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.