Yesterday was another winsome but unique day in the Sonoma County wine country. The 15th Annual Sonoma International Film Festival, which kicked off on Wednesday evening with a few films, was in full film mode yesterday, Thursday April 12th, including a star-studded tribute to actor Christopher Lloyd at the main screening venue, the Sebastiani Theater.
With eight (8) screening venues surrounding the historic Sonoma Plaza, renamed Sonomawood for the event and dozens of mostly independent films being screened over the five (5) days, this town will rock with sometimes odd and other times deeply evocative films that it should not be missed.
Screenings began at about 9:30AM daily and run through the last screening of each day which starts typically about 8:30PM. One venue, the Women’s Club Theater, renamed the New Belgium Pub after its sponsor; the New Belgium Brewing Company of Fort Collins, CO hosted a cabaret style screening room with specialty food, popcorn and free beer available to festival guests and film makers. The theme for Thursday evening was the cycle of life and several short subject films preceded the much-anticipated documentary about the late Governor of California Pat Brown.
Seven short subjects dealt with life and death and were all very heartfelt. The glowing message that came through them all is that life is beautiful, fragile and so very worth living that you better pay attention before it slips away. One especially upbeat film ran only 8 minutes and was a recitation of a word piece based upon poetry written and performed by Derrick Brown. Titled “A Finger, Two Dots, Then Me”, it is a rapid fire look at life, love and death performed in a venue much like a standup club but includes visual images synched to the words. Very unique and reminiscent of the 1950s beat poetry of Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. The crowd loved it. Also whimsical but with strong messages were, “Sunnyview”, “Nanuq”, “Stage IV: Living with Cancer”, “Death Inc.” and “Love Is All You Need”. “The Contract” was fascinating as a story of love, promises made and kept and the reality that there are consequences for all deals made and desires expressed and fulfilled. The filmmakers for many of these films were present for Q & A. The makers of The Contract were asked for the motivation for this film and the response shared was (again paraphrasing), “I asked my father what his greatest fear in life was and he said, living to see my children die”. You’ll have to see the movie to see how that was expressed on film.
The ‘feature’ film at the ‘Belgium Pub Theater’ was “California State of Mind: The Legacy of Pat Brown”. Written and Directed by Sascha Rice, grand-daughter of former Governor Brown, it is a historical view of the golden era of California this film chronicles, lovingly but with healthy sense of reality the challenges and success of Governor Brown in leading California to truly become a Mega-State in the 60s. Filled with relevant political figures of the time and present day, the film does not deify Brown but it does make backhanded slaps at other historical figures in California politics like Richard Nixon (who Brown defeated to win his second term) and Ronald Reagan (who defeated Brown in his run for a third term). Ultimately, a true story of an ordinary man possessing solid values, principles and leadership who achieving his full potential living the American Dream.
Maybe John Lennon had it right when he told the story about his first year in school and the teacher asked all the children (and I paraphrase) “What do you want to be when they grew up?” John answered “happy”. The teacher told him he didn’t understand the assignment and John replied that, no, the teacher “didn’t understand life”.
All in all, Thursday night was exceptional as a wine country and a film experience. Stand by, or better yet, get tickets for the rest of the festival including the La Quinceañera Film Fiesta honoring Spanish language film makers from around the world.