Film Fest reels it in
THE ROLLER DERBY community came out on Saturday for the West Coast première of “Derby, Baby” during the 15th annual Sonoma International Film Festival. See a full gallery of images with this story at sonomanews.com.
The Sonoma International Film Festival came of age last weekend with five days packed with films, discussions, parties and enough food and wine to satisfy the hundreds who turned out for the 15th annual event.
The audience and jury of cinema experts agreed that the Canadian film “Starbuck” topped the festival, earning best narrative feature from the jury and best world feature from audiences. Audiences awarded “Wall: The Journey Up” with best documentary while the whimsical “Doggie Boogie” got the vote for best feature. From the jury, the Mexican film “Hidalgo: The Untold Story” got best very independent film while the Swiss film “Manipulation” earned best international feature. Juries gave a tie to “Wall: The Journey Up” and “Shakespeare High” for best documentary. Audiences favored “Among Wolves” for best from La Quinceañera.
In the shorts category, “TMZ” took the animated category, “Voluntad and Paz” was the juries’ pick for best foreign short, “Bone Wind Fire” was the best documentary, “Bee” earned best dramatic short while “A Finger, Two Dots, Then Me” was named best experimental short.
In addition to more than 120 films, the weekend boasted a side-splitting showcase from John Waters and a heartfelt tribute to Christopher Lloyd (see accompanying stories on A1), a celebration of Spanish language films with the La Quinceañera Film Fiesta, a Scottish invasion for the world premiere of “Sir Billi,” a swarm of scantily clad roller derby players for “Derby, Baby,” a live carnival for “Circus Dreams,” the four-legged stars of “Doggie Boogie,” a panel of UFO experts and live music performances from the Mariachi de Tarasco de Lorenzo Sandoval, the Carlos Herrera Band, the Whiskey Thieves, JoyRide and more.
One of the most breath-taking performances of the weekend came on Friday prior to the “Sir Billi” premiere, the first animated feature film out of Scotland. Tallia Storm, daughter of filmmakers Sascha and Tessa Hartmann, has been making waves since Elton John took her under his wing last year, just as she prepares to release her debut album. Only 13, the Scottish singer has a voice well beyond her years, reminiscent of the soul power rarely seen since the golden days of Motown. Her song, “I’m Blessed,” sprinkled goosebumps across the crowd and drew comparisons to “Goldfinger” songstress Dame Shirley Bassey, who was in the crowd after contributing a song for the film.
After the screening, the filmmakers hosted a private dinner at the Swiss Hotel, complete with a Scotch tasting from San Francisco’s The Whiskey Thieves (the bar, not the band). Organized by the Sonoma-based Studio Seven PR and Communications and Dreamers and Heroes event planning, the event brought together some 40 Sonomans who dined on classic Scottish dishes such as cock-a-leekie soup and haggis alongside the Hartmanns, Bassey and others who flew in from Scotland to attend the film’s premiere.
Also on Friday, Valley girls Janeth Cabera and Lupita Ayala celebrated their actual Quinceañera, the traditional coming out party when a girl turns 15 in Mexico. Both girls, who were born the same year as the festival, donned full ball gowns and shared a dance with their fathers during the La Quinceañera Film Fiesta kick-off.
On Thursday, dozens were turned away from the Sebastiani Theatre when the student’s of Sonoma Valley High School’s Media Arts Department showed their short films to an overly-packed house, where even the aisles were filled. The film festival has funded a significant portion of the program, ensuring Valley students have access to professional quality video equipment to inspire filmmakers of the future.
If you were anywhere near the Plaza around 2 p.m. on Saturday, you probably noticed the flock of hot-pants-wearing roller derby players whiz by. In celebration of the documentary “Derby, Baby,” dozens of players took over the Plaza, skating the square, taking pictures with fans, before heading into the Sebastiani Theatre for a sold-out screening.
While the festival stumbled on snafus ranging from guest list mix-ups to getting locked out of the Sebastiani Winery venue, the largely volunteer-run event proved to have all the charm and class that earned it a place as one of America’s “Top Ten Best Vacation Film Festivals” in Chris Gore’s “Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide.”