1987 — Festival’s inception
In 1987, Napa Valley and Sonoma County did not have a single movie screen dedicated to independent, international or art films. The Cold War was still raging. Apartheid was a blight on South Africa. Against this backdrop, a new breed of American artists was making groundbreaking films that represented fresh ideas.Platoon was poised to sweep the Oscars. Hannah and Her Sisters, The Mission, Mona Lisa and A Room with a View were among the year’s best.
Stephen Ashton was a local filmmaker living in Sonoma Valley. Upon his return from Colorado’s prestigious Telluride Film Festival, he decided to bring filmmakers and their inspiring films to our area. He believed that cinema would inspire us to go beyond our limitations. His passion became his mission: to establish a film festival that would make a difference – one that would alter people’s perceptions of one another, bridge cultural gaps and would venture into territories providing insight into the world of the arts, social issues and international understanding.
When the last frame went dark on May 4, 1987, Stephen’s dream – the Wine Country Film Festival – proved to be a winner.
The festival’s program of 35 films with attending filmmakers and engaging exchanges had challenged us and changed how we looked at the world. Filmmakers inspired us with tales of the making of their remarkable films. They included Jeremy Larner (The Candidate), Richard Boyle (Salvador), Ron Shelton (Time Under Fire), Rob Nilsson (On the Edge) and Paul Jarrico (The Salt of the Earth). Eager for more of this amazing experience, we formed more committees and started to plan for year two.
1988 — Talent galore
Quick to outgrow four days and four nights, our festival grew to 8 days/8 nights in three towns, including Petaluma, Santa Rosa and Healdsburg. It also took place in July and August. Our program format included four film series: American Independent Features (now called U.S. Cinema), Arts in Film, International Films (now called World Cinema) and Films from Commitment (now called Cinema of Conscience). We dedicated our festival to the late Paul Kohner, whose special kind of magic was felt throughout Hollywood for five decades. We welcomed filmmaker Irakli Kvirikadze, our first international guest, from the Republic of Georgia in the USSR (at that time). We were all anxious to learn about the effect of Glasnost on his country, which incidentally is believed to be the birthplace of winegrowing.
1988 also marked a large increase in the number of celebrities, directors, producers and notables who attended the event including: Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr, Spalding Gray, Mare Winningham, Dean Stockwell and Anthony Edwards. Our opening night premiere film, A Fish Called Wanda- starring Kevin Kline, John Cleese and Jamie Lee Curtis- made the critics’ top ten list that year. Before the world premiere of Married to the Mob, our first tribute went to its director, Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Stop Making Sense). The onstage interview was hosted by Charles Champlin, Los Angeles Times art editor, who later wrote, “This is a pleasant surprise – a film festival without all the glitz and glamour. Intimate, thought provoking – sure to be one of the best.”
1989 – Festival expands to 10 days
Taking another significant step to establish itself as one of the most rewarding events in the region, our festival expanded to 10 days/10 nights, featured over 70 films and added to our program The Planetary Series (now called EcoCinema). We welcomed from the Kazakh filmmaker, activist and dissident Rashid Nugmanov, scores of independent filmmakers and actors including: Oscar winner Lynn Redgrave, Oscar nominee Sally Kirkland and actor David Carradine (of Kill Bill II fame). Highlights included opening night’s hilarious When Harry Met Sally by Rob Reiner, starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies, and videotape, Barbara Trent’s explosive Cover Up: Behind the Iran Contra Affair and a master class on acting with Michael York and Carradine. Closing night’s premiere Blood Hounds of Broadway starred Matt Dillon, Randy Quaid and Madonna.
1990 — Festival expands to Napa
Bigger than ever, our festival hopped over the mountains into Napa County to present films at the Vista Cinema in Calistoga. Highlights included scores of films about the planet, including Gaia: The Living Planet, For Earth’s Sake: The Life and Times of David Brower and If Dolphins Could Talk. Ashton expanded his festival circuit, traveling to Toronto, Russia, Berlin and Cannes in search of international gems for our local viewing. Our first Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Dudley Moore. Festivities included a reception at Viansa Winery in Sonoma Valley, a luncheon at Korbel Champagne Cellars in Guerneville and a tribute at the Lincoln Theater in Napa Valley. These intimate hours with Dudley are treasured memories. We will never forget his piano performance at the Lincoln Theater, nor will we forget his generosity, goodwill and comic genius.
1991 — Fifth anniversary
By our fifth anniversary season, we had hit our stride. Returning to Healdsburg, Petaluma and Calistoga, our festival expanded to 12 days/12 nights. With growing international acclaim, we premiered over 80 films and added Music in Film to the program.
We established a sister film festival in Odessa, on the Black Sea. We premiered the stunning and provocative A Day in October by Oscar® winner Just Betzer (Babette’s Feast) in person. The ever entertaining Rip Torn, as Walt Whitman, mesmerized us with a reading of poems preceding the film Beautiful Dreamers. In the Arts in Film series, David and Albert Maysle’s Christo in Paris was the standout documentary. Other highlights included the sold out screening and world premiere of The Linguini Incident, starring David Bowie with director Richard Shepard (The Matador) on hand, and Vojtech Jasny’s Why Havel?, narrated by Milos Forman. This film is an intimate look at one of the most extraordinary figures of our time, Vaclac Havel, the dissident playwright who became President of Czechoslovakia.
1992 — Outdoor screenings begin
We launched Films al Fresco™, our spectacular outdoor film screenings, at the Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley. Lina Wertmuller’s Saturday, Sunday and Monday, starring Sophia Loren, was the perfect al fresco film to kick off this program. Today, our Festival shows more 35mm films outdoors than any other festival in North America. Nicolas Cage attended the screening of Honeymoon in Vegas. To further our understanding of other cultures, we added Discover the Americas (now CineLatino.)
We introduced our Poster Artist Series, featuring world-renowned artists LeRoy Neiman, Sam Francis, Rick Garcia, Renato Casaro, Lu Hong, Patrick Morrison, Bob Nugent, Rafal Olbinski and Wosene Kosrof who created original art pieces for our festival. Film legend cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond attended the festival with his first directing effort, The Long Shadow.
1993 — Nastassja Kinski graces us
Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet opened the Fest at the Uptown in Napa. Baraka, with its stunning juxtaposition of images and music, was spectacular under the stars at Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma,with Producer Mark Magidson in attendance. An evening with Nastassja Kinski, with an onstage interview conducted by Michael Krasny, preceded La Bionda. During the outdoor screening of Le Souper, we served a three-course meal featuring a whole lamb roasted on a spit.
1994 — Gregory Peck honored
Our opening night film, Tin Cup, starred Cheech Marin, Rene Russo and Kevin Costner. The film was introduced by Marin who, earlier that day, hosted a celebrity golf tournament. Our Life Achievement Award went to the legendary Gregory Peck at Rutherford Hill Winery in Napa Valley. We honored his career as an actor and his work with the American Civil Liberties Union and other humanitarian progressive movements. He and his wife stayed for the weekend and attended smaller get-togethers with valley residents.
1995 — Anthony Quinn honored
Our opening night premiere was Gus Van Sant’s To Die For, starring Nicole Kidman and Matt Dillon. Anthony Quinn received our third Lifetime Achievement Award at Clos Pegase Winery in Calistoga. He was honored for both his acting career and his magnificent talent as a painter and sculptor. Alfonso Arau’s A Walk in the Clouds, starring Quinn, Keanu Reeves and Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, screened al fresco at Viansa Winery. 1995 marked the 100th anniversary of cinema. Special events included an evening with Eleanor Keaton, who came to the festival to honor her husband Buster Keaton at the screening of his classic The Cameraman, Claude Massot’s Kabloonak and Splendor, starring Marcello Mastroianni. Closing night premiere film at Viansa Winery was John Boorman’s Beyond Rangoon, starring Patricia Arquette, Aung Ko and Frances McDormand.
1996 — 10th anniversary
Turner Classic Movies partnered with us to present the newly restored silent film Faust, by F.W. Murnau. The film screened outdoors at Viansa Winery with live musical accompaniment and a performance by opera soprano Diane Di Stasio. We established the David L. Wolper Documentary Film Prize, named after the renowned film producer (Roots, The Thorn Birds). We proudly presented O Quatrilho, by Brazilian director Fabio Barreto. Sonoma County’s internationally known Little Fiddlers performed before Alan Miller’s Oscar nominated Fiddlefest. Martin Sulik’s The Garden– Slovakia’s official submission to the Oscars- won our 1996 Best of the Festival International Award.
1997 — Screenings in Jack London State Park
Our Valley of the Moon Cinema™ unspooled films outdoors in Jack London’s old winery ruins in Glen Ellen for the next six years. Presenting a stellar program of over 100+ films from around the globe, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “Like a fine wine, this festival gets better with age.”
Miramax’s Shall We Dance, by Masayuki Suo, opened the festival. Hallmark Entertainment’s version of The Call of the Wild, starring Rutger Hauer and narrated by Richard Dreyfuss, stayed true to London’s original tale. A tribute to Philip Kaufman (The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Right Stuff, Henry and June) preceded White Dawn, starring Louis Gosset Jr. and Warren Oates. Carla’s Song, by acclaimed British director Ken Loach and starring Robert Carlyle, Oyanka Cabezas and Scott Glenn, won Best Picture in our International Series. A tribute to Celeste Holm (Gentleman’s Agreement) preceded Still Breathing, starring Holm, Lou Rawls and Brendan Frasier. Jo Menell (in person) and Jonathan Demme’s monumental Mandela told the story of South Africa’s President Nelson Mandela and his lifetime struggle for freedom.
1998 — Festival invited to UN
For the 50th anniversary of the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights, Ashton was invited by the UN to present films from our festival in Geneva and to present Martin Scorsese and other filmmakers awards for their contributions to human rights through cinema. Our Distinguished Producer Award was given to Anant Singh, producer of over 40 films, including Sarafina (starring Whoopi Goldberg), Cry the Beloved Country (starring James Earl Jones) and 2004’s Oscar nominated Yesterday. A stirring tribute to Robert and Margrit Mondavi honored their accomplishments in the arena of culture and life itself. Columbia Tristar’s Dance With Me by Randa Haines, starring Vanessa L. Williams and Chayanne, screened under the stars. The Michael Wolff Quartet performed before the screening of The Tic Code, starring Gregory Hines and Polly Draper. A relatively unknown Hilary Swank starred with Jason Robards in Heartwood with director Lanny Cotler in person. The newly restored version of Nights of Cabiria, by Federico Fellini (1957 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film), was a rare treat for moviegoers.
1999 — Ernest Borgnine honored
Opening night at Sequoia Grove Vineyards in Napa Valley was the premiere of The Nephew, starring Pierce Brosnan and Hill Harper. Life Drawing, starring Mark Ruffalo and Beth Ulrich, opened our Sonoma run. Richard Shepard’s Oxygen starred Maura Tierney and newcomer Adrien Brody. Best Feature (International) went to Rolf de Heer’s fantastic Dance Me to My Song. The powerful Cabaret Balkan- The Powder Keg from Yugoslavia, Best European Film of the Year, was a sellout. Our Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Ernest Borgnine, who won the Oscar for Best Actor in the film Marty – the first American film to win the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival.
2000 – Honorees Kirk Douglas, Richard Harris and Rita Moreno
In-person tributes were presented to Kirk Douglas, Richard Harris and Rita Moreno. World famous glass artist Dale Chihuly created the awards for our distinguished honorees. One of the year’s best films- Luis Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bougeoisie– screened under the stars. French director Patrice Leconte’s stirring Girl on the Bridge was a festival favorite. From Iran, Farhad Mehranfar’s The Tree of Life won our Gaia Film Award. On behalf of HH The Dalai Lama, a representative from Tibetans in Exile received our first Humanitarian Award.
2001 — Jose Ramos Horta honored
Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World, starring Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson and Steve Buscemi, had its Northern California premiere at Sequoia Grove Vineyards in Napa Valley. This offbeat gem won our Best Independent Film Award. Our Humanitarian Award to Nobel Peace laureate Jose Ramos Horta preceded The Diplomat. Malachi Roth’s Limon: A Life Beyond Words, following the life and career of dancer-choreographer José Limon, won Best Film in the Arts series.
2002 — George Lucas drops by
George Lucas was a surprise guest during our Life Achievement Award to Richard Dreyfuss at Domaine Chandon Visitor’s Center in Yountville. Stars Kiefer Sutherland and Nastassja Kinski shined in Paradise Found, the story of Paul Gauguin. Argentine director Eliseo Subiela received our Distinguished Director Award. Rivers and Tides and Eric Valli’s Himalaya took top honors.
2003 — Charlie Chaplin Award
Acknowledging Charlie Chaplin’s diverse talents, humanitarian efforts and social mindfulness, we established the Charlie Chaplin Award. It was presented to John Turturro, whose talents include acting, writing and directing. Jane Seymour was honored at the Sebastiani Theatre in Sonoma for her work to eradicate measles in Africa as documented in James Keach’s Disease of the Wind. Gerald Corbiau’s extraordinary The King is Dancing won Best of the Festival.
2004 — Patrick Swayze dances in
The festival opened with Bob Smeaton’s Festival Express at Sequoia Grove Vineyards. We were honored to screen Born into Brothels, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary. A tribute to Patrick Swayze was attended by over 300 people. Patrice Leconte’s Intimate Strangers won Best of the Fest. A salute to Africa included Cosmic Africa and a photographic exhibit by Paige Depont at Kunde Estate Winery in Sonoma Valley.
2005 – Carroll Ballard receives our Gaia Award
Make It Funky! opened the festival at Nickel & Nickel Winery in Napa Valley. We hosted tributes to Jack Klugman and director Carroll Ballard and master classes with Ballard and cinematographer Barry Stone. An evening with Danny Trejo preceded Champion, his inspiring true story. CineLatino (20 Spanish language films) and EcoCinema (20 eco-films) were enthusiastically received. Spanish director Joaquin Oristrell’s Unconscious won Best of the Festival. Chateau Felice Winery in Windsor and Nicholson Ranch Winery in Sonoma hosted our Sonoma County outdoor films. Nobel Peace laureate Jody Williams received our Humanitarian Award at Copia in Napa prior to the world premiere of Disarm and dove release at Nickel & Nickel Winery.
2006- 20th anniversary
In honor of our 20th anniversary, we expanded the festival over four weeks in four locations in Sonoma County: Napa, Sonoma, Carneros and American Canyon. This expansion allowed us the time and space to properly celebrate 20 years of the Wine Country Film Festival with plenty of special guests, exciting events and fantastic films.
The dramatic British feature Brothers of the Head opened our festival at Frazier Winery in Napa. Starring twin brothers Luke and Harry Treadaway, directors Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe (Lost in La Mancha) tell the story of a pair of Siamese twins fronting a rock-and-roll band through a pseudo-documentary style. Live entertainment and a cooking demonstration from award-winning chef Angelo of Zuzu helped make the night a great success. Our weekend in Napa continued with a showing of director and screenwriter James Dalessandro’s documentary The Damndest Finest Ruins, about the disastrous results of the massive earthquake in San Francisco at the height of the city’s explosion in arts and literature. The film went on to win Best Historical Documentary. The Cultivated Life: Thomas Jefferson and Wine brought filmmakers John Harrington and Alessandro Santarelli to Napa for a question and answer session and wine tasting, in honor of their documentary that explores Jefferson as the founding father of American viticulture. Stephen J. Rivele- author, investigative journalist and Oscar-nominated screenwriter (Nixon)- joined us at Frazier Winery for a master class on bringing historical characters to life. Director Gary Null’s documentary Friendly Fire: Exposing Gulf War Syndrome had its world premiere at Copia, in Napa, and won Best Documentary Feature- Cinema of Conscience.
A multitude of award-winning films showed in Carneros. Zen Master Diego Rafecas’s Agrentinian film Un buda- A Buddha, starring himself, Augustin Markert and Carolina Fal, won Best International First Feature and director Peter Goetz’s documentary Sofia, about professional surfer Sofia Mulanovich pursuing her childhood dream of becoming a world champion surfer, won Best Documentary- International. Director, producer and cinematographer Brian Ades joined us at Cline Cellars in Sonoma for a question and answer session about his film Conversations with Steve, chronicling a mother and son’s journey through addiction- Steve won Audience Favorite. We held a Writer’s Boot Camp- an intensive, interactive mini-camp that covered the five major story components, followed by an in-session contest where the winner received one certificate for an Online Basic Training Class from WBC. Our afternoon of EcoCinema films included Texas Gold, directed by Sonoma County resident Carolyn M. Scott and narrated by Peter Coyote, and Roots of Change: The Vision of Wangari Maathai, a work-in-progress about our 2004 recipient of the Humanitiarian Award, which was presented to her in October.
We kicked off our weekend in Sonoma with a showing of Remake, the winner of the Mondavi Prize for Peace & Cultural Understanding in 2004, in honor of our 20th anniversary. Room 314, directed by Michael Knowles and starring Joelle Carter, Matthew Del Negro, Sarah Jenkins, Michael Laurence and Robyn Myhr, held its world premiere at the Sonoma Academy of Dance & Arts; the film is set in one hotel room, but told in five separate segments. Director Colin Drobnis held a question and answer session to accompany his film road movie Bangkok, which won Best First Feature- US. A master class on film/television was hosted by Julie Warner, actress and producer of Special Thanks to Roy London. Director Christopher (Special Thanks to Roy London, The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain) moderated the class and also talked about acting from a director’s point of view. The Jack London Spirit Award winner, Joel Farges’ riveting piece Serko– about a young Russian calvaryman who sets out to St. Petersburg to plead the cause of the Evenk people to the Tsar- premiered in North America at Roche Winery in Sonoma. Solo Avital’s German film …More Than a 1000 Words was awarded the Mondavi Peace & Cultural Understanding Prize.
Our last weekend in American Canyon was filled with WCFF award-winning films, including: director David O’Shields’ America’s Lost Landscape: The Tallgrass Prairie (Best Feature Documentary- EcoCinema GAIA Award), Debating Robert Lee by Dan Polier (Jack London Screenplay Award and Best Ensemble Cast), Kontakti by Sergej Stanojkovski (Best Actress for Labina Mitevska’s performance as a woman released from a psychiatric ward) and Matt Dickinson’s inspirational Cloud Cuckoo Land from the UK (Best Director and Best Actor for Steve Varden’s performance as a aircraft enthusiast with cerebral palsy with dreams of flying). A two-day forum titled “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” brought up discussion of the relationship between civil liberties, well being, social justice and the realization of one’s dreams, with panelists including filmmakers with films in the festival. An afternoon of Animated Twisted Tales introduced film goers to Our Man in Nirvana from Germany, which tells the story of a rock star who dies on stage and goes to Nirvana with sepia-toned mock shadow puppets.
2007- A Walk of Spain
In our 21st year, we introduced Paseo de España- A Walk of Spain as the first major focus on a national cinema. Spanish films swept the WCFF awards that year, including Nomadak, TX (the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Race and Cultural Award), Joaquin Oristrell’s Nobody is Perfect (Best Paseo de España), De Bares by Mario Iglesias (Best First Feature- International), and Scandalous by Alvaro Begines (Best of the Festival). Academy Award winner Javier Bardem was awarded the Humanitarian Film Award for producing Invisibles, a documentary about the humanitarian crises that Medecins Sans Frontieres face every day.
No Reservations– by Scott Hicks and starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart and Abigail Breslin- showed at Frazier Winery Caves in Napa for opening night. No Reservations is a remake of the 2001 award-winning film Mostly Martha, starring Martina Gedeck and Sergio Castellito, which showed at WCFF several years prior. The film was preceded by Joel Hochberg’s Chef, with a cooking demonstration by chef and star of the film Ken Frank. Japan’s Beyond the Crimson Sky, directed by Masaki Hamoto, told the story of a family and Japan’s production of tofu. It won for Best Cinematography for Terrence Hayes’ work on the film.
Bay Area director Lynn Hershman Leeson’s captivating film Strange Culture, starring Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton, Peter Coyote and Thomas Jay Ryan,was awarded the Best Cinema of Conscience Award. Based on a true story, the film tells the story of when paramedics find labeled bacteria specimens and books on biological warfare in artist Steve Kurtz’ home. After his wife dies, the FBI sends agents to investigate Kurtz for possible bio-terrorism.
Multiple symposiums were held to discuss relevant issues 2007’s film selections brought to light. Greg Bridges, of KPFA 94.1 in Berkeley, moderated “The Arts, Youth and Justice,” held at Cartlidge & Browne Winery in American Canyon. Panelists included independent filmmaker Abby Ginzberg, muralist and community organizer Keith “K-Dub” Williams and Duc Nguyen, whose film Bolinao 52 showed at the festival that year and examined the Vietnamese boat experience, in which Nguyen’s family experience firsthand. “Sustainable Planet” brought together EcoCinema directors Emiko Omori (Ripe for Change– winner of Movie Maker Magazine EcoCinema Award), Misha Hedges (Sustainable Table), Wen Chang (Gaia Hotel), Holiday Johnson (Sharks: Stewards of the Reefs), Faith Morgan (Power of Community) and Leslie Bloom Van Ee (Mama Earth). The symposium “Global Health featured Oscar-nominated director Connie Field (!SALUD!), medical professionals and members of Doctors Without Borders.
2008- Terroir of Cinema
The term “terroir” is usually reserved for wine and is what gives a wine its uniqueness that connects it to a particular place. According to Ashton, the phrase “Terroir of Cinema” was adopted to “express our feelings about the deep roots that give us our unique attributes, tastes and cultural distinctions. Film, like wine and cuisine, reflects the roots of the filmmakers and subjects they focus on…a cultural terrior, if you will.”
The British film Dolphins, along with Hungary’s Konac, opened our 22nd annual festival. Dolphins director Mark Jay and stars Lauren Steventon and Layke Anderson joined us at the showing.
Our second annual Paseo de España featured director Aitor Arregi’s Lucio, which tells the story of anarchist Lucio Urtubia, also known as “The Basque Zorro.”Lucio was awarded Best International Documentary that year. Late Bloomers, directed by Bettina Oberli and starring Stephanie Glaser, Hanspeter Muller, Heidi Maria Glossner and Lilian Naef, kicked off our Films al Fresco at Alpha Omega Winery in St. Helena. Other Films al Fresco that year included Cristiano Bortone’s Red Like the Sky, about the true story of Italian sound editor Mirco Mencacci, and Bliss by Turkish director Abdullah Oguz. Bliss is considered an all-time festival favorite and won Best of the Festival in 2008.
Director and editor Chuck Workman graced the festival to give a master class called “From Imagination to Image,” where he discussed the process of making a concept into an image from a director’s point-of-view. His film In Search of Kennedy showed at the festival. Workman was given the Career Achievement Award for his work on dozens of films and programs, including special film sequences for the Academy Awards and the original trailer for Star Wars.
EcoCinema films won much praise, including: All in This Tea (directed by Les Blank and Gina Leibrecht and featuring David Lee Hoffman, American tea expert and merchant, Blank was awarded the Bay Area Legendary Filmmaker Award), Greece’s Delta- Oil’s Dirty Business (directed, produced and written by Yorgos Avgeropoulos and winner of Best of EcoCinema) and France’s The Maiden and the Wolves by Gilles Legrand (Malabar Princess). The film, starring Laetitia Casta, Jean-Paul Rouve, Stefano Accorsi and Michel Galabru, won Best International Feature Film and Best Music for Armand Amar.
Seawall, based on a novel by Maguerite Duras, opened our festival. Directed by award-winning director Rithy Panh, Seawall stars French actress Isabelle Huppert as a French widow struggling to keep her family together and her land fertile, despite natural and economic struggles. Gabriel Figueroa Flores and Diego Lopez Rivera’s film A Portrait of Diego commemorates the 50th anniversary of the death of Rivera’s grandfather, famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera. Mike Dacko’s five minute film Lightheaded is a story made of wax in a wax world- a Bay Area favorite.
Our Best of the Festival, The Good Life from Chile, is a selection of true occurrences from director Andres Wood that is thought provoking and enlightening. The documentary Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai, from directors Lisa Merton and Alan Dater, is a portrait of Dr. Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Laureate and 2004 WCFF Humanitarian Award recipient. Taking Root was winner of Best Cinema of Conscience. Another Cinema of Conscience was the debut film from director Bruce Barrett, The Billboard from Bethlehem. Documenting what happens when the owner of the American Billboard Company joins forces with Combatants for Peace- a group of former Palestinian and Israeli soldiers- to create a historical billboard, The Billboard from Bethlehem won the Mondavi Award for Peace and Cultural Understanding- Documentary.
EcoCinema films this year brought many environmental issues to light. Standout films included: France’s Food Beware- That Should Not Be, where director Jean-Paul Jaud exposes the danger of uninformed agro-ecology practices and the awareness within the town of Barjac (winner of Best EcoCinema- Documentary); the story of businessmen Eric Smith and Pascal Destandau leaving their urban life to become goat farmers in Leap of Faith: Fast Lane to Farmstead (directed and produced by Michael J. Walsh and Alexandra Austin, respectfully, and winner of Best EcoCinema- Special Jury Award) and Pirate for the Sea- directed, produced and written by Ronald Colby- which follows Paul Watson’s fight to protect marine wildlife (winner of Best EcoCinema).
Many special events and receptions were held in celebration of cinema. After a showing of director Becky Smith’s 16 to Life, a salute to star and actress Theresa Russell (Insignificance, Black Widow) was held, where Russell gave a jazz recital with her partner Mike Melvoin. For the world premiere of America’s Wine: The Legacy of Prohibition, directed by Carla Worfolk, a wine tasting, reception with special guests, a cooking demonstration by Buitoni and discussion proceeded the film, which was the first film ever commissioned by the University of California’s Bancroft Library at Berkeley. A master class was held with Vilmos Zsigmond and James Chressanthis that showcased scenes from the cinematographers’ bodies of work. The festival closed with a showing of Japan’s Sideways, directed by Cellin Gluck. A Japanese adaptation of the Academy Award winning film and starring Rinko Kikuchi, Kyoka Suzuki, Fumiyo Kohinata and Katsuhisa Namase, the cast and crew of Sideways joined us for a large wine tasting event to bring our 23rd year to a close.
Our opening night kicked off with Ben Affleck’s explosive crime thriller The Town, starring Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Blake Lively and Jeremy Renner (whose performance was nominated for an Oscar) at Deerfield Winery in Kenwood. The official artist this year was Iva Hutternerova, acclaimed Czech actress and artist, who has had major exhibitions throughout Europe.
Director Percy Adlon made an appearance to teach a master class, where he discussed his trademark cinematic style of “poetic realism” at Christy’s on the Square, and to show his film Mahler on the Couch, with Johannes Silberschneider, Barbara Romaner, Karl Markovics and Friedrich Mucke. Adlon won Best Director forMahler on the Couch. A special live poetry reading with Pulitzer Prize winner and former Poet Laureate Robert Hass was held for the documentary The Practice of the Wind, directed by John H. Healey. Producer Will Hearst III and director Haydn Reiss also appeared in person for a question and answer session following the film about American poet Gary Snyder. To accompany the film Four Seasons for a Feast, in which filmmaker Jean-Paul Jaud (Food Beware- That Should Not Be) follows famous French chef Guy Savoy for a year and ends his journey by inviting his main suppliers to a feast to thank them, guests were provided a one-of-a-kind Farm to Table lunch- featuring Napa Valley wine, farm produce and locally made products.
Our award winning films this year included: Austrailia’s The Balibo Conspiracy (directed by Robert Connolly and starring Bea Viegas, Anthony LaPaglia and Oscar Isaac- winner of Best Cinema of Conscience- International Drama and the Jack London Screenplay Award), The Las Summer of La Boyita from Argentina (written and directed by Julia Solomonoff and starring Guadalupe Alonso, Nicolas Treise and Mirella Pascual- winner of Best International Feature Film), The Other Dumasfrom France (directed by Safy Nebbou and starring Gerard Depardieu, Beniot Poelvoorder and Dominique Blanc- winner of Best Arts in Film- Narrative) and Bulgaria’s The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner (directed by Stephan Komandarev and starring Miki Manojlovic, Carlo Ljubek, Christo Mutafchiev and Ana Papadopulu- winner of Best of the Festival).
We were honored to host actors and directors Emilio Estavez and Martin Sheen this year. Our tribute to Sheen, with Estavez, started with a reception, followed by the showing of Estavez’s moving film The Way- starring Sheen, Deborah Kara Unger and himself. Sheen plays an American father who travels to France to claim the body of his estranged son who died while traveling “El camino de Santiago.” The Way won the Audience Favorite Award and Sheen was awarded with the NSWCFF Humanitarian Award.