Film Fest features 120+ films
“SIR BILLI,” Scotland’s first animated feature, has its U.S. premiere at the Sonoma International Film Festival.
In two weeks, the Sonoma International Film Festival rolls into town, bringing with it more than 120 films, along with film industry insider panels, conversations with movie-makers and, of course, enough food and wine to satiate the Hollywood crowd.
Now in its 15th year, the festival will run from April 11 to 15 at screening venues all around the Plaza, including the Sebastiani Theatre, Sonoma Community Center and Vintage House senior center. Tickets are available at a multitude of levels, from attending a single film to passes that allow all-access to every cinematic event of the weekend.
Instead of the celebrity tribute this year, the festival will host cult filmmaker John Waters to perform his one-man show “This Filthy World,” set for Saturday, April 14, at the Sonoma Valley Veterans Memorial Building. Known for films from “Pink Flamingos” to “Hairspray” to “Pecker,” Waters unique filmmaking style has put him in a class of his own. He might call it a classless class, as he prides himself as the “Sultan of Sleaze.” See more on Waters in an intimate interview featured in the spring edition of SONOMA magazine, on newsstands today.
Prior to the event, Waters will host a Supper Club-themed dinner with patrons, prepared by the culinary team at Meritage Martini and Oyster Bar and Grill. Tickets to dinner and the show are $175, and include an after party with live music following the show. Tickets for the show only range from $25 for chair seating to cocktail table seats up front for $75. Tickets are still available at all levels, but are expected to sell out.
When it comes to films, the festival has gone over-the-top this year, securing more movies than it has ever shown, including feature narratives, foreign language films, documentaries galore and a short film program.
“We’re celebrating our 15th anniversary with the Quinceañera theme because we believe we’ve reached a coming-of-age as a film festival,” said Scott Ware, president of the film festival’s board.
New this year, “La Quinceañera Film Fiesta” honors Spanish-language filmmakers from across the globe with two full days, Saturday and Sunday, dedicated to films presented in Spanish with English subtitles at the Sonoma Charter School. Ticket prices for each film will be $1, with childcare provided in an effort to make the festival more accessible to the Latino population. The festival-within-a-festival is being organized by Claudia Mendoza-Carruth, who has pulled films from Argentina to Spain, including the Chilean documentary “Detrás del Milagro (Beyond the Miracle)” about four of the miners who survived 69 days trapped deep under the earth; and “Chico and Rita,” the musical Cuban film that earned an Oscar nomination for “Best Animated Feature.”
The festival is always a cultural smorgasbord. It will also host the American premiere of the first-ever, feature-length, animated Scottish film, entitled “Sir Billi.” The family film follows a veterinarian, voiced by legendary Scottish actor Sean Connery, as he attempts to save the last beaver in Scotland.
“I’m excited to be a part of this incredible film and Scotland’s first animated feature,” said Connery. “‘Sir Billi’ is truly a first-class film, with an exceptional cast, and is sure to delight audiences of all ages.”
The husband and wife team of Sascha and Tessa Hartmann created the film, and will be attending the U.S. première on Friday, April 13. “We chose the Sonoma International Film Festival because it’s a festival with a difference, where the personal approach by the organizers gives one a feeling of passion and consideration – where every independent film they select is important,” said Tessa Hartmann.
Filmmaker Fraser Heston, son of legendary actor Charlton Heston, will also be in attendance at the festival, showcasing his latest project that chronicles his father’s experience making the 1959 classic “Ben-Hur,” for which the elder Heston earned an Oscar. The film, “Charlton Heston: Personal Journey,” screens like a love letter to his father, offering unprecedented access to the family’s archives of photos and home videos from when they lived in Italy for the duration of filming of William Wyler’s epic picture. It also shows the rarely-seen, insecure sides of the screen legend, as told through the diary he kept during filming.
Sonoma’s youngest filmmakers will also be in attendance with the Student Program set for Thursday and Sunday. During this event, the students of Sonoma Valley High School’s media arts department have the chance to share their films with the community on the big screen. The film festival is the main financial sponsor of the program, which offers students access to professional filming, lighting, editing and sound equipment.
See more on the program and its director, Peter Hansen, in SONOMA magazine.
One of the best aspects of the festival is the expansive variety of programs it offers. Among the more unusual events is the UFO Side Bar, which returns on April 14 for the second year in a row. The event includes two film screenings of movies that explore the political sides of alien life on planet earth, “The Day Before Disclosure” and “Life After Contact,” along with the Studio 51 panel discussion. The panel will be comprised of local UFO expert Jim Ledwith; Dr. Gordon G. Spear, executive director of the Paradigm Research Group who is featured in both films; and Bryce Zabel, creator and star of “Life After Contact.”
Other films are planning their own special events. For the Saturday screening of “Derby Baby,” around 40 roller derby queens will descend on the Plaza to promote the film. The children’s film “Circus Dreams” will include an actual circus performance. For “Bella Gaia,” the director and classically trained violinist Kenji Williams will provide the live accompaniment music.
There are many more cinematic events, panels and parties not discussed in this article that will comprise the 15th annual Sonoma International Film Festival, so visit www.sonomafilmfest.org to get all the details, along with tickets or event passes