The Sonoma International Film Festival turns 20 this year: the line-up celebrates wine, food and art and so do the parties—Wednesday, March 29 through Sunday, April 2, 2017
If you love great cinema, sampling world class food, wine and spirits from local artisan chefs, makers and vintners, it doesn’t get any better than the Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF) which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. This beloved five-day festival has always the best parties of any film festival around, but, this year, a bottle runs through SIFF’s programming as well as its famed Backlot tent. Eleven of the festival’s 130 films are tales of wine and gastronomy and the celebrities, criminals and unsung heroes from these universes. The festival is dedicated to supporting independent filmmakers from around the world, and inspiring film lovers while plying them with food and wine. There’s also Student Showcases, the wonderful program of shorts from local high school film students which the festival supports enthusiastically. 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 roses, lilacs and irises are in glorious spring bloom.
ARThound’s top film and event picks:
The Turkish Way
On the heels of the immensely popular Cooking Up a Tribute (2015), which had last year’s SIFF attendees queuing excitedly in enormous lines, director Luis González again teams with the Roca brothers—Joan, Josep and Jordi, owners of Catalonia’s Celler de Can Roca, Restaurant Magazine‘s Best Restaurant in the World honoree—to take a five-week tour across Turkey. Their mission: to plunge into the diverse culinary cultures merging at this cradle of civilization. Hot on the trail of new ideas for their own restaurant as well, the brothers engage with sommeliers, chefs and farmers from bustling Istanbul to the bucolic vineyards of Cappadocia and share a meal and chat with the innovators of New Anatolian cuisine. They discover an ancient nation on the cusp of a food revolution. (2016, 86 min) (Screens: Thurs, March 30, 11:45 am, Celebrity Cruises Mobile Cinema, and Fri, March 31, 9:15 am, Sonoma Veterans Hall Two)
Celebrity Cruises Mobile Cinema—the venue designation “CCMC” indicates Celebrity Cruises brand new mobile pop-up movie theater featuring a high definition projection and sound system, where guests can enjoy beverages, wine, truffle popcorn and enter to win great prizes, such as a luxurious cruise to the Caribbean for two.
The Distinguished Citizen (El ciudadano ilustre)
A favorite at last December’s International Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana, Cuba, Argentinian directing partners Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn’s latest comedy, El ciudadano ilustre, stars Oscar Martinez (Paulina) as a Noble Prize-winning Argentinean author who returns to the village of his birth for the first time in 40 years. Divided into five chapters, the film follows Daniel Mantovani (Martinez) from his spacious Barcelona villa to the modest hotel room booked for him in backwater Salas, Argentina, where he is to be honored with a medal and a full slate of cultural activities. The scenes are played to maximum comedic effect with outstanding performances all around. What makes the story work so well is that we can all relate to the long suppressed memories and emotions a visit back home can evoke. It turns out that while Mantovani has been living a cosmopolitan life in Europe, he’s taken all of his literary inspiration from Salas and the citizens of Salas have strong feelings about his depictions. Mantovani shines as he explores his complex relationship with his roots and his past. (2016, 117 min) (Screens: Thursday March 30, 1 pm, Sebastiani, and Sat, April 1, 12:30 pm, Sonoma Veterans Hall One.
Franca: Chaos and Creation
Fashion films have become a documentary genre unto themselves. When the subject at hand is Franca Sozzani, the fearless editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia and the director is her son, Francesco Carrozzini, expect nothing short of art and an iconic framing of fashion history. The groundbreaking shoots and themed issues that she engineered over the last quarter century in collaboration with photographer Steven Meisel transcended fashion. Domestic violence, plastic surgery, substance abuse, racism and environmental catastrophes are just some of the issues that Sozzani tackled in her work, often leading to criticism that social commentary had no place in the pages of a publication such as Vogue. Sozzani believed in the power of the image – some Vogue Italias featured 50-page-long fashion shoots where the clothes were barely visible and subordinate to the overall composition of the photographs. And Franca Sozani, well, there are moments when she reveals herself to her son in this intimate portrait, that only a son could have captured. Sozzani passed in December 2016 at the age of 66. (2016, 80 min) (Screens: Thursday, March 30, 3 pm, Sonoma Veterans Hall One and Friday, March 31, 2:30 pm, Sonoma Veterans Hall Two)
Sadly, the Polish master, Andrzej Wajda (A Generation, Kanal, Ashes and Diamonds) died at age 90, in 2016, just after completing Afterimage. This biopic of the Polish avant-garde painter, Wladyslaw Strzeminski, Poland’s foreign language Oscar submission for 2016, is a story from Wajda’s own past, battling passionately for artistic expression in the vice-grip of state ideology and censorship. Set in the dark years of Soviet rule, 1948 to 1952, the film tracks the highly-principled painter and handicapped (double amputee) professor Strzeminski, played by the masterful Boguslaw Linda (Blind Chance, Pan Tadeusz), as he battles the Socialist Realism movement in an attempt to advance his progressive art and inspire his students. His activity as a solo artist and his participation in groups that he organized in the 1920s and 1930s (together with his wife, Katarzyna Kobro, and painter Henryk Stazewski) played a fundamental role in the history of 20th-century Polish art. A man of great integrity and energy, Strzeminski was persecuted but refused to compromise. The film’s title is borrowed directly from the painter’s famous series of paintings from 1948–1949. It refers to persistent images, those optical illusions that continue to appear under one’s eyelids after staring at a reflective object. (2016, 98 min) (Screens: Thurs, March 30, 9:15 am, Celebrity Cruises Mobile Cinema and Sat, April 1, 9:30 am, Sonoma Veterans Hall One)
I wouldn’t be ARThound if I didn’t point out the festival’s dog-related flicks. What if your pets turned into full-grown men? I couldn’t resist the wacky premise behind Finn Taylor’s Unleashed, which has a thirty-something software app designer Emma (Kate Micucci) settling into her life in San Francisco when her cat, Ajax, and her dog, Summit, disappear only to reappear in her life as full-grown men (Steve Howet and Justin Chatwin). All their four-legged memories are fully intact and they vie for her affection in their very specific cat and dog styles. This delightful film picked the 39th Mill Valley Film Festival’s Audience Favorite Award /US Cinema Indie. (2016, 93 min) (Screens: Thurs, March 30 at 12 noon, Sonoma Veterans Hall One and Sat, April 1, 12 noon, Sebastiani)
Don’t forget the student films!: One of the festival highlights is the annual Student Showcases, films from Peter Hansen’s Media Arts Program students at Sonoma Valley High School (SVHS), screening twice this year. Since 2002, SIFF and its members have donated nearly $500,000 to SVHS’s Media Arts Program which opens doorways to creativity in the digital arts through filmmaking classes, animation, scriptwriting, film theory, and, most of all, storytelling. The festival also supports media programs in the Valley’s two middle schools. (Student Showcase Screenings: Thursday, March 30, 10am to 12:30 pm, Sebastiani and Sunday, April 2, 3 to 5:30 pm, Sonoma Vets Hall One
Peter Hansen has selected SVHS senior Owen Summers’ stop action 6 min claymation film Magic Beans to be accepted into the Sonoma International Film Festival. In 15 years, only three student films from SVHS have been chosen as official SIFF selections. Owen is a senior at Sonoma Valley High School. (Screens: Thurs, March 30 in Shorts Films Program, Vintage House, and Sunday, April 2, 9 am at the Taiwan Tourism Bureau Theatre (Andrews Hall).
SIFF Emerging Artist Award: This year, 18 year-old student filmmaker Kiara Ramirez will be honored with the festival’s first SIFF Emerging Artist Award. Her six minute short, the first she has produced and directed, is the mini-doc, Detrás del Muro (Behind the Wall), a thoughtful and sharply edited human portrait of immigration issues was inspired by the rhetoric of last year’s primaries
New this year: you can attend parties without a pass for $50.
Emerald Party: A big bash on Thursday, March 30 celebrates several 20th anniversaries—SIFF’s, Sondra Bernstein’s the girl & the fig, and Tito’s Vodka. Sondra’s celebrating by creating superb food for the party. Cake by Crisp Bake Shop and other birthday surprises will be in store. An after-party continues at The Starling for signature craft cocktails and music with Ten Foot Tone. Purchase $50 ticket here.
Taiwanese Night: On Friday, March 31, the Back Lot Tent is transformed into a lively Taiwanese Night Market, courtesy of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau. Purchase $50 ticket here.
Festival Awards & Celebration Party: Saturday, April 1, Walk the carpet and celebrate SIFF’s finest films at the Award Ceremony. Following the awards, toast the winners with wine, cocktails, Lagunitas, food from the girl & the fig and live music with Loosely Covered. Purchase $50 ticket here.
SIFF 20 Details:
The 20th Sonoma International Film Festival starts Wednesday, March 29 and runs through Sunday, April 2, 2016. PASSES: SIFF can be enjoyed at different levels and passes provide access to films, parties in SIFF Village’s Backlot Tent, after parties, receptions, and industry events and panels. Currently, Cinema Passes are $275 for and Soiree Passes are $725. All Cinema pass holders will have day access to the Backlot Tent in SIFF Village and all films. Soiree pass holders will have day VIP area and evening party access and all films. New this year: exciting options for attending several screenings and individual parties without buying all-inclusive passes. For information about festival passes, prices, and benefits visit sonomafilmfest.org. SINGLE TICKETS: A limited number of $15 tickets are available for each film screening. These sell out rapidly, so purchase these in advance online at sonomafilmfest.org.
The 19th Sonoma International Film Festival─a feel-great extravaganza of film, food, wine and sprits─starts Wednesday in wonderful Sonoma
The 19th Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF) kicks off tonight at the historic Sebastiani Theatre with Norwegian director Joachim Tier’s family drama, Louder Than Bombs (2015) and a live “vertical dance performance” with members of the dynamic Bandaloop dance group performing choreographed moves from ropes on the Sebastiani’s roof. Over the next 5 nights and 4 days, the festival will present over 100 films from two dozen countries and over 200 filmmakers from around the globe will attend. Among this year’s treasures are three exciting films shot in Cuba whose stories are bound to inspire a trip to this delightful island before the big Western chain hotels devour the beach space and those beloved’57 Chevys are replaced with Toyotas. One of these is the late journalist Denne Bart Petitclerc’s remarkable Papa Hemingway in Cuba, the first American production shot in Cuba since the 1960 trade embargo. This is the story of Hemingway and his experiences in Cuba, where he lived with his fourth wife, Mary, as told through the eyes Petitclerc when he was a young reporter at the Miami Herald. And food! Complementing its diverse and truly international program of independent cinema, SIFF offers a unique blend of world-class cuisine from local artisans and exceptional wine from Sonoma vintners, making for an epicurean experience few film festivals in the world can match. This year, SIFF is offering a complementary tasting and pairing along with its two screenings of Cooking Up a Tribute which takes us on globe-trotting road trip with the fabled Catalonian eatery El Celler de Can Roca. Browse the program and then pounce─a limited number of $15 tickets are available for pre-purchase online for all films.
ARThound’s top picks for films and events─
You’d never guess that Viva, a touching portrayal of a young gay Cuban man’s struggle to find himself, was the work of Irish director Paddy Breathnach. Directed and shot in Havana, with some very heavy-lifting from Cuban actors Héctor Medina and Jorge Perugorría, this beautiful story captures the yearning of Jesus (Medina), a young gay hairdresser working at a Havana nightclub for drag queens, to step out on stage and perform as a female. Encouraged by his mentor, Mama (Luis Alberto García), Jesus finally gets his opportunity to perform and it awakens sometime vital within. But when his estranged father Angel (Jorge Perugorría) abruptly reenters his life, his world is quickly turned upside down. As father and son tussle over their opposing expectations of each other, Viva morphs into a love story with the two men struggling to understand each other and to reconcile as a family. The drama, Ireland’s Oscar submission for Best foreign Language Film this year, also paints a rich portrait of street life in Havana and the divide between those Cubans who are embracing the coming changes and those who are battling to survive. (Screens: Thursday, March 31, 9:15 PM and Saturday, April 2, 2:15 PM, both at Sebastiani Theatre)
Papa Hemingway in Havana
Bob Yari’s vital film tells the fabled story of Hemingway in Cuba through the eyes of the late journalist Denne Bart Petitclerc (Giovanni Ribisi), a former San Francisco Chronicle reporter and Sonoma resident. Papa’s backstory was long and difficult because the film was created during the embargo. It took Yari two years to convince the US State Department and US Treasury to make an exception and he had to agree to a $100,000 spending limit for the cast and crew –unheard of for a Hollywood production. On the Cuban side, Yari was required to submit the script to the government in Havana. In addition to a fiery story that profiles two gifted writers who bond over fishing, the film features a stand-out performance by Joely Richardson who plays Hemingway’s fourth wife, Mary Welsh Hemingway. The drama was shot in Hemingway’s home Finca Vigia and locations throughout Cuba including La Floridita and Ambos Mundos Hotel. (Screens: Thursday, 3/31 6:30 PM, Sebastiani Theatre and Saturday, April 2, 2:30 PM at Veterans Hall I)
Cooking Up a Tribute / A Taste of Film:
The documentary Cooking Up a Tribute follows the famed Catalonian eatery El Celler de Can Roca (Girona, Spain) as it boldly closes up shop and embarks on a five week global road tour─from Texas to Mexico to Colombia and Peru. The idea is to improvise with local ingredients to create unique tasting menus for each locale. Opened in 1986 by the Roca brothers, Joan, Josep and Jordi, El Celler de Can Roca holds three Michelin stars. In 2013 and 2015, it was named the best restaurant in the world by Restaurant magazine. Perhaps the best footage in this ambitious doc is shot tagging along with renowned sommelier/maitre d’ Josep Roca on a fascinating pre-exploratory journey where he nails down the places his team will visit. Here’s your chance to watch agave being smoked to produce mescal in Oaxaca and to explore the seemingly infinite number of gorgeous Peruvian potatoes with names like “Bull’s Blood” and “Yellow Egg Yolk.” Free Food, Wine: The festival’s Premiere Sponsor, Celebrity Cruises, will activate their onboard “A Taste of Film” multisensory experience at both film screenings and filmgoers will receive a glass of JCB by Jean-Charles Boisset’s French sparkling No. 69 Crémant de Bourgogne with a carefully curated food tasting, which will bring the aromas and flavors of the food documentary to life. (83 min, 2015) (Screens Fri, April 1, 2:30 PM at Vintage House and Sunday, April 3, 3 PM at Vintage House with complimentary drink and tastings at the film.)
Gordon Getty: There will be Music
At 82, billionaire American composer Gordon Getty, industrialist J. Paul Getty’s son from his fifth marriage, remains a dedicated music creator, economic theorist, vintner, venture capitalist, philanthropist and longtime supporter of our beloved San Francisco Symphony. When your name is Getty, is it a help or hindrance being accepted as a serious composer? Seasoned director Peter Rosen, who has produced and directed over 100 full-length films and television programs on the luminaries of the art world, captures Getty, the musician, at work and in candid conversation with fellow composer and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas about his creative process and vision. He even captures a few of Getty’s endearing expletives─“Jeepers creepers!” and “Holy flying mackerel.” Schooled at San Francisco’s Conservatory for Music in the early 1960’s, Getty studied music theory with Sol Joseph. His business career and responsibilities as head of the Getty Foundation impinged on his time for composition and it wasn’t until the 1980s when Getty published his first work, The White Election, a song cycle on Emily Dickinson poems. He’s actually spent decades of his life carefully working and honing his music and his oeuvre includes “Joan and the Bells,” “Plump Jack,” “Usher House,” “Poor Peter,” “Four Dickinson Songs,” “The White Election” and more─pieces that have been performed all over the world. (2015, 68 min) Screens Friday, April 1, 5:30 PM, Vintage House (Getty will be present) and Saturday, April 2, Andrews Hall, 2:30 PM
The Messenger: Making a documentary is a labor of love that often takes years to realize. To understand what was happening with global populations of songbirds, Canadian director Su Rynard and her team followed songbirds on three different continents through several seasons. The message of her riveting documentary is urgent─songbirds are disappearing and many species are in serious decline. Changes in our world have brought utter catastrophe to theirs and soon they will be gone. Each year, twice a year, songbirds embark on a dangerous and difficult migratory journey. Every species has its own story to tell but the resounding commonality is that songbirds are in danger. Whose song will we hear when they are gone? The film is full of gorgeous shots of birds and clips of bird songs. (2015, 90 min) (Screens: Friday, April 1, 2:30 PM at Andrews Hall and Sunday, April 3, 9:30 AM at Vintage House)
ARThound’s previous festival coverage:
Details: The 19th Sonoma International Film Festival starts Wednesday, March 30 and runs through Sunday, April 2, 2016. To enjoy guaranteed access to all films, themed nightly parties in SIFF Village’s Backlot Tent, after parties, receptions, and industry events and panels, buy all inclusive passes online at sonomafilmfest.org. A limited number of $15 tickets are available for each film screening too and these will sell out rapidly, so purchase these in advance online at sonomafilmfest.org.