From Inspiration to the Silver Screen: The Napa Valley Film Festival
It is the dream of every kid with a video camera that someone other than his parents will see and be enthusiastic about the end result of hours of conception, crafted filming and wise editing choices coming together as a film that might even be considered a work of art.
For five days, November 9-13, 2011, many will get that chance when the inaugural Napa Valley Film Festival kicks off in a bid to deepen the cultural significance of an area already famous worldwide for its dining scene and viticulture.
Film industry veterans, Marc and Brenda Lhormer, have culled together their experience of helming the Sonoma Valley Film Festival for 7 years (2002-2008) to develop an event on a grander scale and appropriate to the attributes Napa continually prides itself on. “The Napa Valley Film Festival will be something for residents to embrace and be proud of,” Co-Founder and Events Director Brenda Lhormer says. “It will be an event to show that Napa is a great place to live.”
Film festivals, which have traditionally been where artists, producers, directors and actors gather to share their latest efforts, talk shop and sow the seeds for future endeavors, have existed since the early era of moving pictures. Other than being related to someone famous in the film industry, the best way for filmmakers to get their work seen is by submitting their works to festivals.
The origins of the Napa Valley Film Festival began back in 2005. Downtown Napa was still in the early stages of its redevelopment when the Napa Valley Chamber of Commerce approached the Lhormers to discuss the logistics of staging a festival in Napa. “They wanted a new cultural event to show off the new downtown,” Lhormer says.
The Lhormers were keen on the idea and gave a presentation. The Chamber showed immense interest, but the couple had their own projects in the works and were still invested in the Sonoma Valley Film Festival.
During their experience producing the 2008 film Bottle Shock, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, about Chateau Montelena and the rise of Napa Valley wine on the international level following the 1976 Judgment of Paris, Lhormer and her husband decided they wanted to expand their vision of what a film festival could be.
They approached the Board of the Sonoma Valley Film Festival offering to put on an event in Napa during the fall that would complement their event in the spring (which has traditionally taken place for the past 14 years). “Unfortunately, our vision wasn’t shared by the Board.”
The couple decided to pursue an independent festival in Napa for the fall on their own and contacted the Napa Valley Chamber of Commerce, who made it clear that they were still interested. The Lhormers then reached out to local businesses and wineries to see if the community would rally support behind the festival as well.
Last year, the couple decided to have an audition for the festival by showing several films in downtown Napa, including Oscar winner The King’s Speech, as a “proof of concept”. Having spent the previous two years developing support and planning the festival, the trial run went better than hoped. “It was really successful,” Lhormer says. “It was sort of like year zero of the Napa Valley Film Festival. People could see what we were trying to do.”
To further advance word of the festival, the Lhormers took 17 Napa winemakers to this year’s Sundance, along with restaurateur Michael Chiarello.
Once the concept was finalized and the support system established, the Lhormers got to work. “Almost everything I learned during the Sonoma Valley Film Festival, I’ve put in place in Napa,” Lhormer says.
After assembling a team, they started building the festival from their years of previous experience. “We got our training in Sonoma,” Lhormer says. “We got to experience what could go wrong. So this time we were prepared and things are going well.” Problems like last minute commitments by filmmakers, and where to lodge them, were among the headaches for which the festival staff was already prepared.
The inaugural festival will present 90 films over five days up and down the Napa Valley. The communities of Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga will each operate an independent “walkable festival village”. The majority of films will be shown in each village, so local residents will not have to travel far to participate.
Among the 35 venues that make up these villages there will be four basic types: theaters for the films themselves, a welcome center with guides and general information, local wineries will be pouring at wine pavilions throughout the festivities and, finally, there will also be a VIP Lounge for patrons, filmmakers and media guests where they can meet, mingle and relax in a hospitable setting.
The top prize will be awarded in the U.S. Narrative Feature Category, which will showcase 10 films and the winner receiving $10,000 from Meadowood Resort and Spa. Directors from this category have also been invited to participate in the Artists-in-Residence program (also hosted by Meadowood). The filmmakers will meet with influential members of the industry in a mentorship role to discuss guidance, future projects and offer inspiration to those at the beginning of their careers.
This year’s films will be representing countries as diverse as Denmark (Rosa Morena), Australia (Face to Face), Sweden (Among Us), Mexico (The Tinyest Place), Romania (Tilt) and Argentina (The Ways of Wine). The last feature, The Ways of Wine, will be shown by the star, a sommelier discovering his pallet through wines from his native land.
Other films of note include: White Knights, starring Tom Sizemore; Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a documentary about the most famous sushi chef in the world; Kumare, a film about a man who convinces the faithful that he is a spiritual guru; The Other F Word, a documentary about famous punk rockers who are now fathers; the world premiere of Ctl+Alt+Compete, a documentary focusing on technology startup scene; the world premiere of Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts, a documentary about the graphic novelist; and, Like Crazy, which was a recent hit and top dramatic prize-winner at Sundance.
The biggest film to play at the Napa Valley Film Festival, however, will be the latest effort by legendary actor, filmmaker and Bay Area native, Clint Eastwood, about the life of the infamous director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, J. Edgar, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, which will be shown on Thursday night (November 10th).
Another point of pride for local Napa residents is the utilization of the venue once known as the COPIA Center for screenings in the 260-seat theater, one of five festival welcome centers in downtown Napa. “We are certainly proud to be at COPIA,” Lhormer says.
Other venues presenting films will be the Napa Valley Opera House, Bottega Ristorante, Barrel Room 1870 in Yountville, Jarvis Conservatory and Hatt Hall in the Napa River Inn – included to be an intimate location (to be known as The Lounge) reserved for a series of films aimed at an audience appreciative of edgier, more adventurous themes. “We knew that we would have to have films that will appeal to everyone,” says Lhormer. The films at The Lounge “will definitely appeal to younger people.”
The Napa Valley Film Festival will also hold panel discussions on relevant filmmaking topics. Panels will cover music and movies, screenwriting, behind the scenes with actors, critics, a pitch session where anyone in attendance is allowed 60 seconds to pitch a movie or television idea to a group of producers and filmmakers and pop-up panels (called the Tweethouse) where filmmakers and the public can discuss “how technology is affecting film,” according to Lhormer.
Access to the festival is open to anyone interested in film. There are multiple levels of passes available to the public. Individual showings, called Rush tickets, are offered at $10 to $20 per ticket at the main door of the venue immediately before the film. Day passes are also available. Napa and Sonoma County residents can receive a discount on passes on the website, so be sure to tell your friends. If you prefer the VIP treatment and all its perks, you might opt for a Patron Pass. When you become a Patron, you will gain access to special showings, including the Sneak Preview Night, the Opening Gala, priority seating at all events, complimentary refreshments from many of the valley’s finest restaurants and wineries, and entrance into the same VIP lounges that the filmmakers and actors will visit. It should be said that there are tiers to the Patron Pass, with ascending exclusivity for an added price.
Film can change how we view the world – or ourselves. Often, it is projects like those without major studio financing that enrich one’s life most deeply. The Napa Valley Film Festival hopes to be a conduit for such films to find a wider, appreciative audience.
For more information or tickets please go to their website: napavalleyfilmfest.org.
By James Hritz – James grew up in the Wine Country, but has written for various publications across the country. He is happy to be writing and working in his home again.