has great karma.

A pic of the artwork arrived in my email this morning in Steve’s e-letter celebrating his 20th anniversary selling beans.  As Steve points out, glamorous celebs of a certain era used to appear in print, draped in Blackgama furs as part of Blackgama’s “What becomes a legend most?” ad campaign (1968-94).  Today’s legends are captured in Jason Mercier’s mosaics—Snoop Dogg sculpted out of weed, Steve Jobs’ 2006 portrait revisioned from 20 pounds of e-waste, Amy Sedaris out of her own trash, Justin Timberlake and Miley Cyrus out of candy.  Amazing how blobs of material in deeply saturated colors, arranged just so, can cohere into vivid likenesses.

Steve Sando is an artist in his own right: his heirloom beans look like gems, taste fabulous and have the most interesting names—Cicerchia, Vaquero, Alubia blanca, Mayocoba, Yellow Eye. It’s hard to buy just one bag when confronted with these enticing beauties. Sando has traveled the world in search of rare and delicious artisan beans, written passionately about his finds, respectfully crediting the farmers he collaborates with and created a gourmet brand that has become a staple in the culinary world.  He started selling at the farmers’ market in Yountville two decades ago and built Rancho Gordo slowly.  He now sells direct to consumers all over the US, Canada, to restaurants and retail stores.  He grows in California, all along the West Coast, Mexico, Italy and Poland.  He’s planning a 20th anniversary celebration at the his storefront in Napa, after Covid.  If you’d like to know more, he’s been profiled wonderfully in the New Yorker by Burkhard Bilger (The Hunt for Mexico’s Heirloom Beans).  Even better: subscribe to his newsletter and check out them beans for yourself: https://www.ranchogordo.com.

March 13, 2021 Posted by | Art, Food, Gardening | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This Sunday: stream the California Artisan Cheese Festival

This Sunday, La Crema Winery Chef and Cheese Specialist, Tracey Shepos Cenami, will be firing up the stoves to demo three brunch dishes to a Zoom audience cooking along at home while sipping La Crema bubbles. Chef Tracey played a pivotal role in developing the culinary program at La Crema Estate at Saralee’s Vineyard and created their popular VIP wine and artisan cheese pairing experience. Photo: Artisan Cheese Festival,

The first event of the California Artisan Cheese Festival (CACF) takes place virtually this Sunday (March 15) and features La Crema Winery Chef and Cheese Specialist, Tracey Shepos Cenami hosting the festival’s beloved Bubbles Brunch. Instead of the usual three day extravaganza of cheese seminars and tastings at the Flamingo Hotel, the festival is offering its top two crowd-pleasers, revisioned for the pandemic. The haute Bubbles Brunch, which always features a celebrity chef, has become a cook and toast-along at home event and the festival’s opulent Grand Tasting now comes in a box delivered to your door. While it’s not the usual festive celebration of our local bounty, this year’s events have been curated expertly by executive director, Judy Groverman Walker, who founded the festival 16 years ago. CACF is essential for sustaining our celebrated cheesemaker community and the non-profit California Artisan Cheese Guild until the in-person celebration returns in 2022. Last year’s festival was cancelled. The 2019 CACF, the 14th iteration of the beloved event, attracted more than 2,500 guests, who participated in events held all around Sonoma and Marin counties.

Bubbles Brunch: Sunday, March 14, 10:30 to noon, PST: The audience can cook alongside Chef Tracey Shepos Cenami or sit back and enjoy the show while sipping La Crema’s limited-edition La Crema Russian River Valley Brut Rosé. Cenami will prepare three brunch dishes — Bitter Greens with Anchovy Vinaigrette & Grilled Cheese Crouton Crunch (Beehive Cheese Promontory, Pt. Reyes Toma Cheese croutons); Shakshuka (Nicasio Valley Foggy Morning Cheese); and Orange Scones (Cypress Grove Midnight Moon Cheese, Laura Chenel Cabecou ). Recipes and a complete shopping list will be emailed to participants in advance. Shopping is required. As a special bonus, these $50 brunch tickets include free access to next year’s CACF’s Marketplace.

Order your tickets HERE by Friday, March 12.

Grand Tasting, Friday March 26, to 6 pm PST: Instead of gathering round tables laden with our region’s beloved artisan cheeses and the latest locally-produced accompaniments, this year’s Grand Tasting comes in a big box, delivered in advance to your doorstep. Boasting to include ten samplings of delectable artisan cheeses (at least four pounds), participants can stream CACF while enjoying an extravagant selection of pairing goodies from the festival’s marketplace, including Volos chocolates. Grand Tasting Kit cheeses will vary, but everyone will receive at least one of the newest cheeses to be released: Qunita from Point Reyes Farmstead Chees Co. and Little Giant from Cypress Grove. Remaining selections will come from the following cheesemakers: Beehive Cheese, Bellwether Farms, Cowgirl Creamery, Cypress Grove, Laura Chenel, Marin French Cheese Co., Nicasio Valley Cheese Co., Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co., Rumiano Cheese Co., Stuyt Dairy Farmstead Cheese Co., Tomales Farmstead Creamery, Valley Ford Cheese & Creamery, and Wm. Cofield Cheesemakers.

Gloria Ferrer put together three winery exclusives to pair with these cheeses: Vista Brut, Royal Cuvée, and Demi-Sec. The hour will be hosted by Food Network star and Sonoma County restaurateur, Duskie Estes (Zazu, Black Pig Meat Co., Farm to Pantry). It will include insider tours of regional farms and creameries, pro tips on building a photo-worthy cheese board and Duskie’s favorite cheese recipes. Tasting kits are $150 and include free 2-day UPS shipping within the contiguous U.S.

Order your tasting kit HERE by Friday, March 19 at 5pm

More about California Artisan Cheese Festival
A 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization, the California Artisan Cheese Festival strives to increase cheese appreciation, educate consumers about artisan cheeses, support the cheesemaking community and its sustainability and celebrate the creations of California’s many farmers and cheesemakers. The festival began in March 2007 as the first-ever, weekend-long celebration and exploration of handcrafted cheeses, foods, wines and beers from California. In keeping with its dedication to the community, the Artisan Cheese Festival has donated more than $135,000 in grants to nonprofit partners that support local sustainable agriculture including the California Artisan Cheese Guild.  For more information about the California Artisan Cheese Festival, visit http://www.artisancheesefestival.com/or follow them on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

March 11, 2021 Posted by | Food | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SIFF2020 is postponed due to COVID-19 risk

“Born a King,” SIFF2020’s opening night feature, was slated to screen at Sonoma’s historic Sebastiani Theater on March 26.  Shot in the UK and Saudi Arabia, the Spanish co-production is the coming of age story of the future King Faisal (played by Abdullah Ali), who in 1919 was sent to on a high-stakes diplomatic mission to England by his warrior father, Prince Abdul Aziz.   His task was to resolve issues around the unification of Saudi Arabia.  At the time, England was fostering dissent by selling weapons to numerous Saudi tribes to encourage warring among themselves instead of collaboration.  The story follows the 14 year-old Arab prince from the Arabian desert to cosmopolitan England where he encounters Lord Curzon, Winston Churchill, and Princess Mary.  SIFF2020 will feature over 90 films, including indie features, docs, world cinema and shorts.

Originally scheduled for March 25-29, 2020, the 23rd Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF2020) has joined the ranks of North Bay cultural organizations that have postponed programming due to COVID-19 concerns.  The move makes sense for this beloved high-end festival which prides itself on film shown in intimate venues and partying in close quarters.  SIFF’s renowned Backlot tent features lavish self-serve buffet tables with local delicacies as well as wine from Sonoma vintners and trendy beverages.  Festival Director Kevin McNeely promises “We’ll be back.”  For those who have purchased passes or tickets to special culinary and wine events, the festival is asking for patience instead of requests for refunds. Check SIFF’s website for updates on the new date: http://www.sonomafilmfest.org

 

March 11, 2020 Posted by | Film, Food | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 22nd Sonoma International Film Festival kicks off Wednesday—here are your must-see’s

Luminous, emotional, dazzling…if you see just one of SIFF’s 123 films, see Yuli!  Directed by Catalan filmmaker Icíar Bollaín (Take My Eyes) and written by Paul Laverty (I, Daniel Blake) with cinematography by Alex Catalán, this bio-pic follows Cuban dance super-star, Carlos Acosta, from his early life in an impoverished Havana neighborhood as he defies all odds and becomes the first black artist to perform as Romeo at the Royal Ballet in London. Acosta goes on to dance in the world’s leading companies and form his own dance company in Havana.  Bollaín masterfully conveys the pride, frustration and contradictions of living in Castro’s Cuba.  Wonderful performances by Carlos Acosta and the participation of the Acosta Danza Company will raise your heart beat.

Ask anyone who makes the film festival circuit and they’ll tell you that the Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF) tops their list for the “best time” fests–good film, incredible atmosphere, great parties and music, and the Backlot tent’s superb food and unending flow of wine and craft booze.  The 22nd edition of this gem kicks off Wednesday, March 27, with an opening-night reception at the Backlot Tent from 5 to 7 pm, followed by two screenings of Bruce Beresford’s new period drama, Ladies in Black. SIFF continues in full force Thursday through Sunday offering some 123 films from 31 countries with an anticipated 200 filmmakers in attendance who will participate in on stage interviews and audience Q&A’s.  All films are shown at seven intimate venues within walking distance of Sonoma’s historic plaza so there’s no driving, just meandering charming streets where all the plants are beginning their glorious spring bloom.

SIFF has lots to offer both locals and destination visitors.  Festival passes are the way to go if you’re interested in easy access to films, the marvelous parties, and the Backlot tent.  If you want to see a few films, single tickets are $15 when purchased in advance.  SIFF caters heavily to pass holders and offers just a limited number of individual tickets for many of its films.  Lock in those tickets right now before they are snapped up.  Click here to read about all the pass options and price points.

Here are ARThound’s festival recommendations:

OPENING NIGHT (WED):  Ladies in Black

Australian director Bruce Beresford’s drama Ladies in Black stars Julia Ormond and Angourie Rice and powerfully recreates the postwar culture of 1950’s Sydney.  It took Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy (1989), Tender Mercies (1983)) 24 years to bring the story to the big screen but it has become Australia’s highest grossing film, ever.  Photo: Sony Pictures, Lisa Tomasetti

Based on Madeleine St. John’s 1993 debut novel The Women in Black, Ladies in Black is set in 1959 Sydney at a time when European migration and the women’s movement are starting to impact Australiaand offers an upbeat reflection on the impact of immigration and integration.  Julia Ormond (Mad Men) stars as Magda, a wise and sophisticated Slovenian emigre who heads the evening wear section of a large department store.  She, along with several other immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe, are vital to the store’s success.  Angourie Rice plays the fresh faced and adorable student, Lisa, who lands a temporary job at the store and ends up working alongside these glamorous and self-assured women who encourage her to embrace fashion and to empower herself.  SIFF always pairs shorts with features.  Screening first is Domee Shi’s 8 minute animated film Bao about a dumpling that springs to life as a lively growing boy and gives a weary Chinese mom a life lesson.

Beauty and Ruin (THURS)

A still from Marc de Guerre’s feature documentary Beauty and Ruin of school children at the Detroit Institute of Art. Photo: courtesy Subject Chaser Films

How much does art matter to a city on the verge of distinction?  Canadian director Marc de Guerre’s latest feature documentary explores the fate of the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA), one of America’s great art museums, in the wake of the city’s 2013 bankruptcy.  With a debt approaching $18.5 billion in 2014, and the DIA the largest asset the city of Detroit owns outright, a bitter brawl emerges over whether the city-owned artworks should be sold to pay down the debt.  DIA housed 66,000 artworks, including an irreplaceable collection of European masterpieces from Titian, Van Eyck, Rembrandt, Bellini, Brueghel, Tintoretto, Fra Angelico and dozens of others. Most of these were bought during the 30-year period, a century ago, when Detroit was the center of American industry.  No other American museum the size of the institute has ever confronted such a threat to the integrity of its collection.  Emotions and racial tensions reach their zenith when it is revealed that the pending bankruptcy has put the pensions of retired city workers are at risk.  This thorough unpacking of the museum’s story includes interviews with all the key players—the DIA director, the Emergency Manager of Detroit, the retirees, an activist Baptist pastor and acclaimed artist Charles McGee.  Screens: Thursday March 28, 6:30 p.m., Sonoma Valley Museum of Art. Open to festival pass-holders only.

Botero: (THURS and FRI)

A still from Don Millar’s documentary, Botero, the definitive documentary profile of the life and work of Fernando Botero, one of the world’s most recognized living artists.   Image: Hogan Millar Media

Directed by Canadian film and television director, Don Millar (Oil Slick, Full Force, Off the Clock), Botero offers a poetic behind-the-scenes look at the life and art of the 86-year-old self-taught Colombian painter and sculptor whose unique style always evokes strong reactions.  Art critic Rosalind Krauss of Columbia University calls his work “terrible,” while others offer praise and penetrating insight into his oeuvre, calling Botero’s critics intellectual snobs.  Don Millar lets you decide.  Either way, Botero’s story is fascinating.  Born in provincial Medellin, Colombia, in 1932, he arrived in New York as a young artist with $200 in his pocket.  Through a stroke of luck, he meets a curator whose connections get him into MOMA and, all of a sudden, he is famous. “I like fullness, generosity, sensuality” says Botero.  “Reality is rather dry.”  The audience learns that, even today, Botero is happiest in his Monaco studio where he says he is still learning as he strives to be the best painter in the world, because “my life is to paint.”  The film weaves together original footage shot in 10 cities across China, Europe, New York and Colombia, with decades of family photos and archival footage alongside unprecedented access to the artist.  Screens:  Thursday, March 28, 4:14 p.m., Landmark Vineyards at Andrews Hall and Friday, March 29, 3:30 p.m., Sonoma Valley Museum of Art.

 

Yuli (THURS & SAT)

A still from Icíar Bollaín’s Yuli with Edilson Manuel Olbera as the young Carlos Acosta.  Yuli won the Best Screenplay Award at San Sebastian and has gone on to receive five nominations for the Spanish ‘Goya’ awards including Best New Actor for Carlos Acosta, Best Cinematography and Best Adapted Screenplay.

It’s very difficult to pull off a drama about dance where the acting is an engaging as the dance itself.  Icíar Bollaín has done it with a riveting drama set largely in Castro’s Cuba with astonishing dance scenes and bursts of family drama.  Sit back and soak in the artistry of the astounding Carlos Acosta.  (In Spanish with English subtitles) Screens: Thursday March 28, 1 p.m., Burlingame Hall and Saturday, March 30, 11:30 a.m., Meyer Sound & Dolby Hall at Vets I)

 

Yellow is Forbidden (FRI and SAT)

Chinese designer Guo Pei’s international breakthrough moment was designing Rihanna’s golden gown for the 2015 Met Gala. The 55 pound dress took 100 workers 50,000 hours to create and became one of the most talked about dresses in history. Pietra’s Brettkelly’s documentary explores Guo Pei’s rise to fame and her unique way of interpreting her aesthetic history.  Photo: Getty Images

New Zealand documentarian Pietra Brettkelly (A Flickering Truth, 2015) has created a fascinating and intimate portrait of fashion designer Guo Pei that also speaks to the energy and aesthetic of a rapidly evolving China.  She tracks Guo Pei just as she has burst onto the international scene—when Rihanna wore her hand-embroidered canary yellow gown to the Met Gala in 2015—through her remarkable 2017 show “Legend,” presented at La Conciergerie, in Paris, where Guo Pei proved to the world that she had penetrated haute couture’s most elite circle.  The film takes us into Pei’s life, connecting the dots between her life experiences and aesthetic expression—her upbringing in the Cultural Revolution; her relationship with Cao Bao Jie, her husband and partner; her elderly parents who don’t grasp the scope of her talent, her A-list clients, and her team of craftsmen and embroiderers.  Her world is one of struggle, passionate dreaming and a constant balancing of her artistic passions with the financial reality of running a business.  Ample attention is devoted to her atelier, where she obsesses over the handcrafting of garments that can take over two years to create.  Pei is a curious mix of old and new, a balancing of East and West with an absolutely unique way of interpreting her aesthetic history.  (97 min, in Chinese and French with English subtitles.) Screens:  Friday, March 29, 2019, noon, Andrews Hall, and Saturday, March 30, 2:15 p.m., Vintage House

 

Restaurant from the Sky: (FRI and SUN)

A sill from Yoshihiro’s food drama, Restaurant in the Sky (2019). Photo: SIFF

Yoshihiro Fukagawa has made a number of dramas that tenderly explore human emotions against the gourmet food backdrop.  Restaurant in the Sky unfolds on a bucolic cattle ranch in Setana, Hokkidao where Wataru (Yo Oizumi) lives with his wife Kotoe (Manami Honjou) and his daughter, Shiori.  He inherited the cattle ranch from his father and he also runs a cheese workshop but he lacks passion.  He enjoys hanging out with his sheep farmer friend Kanbe (Masaki Okada) who moved to the area from hectic Tokyo.  After a chef from a famous Sapporo restaurant visits and praises Waturu’s produce and creates a masterful farm-to-table meal with ingredients sourced the ranch, Wataru has his ahh-hah moment.  He will open a restaurant for only one day to let people know about Setana’s wonderful food.  This is a goal that unites the family and community but suddenly a tragedy occurs.  (126 min, in Japanese with English subtitles)  Screens: Friday, March 29, 9 a.m., Sebastiani and Sunday, March 31, 1:45 p.m., Sebastiani

Details: The 22nd Sonoma International Film Festival is Wednesday, March 22 through Sunday, March 31, 2019.  For information, tickets, festival passes, prices, and benefits visit www.sonomafilmfest.org.

March 22, 2019 Posted by | Art, Film, Food | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 13th California Artisan Cheese Festival is this weekend: cheese and all the wonders that pair with cheese

Petaluman Phaedra Achor, founder of Monarch Bitters, will be sampling her craft bitters and flavored syrups at Sunday’s Artisan Cheese Tasting and Marketplace at Grace Pavilion.  Last September, Monarch Bitters was ranked second place in a USA Today people’s choice competition for the nation’s top 10 Best Craft Mixers and in November 2018, the Press Democrat ranked it #6 of top Sonoma County businesses.   Achor’s bitters, potent extracts, are handcrafted from organic and wild harvested roots, barks, aromatic herbs and flowers which are sourced in Sonoma County and bottled by hand in Petaluma. Achor operates out of a rented space in an industrial park in Petaluma, so the Artisan Cheese Festival is an opportunity to meet her in person, learn all about bitters and taste her wondrous concoctions.  Her newest flavors include Smoked Salt & Pepper Bitters; Honey Aromatic Bitters; and Honey Lavender Bitters, which join her famous Bacon Tobacco, Citrus Basil, Cayenne Ginger, Celery Horseradish, Cherry Vanilla, California Bay Laurel, Orange, Rose Petal, and Wormwood bitters.  Photo: courtesy Monarch Bitters

Bring on the cheese and please, bring on the cocktails!  For the first time, specialty cocktails will be served at the California Artisan Cheese Festival’s Sunday Marketplace at Grace Pavilion at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.  Of course, cheese is front and center as the California Artisan Cheese Festival kicks off this Saturday morning with eight fabulous full-day Farm and Producer tours all around Sonoma and Marin Counties (there are a few remaining spaces in five of these tours) as well as educational seminars and pairing demos in the morning and afternoon at Santa Rosa’s historic mid-century Flamingo Hotel.  Led by cheesemakers, cheese experts, bestselling authors and luminaries of wine, craft cocktails, ciders, and beers,  these seminars ($75-$85) are a convergence of expertise and passion.  Each seminar entails informed tasting, useful science and lots of ideas for inspired pairings.  This year’s Seminar #5 “Cheese & Cocktails: The Basics of Bitters, Booze and Cheese,” promises to demystify the universe of bitters and help identify the cheeses that will round out cocktails like Manhattans and Mai Tais.   Saturday evening’s new event, “Cheese, Bites & Booze!” at the Jackson Family Wines Hangar at the Sonoma Jet Center is sold out as is Sunday’s celebrity chef gourmet brunch.

Sunday’s Artisan Cheese Tasting and Marketplace, from noon to 4 p.m. at Grace Pavilion, at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, is the event’s grand finale ($50).   If you never attended the festival before, it’s an excellent introduction.  The soirée is abuzz with energy, bringing together over 125 leading artisan cheese and food producers, winemakers, brewers, specialty spirit producers and makers for a final round of indulgence as participants chat, taste, sip, shop while meandering through a delightful epicurean maze.  Everyone brings home an Artisan Cheese Festival insulated cheese tote bag, a wine glass, and oodles of ideas for elegant home gatherings.  And most importantly, new and dear cheese friends.

 

Phaedra Achor, owner of Petaluma-based Monarch Bitters. Photo: courtesy Monarch Bitters

It was ARThound’s pleasure to speak with Phaedra Achor about Monarch Bitters, which will be featured in Saturday’s seminar, “Cheese & Cocktails,” Saturday evening’s swank “Cheese, Bites & Booze” event at the Jackson Family Wines Hangar, and Sunday’s Artisan Cheese Tasting and Marketplace.

What are bitters?

Phaedra Achor: Bitters are high ABV (alcohol by volume), mine are 40-44%, and extracts that are created by macerating alcohol with any number of botanicals and aromatics such as spices, barks, roots, fruits.  My syrups have no alcohol content, and are infusions.

What’s behind the name “Monarch Bitters”?

Phaedra Achor:  I’ve always been very drawn to the monarch butterfly, its beauty and place in the world, its journey and metamorphosis, all of which are very symbolic for me.  Another piece fits in with my logo—a woman wearing a crown of wild flowers.  Since this is a botanically based product, I really wanted to convey the message of a strong and purposeful woman, a monarch of the forest, who is using the power of botanicals to create.

When and how did you start Monarch Bitters?

Phaedra Achor:  I love flavor chemistry, especially working with plants and botanicals to create flavor profiles.  In 2015, I hosted a cocktail party and wanted to do something very different, so I started planning a few months early.  My idea was to create five unique cocktails.  In my research, I came across these wonderful pre and post-Prohibition cocktails, all of which called for bitters.  I remember looking into bitters and thinking ‘I can do this.’  I ended up using barks and roots and herbs and spices and I created five bitters, one for each of the cocktails I served.  It was a huge hit.  At some point during this gathering, I walked into my living room and found this woman, a guest of a guest, someone I did not know at all, sniffing my tincture bottles.  She asked where these bitters came from.  I told her I made them all and she was blown away.  She explained that she was a bartender and that my bitters were far superior to what she was using and she offered to connect me with the owner where she worked.  I never followed through on that, but she planted a seed at just the right moment.  She left and I never saw her again but she was vital.

After that party, I started researching who was making bitters in Sonoma County, no one, and the craft cocktail industry.  I learned that people were using bitters like cooks use spices in the kitchen, so I thought this was a very interesting niche.  I was surprised that no one was doing this in Sonoma County because we are such an artisanal community.  I spent all of 2016 researching and reformulating and that’s because a lot of the botanicals I had chosen to use were considered dietary herbal supplements by the FDA.  I had to decide if I wanted my business to be categorized as a medicine, a dietary herbal supplement, or if I wanted it to be food bitters.  I’m not an herbalist and wasn’t interested in making herbal medicine, so I had to make some changes.  I launched in 2017 and from there, it just taken off.  Those contests which have recognized my bitters have been such a complement and honor and really fueled my business.

How do you come up with your flavor profiles, which are so unique?

Phaedra Achor:   The ideas just come to me.  I think this comes from my culinary background.  It’s taken a long time for me to own this and to state it out loud but I have ‘flavor wisdom.’  I just know how flavors will come together and taste.  Aside from the orange, lavender and aromatics, which are quite common bitters flavors, I have very intentionally created flavor profiles that didn’t previously exist outside of my brand, such as cayenne ginger, bacon tobacco, and honey aromatics.  I recently created a smoked salt and peppercorn bitters, which is also a fantastic culinary bitters.  Bitters can be used widely and people just aren’t aware of their versatility.  Aside from alcohol, bitters can be added to sparking water, lemonade, teas, coffees and in baking and cooking to replace an extract.  I’ve added my cherry vanilla bitters to whipped cream and it creates a wonderful cherry cordial whipped cream with a gorgeous flavor.

Is there a reason why you use dropper bottles?

Phaedra Achor:  Yes, it’s for accuracy and it recalls the history of bitters, which were initially used as medicine.  When I’m using the dropper and drawing up the bitters, it feels healing and right.

What the best way to taste bitters?

Phaedra Achor:  If people want to taste bitters straight, I will have them make a fist and hold out their hand upright, like they were holding a candle.  I’ll put a little drop right into that little divot between the thumb and index finger and they can taste it with their tongue.

Your ideas for bitters and cheese.

Phaedra Achor:  I tend to like softer, creamier cheeses, like bries.  Typically, the astringency of high fruit alcohol can be challenging with foods, so for a cocktail, I tend to go with a lower AVB  (alcohol by volume) content found in sherries or brandies and add my bitters to that when I want to indulge in cheese.  I’ve also taken my Citrus Basil Bitters and mixed it with honey to create a bittered honey to use as a pairing with cheese.   Bitters, adding bitter to the palate, can create wonderful opportunities to pair with food and cheese.  When it comes to cheeses, I work more with my citrus and aromatic flavors.

What’s next for Monarch Bitters?

Phaedra Achor: I am working on opening up a little apothecary in downtown Petaluma that will be a storefront for all of my products and hope to be open in June.  Right now, I am one of three bitters companies in the North Bay (King Floyd’s, Bitter Girl Bitters) and on Sunday, March 31, we will all be competing in The Bitter Brawl at Young and Yonder Spirits in Healdsburg.  This is a benefit for Compassion Without Borders.  We’ll each be paired with a bartender and will compete to create the best cocktail.

 

Details:  California’s 13th Artisan Cheese Festival is March 23-24, 2019 at various cheese country locations in Sonoma and Marin counties. Tickets for all festival events are sold separately online.  All events take place, rain or shine.

Click here for full information. Chick here to go to Eventbrite to purchase tickets

 

March 21, 2019 Posted by | Food, Wine | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment