Kevin McNeely reclines on a worn blue couch in the Sonoma International Film Festival’s headquarters, located in sunny, stone-walled office space on the southeast corner of the Plaza. He wears khaki pants and a yellow cashmere sweater with the sleeves pushed up. Luki, a fluffy poodle-shih tzu mix, jumps up onto his lap.
Everything about McNeely conveys comfort: the blue couch, the yellow sweater, the fluffy dog, the sunny office and, above all, the welcoming smile he seems to wear constantly and effortlessly.
“Kevin is a character, and a gentle and kind man,” says Jennifer Gray, SIFF’s director of sponsorship and development.
Gray, McNeely and Claudia Mendoza-Carruth, who helps manage programming and public relations, are sharing this corner room during the final, hectic days before the festival begins Wednesday. Its turret-style windows look out over the busy Plaza below. The phone rings steadily, and several more staff members are abuzz with activity in an adjoining room.
They have their work cut out for them: The 17th annual film festival will bring more than 3,200 visitors over five days to see 106 films from 22 countries, showing in a dozen different venues on or around the Plaza. Organizing all that is an immense undertaking.