The 31st annual Wine Country Film Festival returns to Sonoma Valley this weekend with almost a dozen feature films and even more short films to be screened at two sites, the grounds of the 25-acre Quarryhill Botanical Garden and the Kenwood Depot. The weekend also includes conversations with attending filmmakers, actors and notable guests and special presentations and seminars.
Co-founders Justine and Steven Ashton say they have poured their heart and soul into the film festival for the past 31 years.
“Every year we attend film festivals and view submissions and curate a wonderful program,” says Justine. “Every single film this year is really special in its own way.”
The Wine Country Film Festival was the area’s first film festival even if it is today somewhat over-shadowed today by its Sonoma and Napa cousins. The annual showcase of international and independent films began in 1986.
This year’s festival’s centerpiece is Films al Fresco, a program of three international movies shown outdoors under the stars at Quarryhill.
Opening night, on Friday, Sept. 22, kicks off with a 7:45 p.m. screening of “Kincsem,” an epic romantic drama set against the aftermath of the Hungarian revolution and revolving around the true story of the most successful thoroughbred racehorse ever. Foaled in Hungary in 1874, Kincsem is a national icon who won all 54 of her races, against both female and male competitors — a record still unbeaten. The opening night features Patricius Tokaj wines and a Hungarian menu prepared by Rainy Day Chocolates and Catering. Guests are encouraged to come in their best Derby outfit and the winner will get tickets to the closing night film.
“The Duel of Wine,” about a sommelier (played by sommelier Charlie Arturaolo) who has lost his sense of taste, will be screened at Quarryhill at 7:30 pm on Saturday, Sept. 23. Earlier that afternoon from 2 to 4 p.m., there will be a special two-hour Taste Your Senses wine tasting seminar with Arturaolo. He and sommelier Christopher Sawyer and Michael Traverso, senior brand manager for Italian Estates, will introduce wines from the grapes featured in the Italo-Argentinean comedy. Reservations ($75) are required and seating is limited.
In the category of “cinema of conscience,” one eagerly anticipated film is the closing night movie, “Tour de France.” The amiable mismatched-buddy road movie pairs veteran actor Gérard Depardieu (as Serge) with rapper Sadek who plays Far’Hook, a 20-year-old rapper who serves as the driver on Serge’s “bucket list” tour of French ports, following in the footsteps of the classic painter Joseph Vernet. Despite the age gap and culture clash, an unlikely friendship forms between the rapper and a bricklayer from the north of France. The film screens Sunday at 7:45 p.m. at Quarryhill.
Other notable films that will be screened over the course of the weekend include a Cuban drama, a Jack London documentary, a dance documentary, another wine documentary and features from France and England.
The Cuban film “On The Roof” is set in Havana. Three young friends gather on a rooftop every day to tell stories and dreams, treating life as if time passes without notice. In the midst of their boredom, without money and dreaming of prosperity, they decide to set up their own business, a pizza restaurant. Their story embodies hope and the pursuit of aspirations in unclear circumstances. This microcosm speaks volumes about the vibrant culture and climate of Cuba today, showcasing the talents of a new woman director who is someone to watch. It screens at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 22 at Kenwood Depot.