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Geneva Anderson digs into art

Bernardo Ruiz’s “Harvest Season,” introduces the unsung Latino and Mexican-American heroes of Napa Valley’s wine industry—world premiere Saturday, MVFF41

VanessaRobledo

Vanessa Robledo, a Napa viticulturist, is profiled in Bernardo Ruiz’s documentary, Harvest Season, which was filmed in Napa and has its world premiere Saturday at MVFF41.  Filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz, Producer Lauren Capps and subjects Vanessa Robledo, Maria Robledo, Angel Calderon, and Gustavo Brambila will be in attendance. Image: Roberto “Bear” Guerra

Two Latina viticulturists from Sonoma, Vanessa Robledo and her mother Maria Robledo; long-time activist for affordable farmworker housing, Angel Caldero; H-2A temporary worker from Michoacán, René Reyes Ornelas; and Napa winemaker Gustavo Brambila, all co-star in Bernardo Ruiz’s new documentary feature Harvest Season (2018), which has its world premiere at the 41st Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF41) on Saturday, October 13, 2018 and then will be shown again on Sunday, October 14, 2018.  The film is part of the festival’s ¡Viva el Cine! line-up which showcases 15 award-winning Latin American and Spanish language films during the course of the 10 day festival which kicks off Thursday evening.

“The big impulse for the film,” said Ruiz, speaking from his office in New York, “is that I love wine and I love Northern CA.  It took three years to make this and the film is really a love letter to immigrant Napa and the generations of people who have been working the field picking grapes and, through hard work, become entrepreneurs themselves.”

Bernardo Ruiz, director of Harvest Season. Photo courtesy: Bernardo Ruiz

This is Ruiz’s third feature documentary, following Reportero (2012), about violence against the press in Mexico for reporting on drug trafficking and government collusion and Kingdom of Shadows (2015), a front-line view into Mexico’s drug war from the perspective of three workers dealing with its fall-out.  The two-time Emmy® nominated filmmaker is also heavily involved in documentary television. When we spoke, he was hard at work on a series he was producing for documentarian Alex Gibney.

“There are so many films out there about rock-star vintners, high profile people in the industry,” said Ruiz.  “We’re trying to highlight and celebrate the behind-the-scenes players, often small producers whose roots are tied to working these fields or, in Angel’s case someone dedicated to improving the lives of workers.”

Ruiz cites two films as highly inspirational: Morgan Neville’s Oscar winning 20 feet from Stardom (2013), which focused a long-overdue spotlight on the contribution of back-up singers to musical hits, and John Else’s Sing Faster: The Stagehand’s Ring Cycle (1999) which presents Wagner’s Ring Cycle from the point of view of the stage hands at San Francisco Opera. Harvest Season tells four stories to shine a light on the hard-working individuals in Napa’s wine industry who have often propped up the rock stars and recently stepped out into their own ventures.

Ruiz was born in Guanajuato Mexico (central Mexico) to an American mother and Mexican father and moved New York when he was six and has lived there ever since. “I’m very interested in stories about immigration and the relationship between the US and Mexico.  A number of news outlets have done broad profiles of the Mexican-American and Latino vintners and, slowly, we’re starting to see more reporting about that.  Mexican-American vintners are the underdogs in the huge Napa constellation and I wanted to explore that further, bring their stories forward.

Ruiz began researching the film and doing a little shooting in Dec 2015 but the bulk of filming took place during the harvest in the summer and fall of 2017.   He filmed during the fires, which is a thread in the story but doesn’t overwhelm the film.

“I actually had an interview scheduled the 8th of October and went out to Napa and, just like everybody else, witnessed the devastation.  For the next two weeks, with various crew members, I filmed—destruction, shelters and did lots of interviews.  What impressed me was the way people mobilized so quickly, pulled together, and how particularly devastating this was to the community I was documenting.”

Vanessa Robledo, Maria Robledo

Vanessa Robledo (seated) and her mother Maria Robledo.  Image: Art & Clarity/Janna Waldinger

 

Ruiz interviewed Vanessa and Maria Robledo during an early scouting trip. “Here were these two women running a Napa vineyard. Vanessa is an accomplished entrepreneur, but she is genuine and passionate about the wine business and that passion gives her a quiet power.  They are a tiny but growing operation and tell the story of small women producers who are doing something very interesting.”

Vanessa Robledo, founder and CEO of VR Wine Business Consulting, was born in Sonoma and is a fourth generation grape grower.  As president of the Robledo Family Winery, started by her father Reynaldo Robledo, she took the winery from a 100 case producer in 1997 to a thriving 20,000 cases by 2007, over 80 percent of which was direct to consumer.  She then went on to become majority owner of the successful cult winery, Black Coyote Chateau, where she doubled the company’s production and sales.

Maria de la Luz Robledo, Vanessa’s mother, was born in Michoacán, Mexico and followed her husband, Reynaldo, to California in 1973.  She and Reynaldo worked in the fields, raised nine children, bought land, planted their own vineyards and started their own winery, opening the first tasting room in the US run by a former Mexican migrant vineyard worker.

The two women joined forces following a divorce that left Maria reeling and a desire on Vanessa’s part to get back to the land and grapes.  They began improving quality, replanting, and renegotiating contracts and are really enjoying collaorating.

Angel Calderon

Angel Calderon. Image: Roberto “Bear” Guerra

Harvest Season also explores the lifestyles and needs of vineyard workers through the stories of Angel Calderon, who has been active on the housing front for two decades and René Reyes Ornelas, an H-2A temporary worker from Michoacán, Mexico.

One of workers’ main concerns is affordable, safe, and convenient permanent housing.  Costs continue to rise in Napa County— the median rent is now $2,750 per month and the median home price is roughly $800,000, while many workers are paid $15-$25 an hour.  As the labor market shifts from a migrant to a year-round workforce, affordable housing is more critical than ever.  Angel Calderon immigrated to the US in 1980 and worked as a cook at Silverado Country Club and Meadowood and, even then, affordable housing was an issue.  Calderon manages River Ranch Farm Workers Housing (three housing centers) in St. Helena which provides no frills housing at roughly $14 day for farm workers and is vital in ensuring that workers needs are met.

René Reyes Ornelas

René Reyes Ornelas. Image: Roberto “Bear” Guerra

While documenting the Mahoney harvest in Napa, Ruiz met René Reyes Ornelas, a 41 year-old Mexican farmworker who became one of his central characters.  California employs about one third of the nation’s roughly 2.5 million farmworkers. With immigration raids occurring across the state, growers and labor contractors are increasingly relying on the H-2A, or guestworker program, which permits the importation of foreign nationals into the U.S. in order to fill temporary agricultural jobs.  This was René’s second harvest in Sonoma.  The nine months he spends away from his wife and two daughters is burdensome but, in the wine country, he earns in an hour what he earns in a day driving a truck back home in Michoacán.

Gustavo Brambila

Winemaker Gustavo Brambila. Image: Roberto “Bear” Guerra

Gustavo Brambila is a Napa Valley winemaker who was one of the first Mexican-Americans to earn a degree in fermentation science from UC Davis.  If the name Brambila is familiar, Freddy Rodriguez portrayed him in the famous film, Bottle-Shock (2008).  Brambila was at Chateau Montelena in 1976 when the famed “Judgment of Paris” blind tasting took place that pitted the some of the finest wines in France against unknown California wines.  It was a 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay created by Mike Grgich, who was then the chief winemaker at Montelena, that beat out the French white burgundies.  After the big win, Grgich branched out on his own and Brambila followed to work as winemaker and general manager for Grgich Hills. After 23 years, in 1996, Brambila created his own label Gustavo Wine.  By 2002, he had started his own winery and vineyard management company.  He does things a little differently: officially, he is based in Napa’s Crusher District and leases vineyards to get the grapes and his son runs the vineyard management company that cares for them.  This allows Brambila to operate with more freedom, less regulation and at much less cost than actual land ownership.

Ruiz is excited about the world premiere at MVFF.   “This is an indie film and, like a boutique winery, we make limited editions of things, no mass production.  It means a lot to premiere at Mill Valley, where many in the audience will be personally connected to the people we’ve profiled.”  Ruiz, so far, has invitations to at least three other film festivals, (he’s embargoed on mentioning names until Oct 10); there will be select screenings in New York and California and then the film will be broadcast nationally on PBS in spring 2019.  “We’re very interested in showing the film all over Northern CA.”

To read ARThound’s article about MVFF’s wonderful  ¡Viva el Cine! programming, with film recommendations, click here.

DetailsHarvest Season has its world premiere and screens twice at MVFF41: Saturday, Oct 13, 2 pm at Sequoia Theater and Sunday, Oct 14, 2:45 pm at Larkspur Theater.  Purchase tickets here.

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October 10, 2018 Posted by | Film, Wine | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 39th Mill Valley Film Festival is October 6-16 and it’s a very good year

 

 

Ethiopian writer-director Yared Zeleke’s feature debut film, “The Lamb” (2015) will screen twice at the 39th Mill Valley Film Festival, and the filmmaker will attend both screenings and participate in an audience Q & A. “The Lamb” wasthe first Ethiopian film ever named an official Cannes selection, made a huge splash at Cannes in 2015. This drama, which unfolds in Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia, is the story of a young boy, Ephriam (Rediat Amare), who, after his mother’s death, is left to live with his cousins while his father heads off to Addis Abba in search of work. He becomes attached to a goat, Chuni, and when his relatives make plans to sacrifice the goat, he and Chuni go on the run. Much of the film is an exploration of family life in Ethiopia, a land of stunning landscapes and drought-stricken arid areas, where the labor-intensive electricity-free lifestyle is far removed from that in the West. The film is especially recommended for families. Image: MVFF

Ethiopian writer-director Yared Zeleke’s feature debut film, “The Lamb” (2015) screens twice at the 39th Mill Valley Film Festival, and the filmmaker will attend both screenings and participate in audience Q & A’s.  The first Ethiopian film ever named an official Cannes selection, “The Lamb” made a huge splash at Cannes. This drama, which unfolds in Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia, is the story of a young boy, Ephriam (Rediat Amare), who, after his mother’s death, is left to live with his cousins while his father heads off to Addis Abba in search of work. He becomes attached to an endearing goat, Chuni, and when his relatives make plans to sacrifice the goat, he and Chuni go on the run. Much of the film is an exploration of family life in Ethiopia, a land of stunning landscapes and drought-stricken arid areas, where the labor-intensive electricity-free lifestyle is far removed from that in the West. The film is especially recommended for families. Image: MVFF

 

With the onset of fall, Bay Area moviegoing options start to multiply like crazy.  The Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF), October 6-16 2016, is hard to beat.  The 39th edition offers a line-up of 200 films—winners from Cannes, Berlin, and Toronto as well as an eclectic mix of features, documentaries, shorts, world cinema and films with a Bay Area stamp—all selected for our discriminating Bay Area audience by programmer Zoe Elton and her seasoned team.  The legendary festival kicks off on Thursday evening, October 6, with two of Hollywood’s hottest fall films—La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s (Whiplash MVFF 2014) love letter to dreamers, artists, and Hollywood with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone and Denis Vileneuve’s (Sicario) riveting and thoughtful drama, Arrival, starring five time Oscar-nominee Amy Adams as a linguistics professor who communicates with aliens in a bid to save the planet. Actually, in a move to satisfy everyone’s tastes, there are four films screening on Thursday evening, so add Mick Jackson’s Denial starring Rachael Weiss and Rob Nilsson’s  Love Twice  to the mix but they are not being billed as opening nighters. Special Tributes will honor Academy Award winning actress Nicole Kidman in a program that includes a screening of her new film with Dev Patel,  Lion, and acclaimed filmmaker and author Julie Dash, who will appear in conversation following a screening of her recently restored  Daughters of  the Dust (1991).  The festival closes with Jeff Nichols’ Loving, which tells the real life story of the struggle, imprisonment and 1960’s Supreme Court battle Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) Loving experienced in one of America’s early interracial marriages.

The festival unfolds in San Rafael, Corte Madera, Larkspur and Mill Valley.  For North Bay residents, getting there and parking is considerably more time efficient and cheaper than it is in San Francisco.  If you want to go, pre-purchase your tickets now as this popular festival tends to sell out before it starts.  There is ample choice right now but not for long.  I recommend seeing films where the filmmaker or actors will be in attendance.  Also, check the new program guide for Smith Rafael Film Center.  Several of the festival films are screening there within the next two months and it doesn’t make sense to pay a premium to see them at the festival and wait in long lines unless there are special guests attending that make it worthwhile.

ARThound’s top picks:

Neruda/Spotlight Gael Garcia Bernal—Mon, Oct 10

Actor Gael García Bernal stars in director Pablo Larraíns new film, "Neruda."

Actor Gael García Bernal, the focus of a MVFF Spotlight, stars in director Pablo Larraíns new film, “Neruda.”

The foreign film line-up is especially strong this year.  Chilean Director Pablo Larrain’s Neruda, Chile’s foreign language Oscar nominee, takes center stage in a special Spotlight presentation honoring Mexican actor-director-producer Gael Garcia Bernal.  The drama is set in 1948 and Bernal plays a police inspector who is charged with finding the fugitive Communist politician and poet, Pablo Neruda, when he goes underground.  In Larrain’s capable hands, the film morphs into a soulful exploration of Chile’s historical dance with heroes and villains and Bernal as the inspector becomes a key figure, obsessed with finding Neruda who has managed to make him his pawn.  Bernal will appear in an onstage conversation covering his extensive career.

 

The Salesman—Fri, Oct 7 and Wed, Oct 12

Shahab Hosseini (L) and Taraneh Alidoosti in a scene from Ashgar Farhadi’s “The Salesman.”

Shahab Hosseini (L) and Taraneh Alidoosti in a scene from Ashgar Farhadi’s “The Salesman.”

I can’t remember when the festival last hosted an Iranian filmmaker but, over the year’s, we’ve reveled in their creativity, courage and unparalleled story-telling.  This year, acclaimed Academy Award and Golden Globe winning writer-director Ashgar Farhadi (A Separation) will appear in person to answer questions after the two screenings of his new Tehran-set drama The Salesman.   The film picked up Best Screenplay and Best Actor awards at Cannes and was selected as the Iranian nominee for the Best Foreign Language Oscar.  The Salesman is the suspenceful story of a young Persian couple who are part-time actors in Tehran in the Arthur Miller play Death of a Salesman. Their relationship is strained after they move into a new flat and the wife is attacked while she is taking a shower.  The flat’s previous occupant, a woman who was allegedly involved in prostitution, is never seen but her presence grows as the film progresses.  At Cannes, Shahab Hosseini, the husband, won the award for Best Actor.

 

Lamb—Sat, Oct 8 and Tues, Oct 11

A scene from Yared Zeleke's "Lamb."

A scene from Yared Zeleke’s “Lamb.”

A rarity for MVFF is an Ethiopian film, in Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia. Writer-director Yared Zeleke’s first feature, Lamb, was the first Ethiopian film ever named an official Cannes selection. The 37 year-old director made Variety magazine’s “10 Screenwriters to Watch” list for 2015.   The story revolves around an Ethiopian boy who loses his mother and moves in with relatives and becomes attached to a pet lamb, Chuni, as a way of dealing with loss and grief.  He also takes up cooking which is unacceptable to his uncle who considers it girl’s work.  The story hits close to home for the director. When he was just 10, Zeleke’s own father was imprisoned by the Derg regme (the ruling military Communist regime that was in power in Ethiopia from 1974 to 1987) and his mother remarried and he went to live with his grandmother.  Ultimately, Zeleke was reunited with his father and they lived together in the US but the happy days he had with both loving parents together were long gone.  Filmmaker in attendance for both screenings.

Frantz—Fri, Oct 7 and Fri, Oct 14

Paula Beer and Pierre Niney in a scene from François Ozon’s “Frantz.”

Paula Beer and Pierre Niney in a scene from François Ozon’s “Frantz.”

French director François Ozon (Swimming Pool, 8 Women, Under the Sand) always stirs me with subtle demonstrations of his artistry and deep understanding of human nature.   His latest film, Frantz, a romantic drama set in the aftermath of WWI in the small German town of Quedlingburg, is a layered portrait of grief.  The story evolves from a strange graveside encounter between a young German woman (Paula Beer) grieving her fiancé and a Frenchman, Adrian (Pierre Niney), who also visits the fiancé’s grave to leave flowers.  He claims to have been friends with her fiancé and, slowly, she begins to develop feelings for him.  Shot in black and white, with brief interludes of color, the film is a loose adaptation of Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 drama Broken Lullaby which itself was based on a play by French playwright Maurice Rostand.  Niney, whose elegant face would have inspired Michelangelo, won a Cesar award for his outstanding performance in Jalil Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent (2014).

Mom and Other Loonies in the Family—Sat, Oct 15 and Sun, Oct 16

Eszter Ónodi (seated) in a scene from Ibolya Fekete’s “Mom and Other Loonies in the Family.”

Eszter Ónodi (seated) in a scene from Ibolya Fekete’s “Mom and Other Loonies in the Family.”

Hungarian director Ibolya Fekete’s Mom and Other Loonies in the Family revolves around a 94 year-old grandmother with dementia who relates her life story to her daughter.  It’s a heartwarming recounting, told through flashbacks over four generations of crazies.  She was a mother on the run who moved twenty-seven times—and the film spans all of the 20th century, meandering through epic moments in Hungarian and world history.   Her “present” is a time that is infused with struggles, declining health and the confusing intervention of past events.  Her past was committed to keeping the family together at any cost.  The story is based on the filmmaker’s own family and stories related to her by relatives.  Characters appear in archival footage and in well-known Hungarian films as if they were actually in those films. Eszter Ónodi shines as the reliable yet somewhat whimsical woman who moved too many times and just wants to stand on her own two feet.  Her ninety four-year old demented self is played by Danuta Szaflarska who credibly plays the role by reverting to childlike responses.

Green is Gold—Sat, Oct 8 and Sun, Oct 9

Jimmy Baxter (L) and Ryan Baxter (R) in a scene from Ryan Baxter's "Green is Gold."

Jimmy Baxter (L) and Ryan Baxter (R) in a scene from Ryan Baxter’s “Green is Gold.”

I have a weakness for films that are set in Northern, California, where I grew up.  Sonoma State University graduate  Ryan Baxter’s first feature,  Green is Gold, is set in rural Sonoma County and is a family bonds over pot business story that picked up the Audience Best Fiction Film award at the Los Angeles Film Festival for its poetic filmmaking and emotional truth.  Ryan Baxter, the writer, director, editor and star, plays the older brother, Cameron, a black market potrepneur ( a real word I picked up at the Heirloom Festival) who is forced to take care of his younger brother, Jimmy (his real life brother, Jimmy Baxter) when their dad is imprisoned.  Cameron tries to put some distance between the kid and the cannabis business, which involves considerable risk but high payoffs, but, soon Jimmy is knee deep in buds and the two find themselves embarking on a dangerous pot delivery journey that will either leave them rolling in dough or six feet under.  Ryan Baxter, actor Jimmy Baxtor, and rest of cast and crew in attendance at both screenings.)

Unleashed—Wed, Oct 12 and Thurs, Oct 13

A scene from Finn Taylor's "Unleashed," with Kate Micucci (L) and Justin Chatwin (R) who was once her energetic dog, Summit, and has reentered her life as a full grown man. The film screens twice at MVFF with filmmaker, producer and Kate Miccuci in attendance.

A scene from Finn Taylor’s “Unleashed,” with Kate Micucci (L) and Justin Chatwin (R) who was once her energetic dog, Summit, and has reentered her life as a full grown man. The film screens twice at MVFF with filmmaker, producer and Kate Miccuci in attendance.

What if your pets turned into full-grown men?  I couldn’t resist the whacky 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.

Details MVFF 39:

The 39th Mill Valley Film Festival opens on Thursday, October 6 and runs through Sunday, October 16, 2016.  Buy tickets online now at http://www.mvff.com/.  Most tickets for films are $14 and special programs starts at $25.

October 1, 2016 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment