Napa Valley Film Festival Carries On

Festivals
by Peter Belsito
March 2, 2012 12:10 PM
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A few weeks back I had the distinct pleasure of attending and serving on the jury of the premiere edition of Napa Valley Film Festival. I want to promote / publicize their 2nd outing later this year but first I want to use this forum to say why I think they at Napa – and events like them worldwide – are so important now.

The Problem with the Movies Today

Distribution is broke.  Worldwide, not just here in the US.  This is not an attack on our many dear friends who work in that field but a statement of fact.  Or, to put it another way, people cannot see the films they want and need to see.  Likewise films cannot find their audiences. The ‘demographic’ that wants to see them – and pay for the pleasure to support the work and the filmmakers – are frustrated by the current chaos and disruption of the system.

There are two (relatively) small but vigorous and important areas in the US and elsewhere where this ‘existential’ problem is being addressed, acted upon and various solutions being tried.  This as the environment is shifting daily.To me the proliferation these days of festivals worldwide reflects basically a demand and hunger of the public to see what’s new, different and good in cinema.

Theaters I refer you to the good work of our friends at Art House Convergence. We attended the recent pre-Sundance Utah meeting and got to meet many friends from around the US who are passionate about their local theaters and audiences and finding and showing those special films.

Festivals Years back in my boyhood there were maybe 3 Festivals- Cannes, Venice, New York. When I was in college at Madison in the ‘60’s we had the Film Society.  Folding chairs, 16mm scratchy prints but we saw a lot that was different and new.There are 2 kinds of festivals. The ‘big four’ (Cannes, Berlin, Toronto, Sundance) and maybe 5 if you count in Venice, which I normally do not (important, busy but small and limited in mandate).  These fests generally go after a certain type of film (Berlin is huge but it really made its name – and still maintains much of its prominence – for showcasing world GLBT cinema) and have power and reach in selection.  They also have very active ‘market’ segments (business activity) both de jura (Berlin, Cannes) but also de facto (Sundance, Toronto).  The press goes, the trade goes but despite their great influence and reach these fests can be pretty small events, relatively speaking.  Cannes – 100 films or so.  Sundance – 130 or so.  Toronto and Berlin are larger but these are all ‘only’ 10 day events. The other kind, are the thousands of events worldwide, film festivals that have various mandates, mainly to serve regional or local audiences or tastes

So we come to the smashingly successful (after its first year) event in Napa.  Their motto?? Film. Food. Wine. Catalysts for Conversation...They really delivered on all counts.

I was impressed by their films this past year but the parties were something special.  Anyone who knows me knows we go to a lot of parties for work during the year.  Daytime – meetings, films.  Nighttime – 2nd shift, parties, more work, eat out of your hands.

I have to say that Napa was very civilized in this regard.  The food was exceptional, the wine even better and it was all so comfortable.  The locals attending (there were lots!!) were interesting people with much to say.  It gave me pause.  Napa Valley has been an area I have come to over many years and periods in my life and I thought I knew the place but this was new and special – and impressive.

I next quote freely from their press release announcing NVFF 2012 :

'The Napa Valley Film Festival (NVFF) is now accepting film submissions for the second annual event. Showcasing the best of new independent cinema while embracing the epicurean pleasures of Napa Valley. NVFF unspools November 7 - 11, 2012 with a five-day series of events spread over four of the Napa Valley’s towns. The film festival welcomes submissions of any genre and will be selecting approximately 75 new films, including narrative features, documentaries, world cinema, short films, animation, and student works. Organizers are looking for films that will best entertain, inspire, educate and intrigue audiences.’

NVFF categories eligible for Jury and/or Audience Awards include:

  1. -U.S. Narrative Feature
  2. -U.S. Documentary Feature
  3. -U.S. Narrative Short
  4. -U.S. Documentary Short Subject


Directors of films in competition for Best Narrative Feature participate in NVFF’s Artists-in-Residence program in partnership for the five nights of the festival and are treated to special events and workshops with their competition group and industry mentors.

Mentors who participated in the inaugural NVFF this past November included:

  1. John Sloss of Cinetic Media (who also served as President of the Jury) 
  2. Michael De Luca producer, (BUTTER  starring Jennifer Garner also screened at the festival)
  3. J. Todd Harris, indie producer (BLACK IRISH)
  4. James Cromwell, actor (THE ARTIST, and NVFF Narrative Competition Selection, A YEAR IN MOORING).


At 2011’s Closing Night Awards Ceremony, jury members Peter Belsito (Film Finders, indieWIRE) and film critic Kirk Honeycutt presented the $10,000 cash prize for Best Narrative Feature to MAMITAS, filmmaker Nicolas Ozeki’s first feature. Meadowood Napa Valley will once again award the Best Narrative Feature Director with $10,000; as well, the Mt Veeder Appellation will present a $1,000 Peak Performance Award to the Best Actor in a Narrative Feature.

Filmmakers can submit films at Withoutabox.com beginning February 1. For early submission with discounted entry fees, deadline is February 29; regular submission deadline is April 16; late submission deadline is May 31; and the final extended submission deadline (for withoutabox members only) is June 28.

Visit www.napavalleyfilmfest.org for full details.

The festival's co-creators (and Cinema Napa Valley Founders) are Brenda and Marc Lhormer, producers and distributors of the feature film BOTTLE SHOCK, about the historic upset victory by Napa Valley wines over the French at the infamous 1976 wine-tasting competition in Paris. BOTTLE SHOCK premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival before going on to international theatrical distribution. The husband-and-wife team also ran the successful Sonoma Valley Film Festival from 2001 through 2008. In addition to producing the annual Napa Valley Film Festival, Cinema Napa Valley presents special film programs throughout the year and provides support to student filmmaking programs in Napa Valley schools.

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