Last exit to Sonomawood
The best parts of a film festival are often not the films, but what takes place in between them. From off-the-cuff post-film interviews and exuberant conversations between movie fans, to the parties, workshops and awards presentations that draw hundreds together under a tent or the open sky, it's sometimes the memorable moments of spontaneous human interaction that make a good film festival even better.
On Sunday night, the 19th annual Sonoma International Film Festival ended after five days of cinematic eccentricity. Here are some of the indelible moments and odd overheard remarks and sightings that are not likely to be soon forgotten.
On opening night, the tribute to screenwriter Robert Kamen kicked things off on a high comedic note. The Hollywood legend's caustically enthusiastic stories established a certain outrageous tone that continued throughout the weekend. The best joke of that first evening, however, went to Festival Director Kevin McNeely.
Earlier in his onstage interview with Kamen, the screenwriter humorously described working with Bruce Willis on 'The Fifth Element,' at one point comparing the allegedly high-maintenance movie star to the hind-quarters of a horse. When McNeely's cell phone rang a few moments later, McNeely glanced at the phone and happily quipped, 'It's Bruce, and he's pissed.'
Beginning Thursday morning, the first full day of the festival, typewriters began to appear at various spots throughout the Back Lot tent, located just adjacent to the Veterans Memorial Building. For the rest of the festival, typewritten notes, quotes, Shakespearean sonnets and pithy film reviews were posted nearby for the perusal of interested passersby. Amongst these minimalist missives, several stood out, including one – likely from a filmmaker with a movie in competition at the festival – that stated simply, 'May the best film win.'
A brief afternoon appearance by Meg Ryan dominated the casual sidewalk talk on Thursday afternoon. The conversation continued at the bustling 'Hemingway to Havana' party in the tent that evening.
'I saw Meg Ryan at the Sebastiani,' one snarky partier was overheard to say, adding, 'She sounds smarter as a director than she ever did as an actress.'
At noon on Friday, at the Festival's annual 'Industry Mixer,' local filmmakers mingled at Pangloss Cellars tasting room.
'Festivals are crazy things,' remarked programmer Steve Shor. 'You never want to look behind the curtain, but this year, on the surface anyway, things are going remarkably well. People are loving the films. I'm proud of that. I have never programmed a bad movie, and it pays off.'
On Saturday, following a peppy mid-morning panel discussion on distribution methods of independent films, screenwriter Kamen visited the Back Lot tent for a jam-packed screenwriting seminar that played out like a cross between a standup comedy show and a therapy session. He first regaled the crowd with a fast-paced rundown of the plot of his next film, stopping short of revealing the ending.
'I don't want any of you to rip me off,' he joked.
Next, he gave his philosophy of screenwriting.
'Get a meeting with a producer, and feed them a line of bull---t,' he said. Once the laughter died down, Kamen was asked to define exactly what he means by 'bull---t.' 'You have to convince people that you know what you are doing, even if you don't yet,' he explained. 'In Hollywood it's OK to lie a little. But for me, I always believe what I'm saying when I say it.'
The highlight of the session came when a visiting filmmaker asked Kamen for advice on balancing a marriage with the pursuit of a filmmaking career.
'Are you married?' Kamen asked.
'I'm an artist who's about to get married,' the young man replied.
'Well, if you have to ask a guy like me a question like that,' Kamen laughed, briefly mentioning his own ex-wife, 'then my advice is pretty simple. Don't get married.'
The same morning, over at the annual UFO Symposium at Andrews Hall, the auditorium was packed with curious filmgoers and true believers eager to meet Travis Walton. The subject of two films at the Symposium, Walton signed books and memorabilia, posing for selfies with high-spirited fans.
'It's human nature, just basic human psychology, to avoid thinking about things that fall too far outside our comfortable frame of belief,' Walton stated during his post-film Q&A session. 'I'm skeptical that the government will ever tell the truth, but with events like this one, at courageous film festivals like this, the truth about UFOs is gradually getting out there.'
'Out there' is a good description of the high-stepping fashions on display at Saturday evening's 'Old Hollywood' party in the Back Lot Tent.
As early-arriving partiers danced to music by 'Everybody's A Star,' others posed for photos on the red carpet, dressed in feathers and finery, eagerly searching the tent for signs of their favorite visiting filmmakers.
'This is my first real break since the festival started,' said Sebastiani manager Roger Rhoten, sipping a beer at the quiet end of the tent. 'I do keep pretty busy when the festival comes around,' he added, 'but it's always a great workout, and I'm pretty sure it helps keep me young and healthy.'
Nearby, one of the festival's other hard workers rests on a small table. A typewriter, apparently having finally given up and broken, stands below a hefty display of typewritten notes.
One cinematic epistle, tucked in behind two others, echoes Rhoten's amiable sentiment, with an additional twist.
Composed by a writer named Ollie, the note stated, 'We are having the best of times. Thank you Sonoma! I've been searching for my path through life. I think I just found it.'
Contact David at david.templeton @sonomnews.com
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