Curtain rises on film fest

The programs for the 17th annual Sonoma International Film Festival, coming Wednesday through Sunday to a theater near you, are finally ready.

“A special thanks to our 200 filmmakers who are coming to Sonoma from over 12 countries,” wrote Kevin McNeely, SIFF’s executive director, in the program’s introduction. The festival is showing movies from 22 countries this year, McNeely said, and he added, “I encourage you to see as many films as possible and enjoy nightly parties at the Backlot tent!”

But it’s not always obvious, especially to the SIFF newcomer, how to go about seeing those films. With 105 screenings in a dozen venues over four-and-a-half days, figuring out where to go when, and how much to spend – and for that matter, how to buy tickets in the first place – can be daunting.

Some people prefer to make their transactions face-to-face, and according to Claudia Mendoza-Carruth, SIFF’s public relations director, their chance will come Wednesday afternoon.

“The box office will be set up on Wednesday after 1 o’clock, and it will be located on the Plaza on the east side of City Hall,” Mendoza-Carruth said.

That’s where printed programs can be acquired, passes purchased, and questions asked of SIFF staff members and volunteers.

For those wanting to do their SIFF shopping online, the obvious first step is to go to sonomafilmfest.org, where a full schedule is available as well as a variety of festival passes.

Those passes range from the $2,500 “patron pass” – described as including “all festival and year-round dinners, film series, reserved seating at all festival films and a tax deduction of $1,500” – to the $75 day pass, good for all films, panels and Backlot tent events on a given day.

There are other options, such as the $250 “cinema pass,” granting access to any and all movies and panel discussions – from opening night’s “Dom Hemingway” to closing night’s “Belle,” both at the Sebastiani Theatre. And for the party animals there’s the $200 “soiree party pass,” which gets holders into all of the parties (excluding Friday night’s “Born in Chicago” concert) but none of the movies.

That one’s good for people who say, “I like parties, I like the celebration, I don’t particularly care about the films,” Mendoza-Carruth explained. Only 50 such passes are being offered this year, and about half had been sold as of Monday.

Other festival goers are the opposite: interested in going to a few films, but to none of the parties or other events. One option for them is to buy individual tickets for $15 each. This is done online by perusing the film schedule and clicking on a film, causing a window to open with info on the film. From there, click on “Tickets” to purchase. Or tickets can be bought in person at the box office for $15.

However, Mendoza-Carruth pointed out that certain screenings do not offer tickets for pre-sale. For example, in the case of opening night’s “Dom Hemingway,” “Sebastiani will get to capacity with pass-holders, sponsors and everybody who will attend the opening night reception,” she said. Individual tickets also are not available for screenings at Murphy’s Irish Pub or Sonoma Valley Museum of Art because they are such small venues.

A cheaper but riskier strategy is to arrive at a venue a few minutes before the show with $10 in cash on hand (in exact change) and the hope that leftover seats will be available.

“The chances of that are slim,” Mendoza-Carruth warned.

One event requires no ticket whatsoever, and is open to the public: The final awards ceremony, to be held in the Backlot tent on Sunday night starting at 8 p.m.

Asked which movie she was personally the most excited about, Mendoza-Carruth refused to say – “We love all our children equally. I cannot do that!” – but she did offer advice on which movies to see based on individual tastes.

For example, “If you are somebody who really appreciates the genre of blues, ‘Blues in Chicago’ is the place to be,” she said. The movie, a documentary on how Chicago-style urban blues spread throughout the country and the world, starts Friday at 8 p.m. at Sonoma Veterans Hall. Doors open at 7, and a no-host bar will be available.

Organizers note that “special guests” – and if you like the musicians in this film, you’ll like these special guests – will be performing in a concert after the film, starting at 10 p.m.

Steve Shor, the festival’s program director, said any movie featuring Fionnula Flanagan – and there are two at SIFF this year, “Tasting Menu” and “Life’s a Breeze” – is OK with him.

“She’s a one-take actress,” Shor said.

For children, a special program of French and American shorts (short films comprise 50 of the festival’s 105 screenings) will be held Saturday in the Sebastiani Theatre starting at 9:30 a.m. The films include “Le Sauvetage,” a six-minute short followed by a live dog show.

Here are some other suggestions from SIFF staff on movies to watch for, catered to specific tastes:

SPORTS: McConkey / Into the Mind / Maidentrip / Bellavita

FOOD: Love & Lemons / Jadoo / The Chef / The Golden Scallop / Tasting Menu

MUSIC: Born in Chicago / Chronic Love / Take Me to the River

ROMANCE & FAMILY: City Slacker / The Fourth Noble Truth / Volcano

FOREIGN: The Great Beauty (Italy) / Life’s a Breeze (Ireland) / For Sale-Viva Cuba-Melaza (Cuba) / Everything Is Fine Here (Iran) / Half of a Yellow Sun (Nigeria) / Siddharth (India)

LGBT: Queens & Cowboys / My Straight Son (Venezuela)

NATURE: In the Magic of the Green Mountains / The Organic Life / Wings of Life

DOCUMENTARIES: Gore Vidal / Man Up & Go / The Kill Team / Taking My Parents to Burning Man

CHILDREN: Rio 2 / Wings of Life / Maiden Trip

COMEDY: Volcano / The French Minister (French) / Ponchao (Dominican Republic) / I’m Obsessed with You

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Wings of Life / Into the Mind / The Great Beauty

SOCIAL CONSCIENCE: The Lightbulb Conspiracy / Bringing it Home / Plastic Paradise / Backyard

UFO: Thrive (film and panel discussion)

RETRO: Going Attractions / Born in Chicago / Take Me to the River

LOCAL FILMMAKERS: Roxie / The Organic Life