Ben Kingsley’s Jules wins Audience Award at Sonoma Film Festival
The festival offers an intoxicating celebration of food, wine and film over five days amid the lush vineyards of California’s wine country.
The 26th annual Sonoma International Film Festival (March 22-26) kicked off with the opening night world premiere of Marc Turtletaub’s “Jules.” The Wine Country Film Festival brought together a robust slate of upcoming specials programmed by newly appointed Artistic Director Carl Spence (in collaboration with Executive Director Ginny Krieger), such as Paul Schrader’s “The Master Gardener,” starring Joel Edgerton and Sigourney Weaver, and Searchlight era. biopic “Chevalier,” starring Kelvin Harrison Jr., fine wine and food events, top chefs, from Martin Yan’s Shaking Beef with Three Onions to Joanne Weir’s herb-covered goat cheese cake.
Co-curated with high-profile programmers Spence, Amanda Salazar and Ken Jacobson, the five-day festival featured 110 films, including seven that premiered in the United States, as well as films recognized at the festival. Thirty-two countries are represented in this year’s series of 38 narrative films, 20 documentaries and 52 short films, jointly selected by the curatorial team and led by short film programmer Oscar Arce Naranjo.
Spence has enlisted such heavyweights as his dramatic jury, including John Cooper (Director Emeritus, Sundance Film Festival), Marcus Hu (Co-Chairman, Strand Publishing), Laura Kim (Executive Vice President, Marketing, Participating Films), Fred Tsui (Founder & CEO, Moebius) Entertainment Limited), and Christine Vachon (co-founder, Killer Films).
Jury winners were selected by a panel of drama, documentary and short film judges, while the audience – from local and surrounding counties and the Bay Area – voted for the audience awards.
“Jules” won the Stolman Audience Award for Best Feature Film; the A3 Audience Award for Best Documentary went to “Karen Carpenter: Starving for Perfection”, and “Nina and Irena” received the McNeely Audience Award for Best Short Film.
Among the jury prizes, the main jury’s best narrative prize went to the Cannes film “Burning Days” by Turkish filmmaker Emin Alper, about a young prosecutor appointed to a stormy small town and sold by the Match Factory. The jury also highlighted Sadaf Asgari and Ghazal Shojaei’s performances in the feature film “Until Tomorrow” with a special award.
The Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary went to “Blackfish” director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s TIFF entry “The Grab,” a chilling exposé about foreign countries buying up resource-rich American land.
The Grand Jury Award for Best Live Action Short Film went to “The Vacation,” while “Historias de Cultura: Comida” won Best Short Documentary and “Christopher At Sea” won Best Animated Short.
The SIFF Filmmaker Award went to Sarah T. Schwab for “A Stage of Twilight,” a cancer drama starring Karen Allen. The award includes a $10,000 production grant from Cinelease for Schwab’s next project.
The entire drama jury, along with Sundance director Eugene Hernandez, participated in a lively industry panel moderated by Cooper called “Film Veterans Tell All,” which touched on a range of topics, including the challenges facing specialty distribution, where theater attendance has dropped dramatically since since the pandemic. Summing up the conundrum facing filmmakers and backers, Vachon, whose latest title “Lives Before” won raves at Sundance and Berlin, said: “How do you get people to take risks? There are companies that have built themselves on crazy big swings. The only way for independence to survive is to be as original as possible, truly alternative. Those who are successful in the independent field are usually successful for that very reason, because you don’t see anything like it anywhere else. And how do you get companies to comply? We are lucky to have A24 and Neon, to still have companies like this. But there are few.”
I had another film industry chat at the Wing and Barrel gun club (complete with a giant teddy bear) with producer David Dinerstein, who not only shared how he got Questlove to direct the Oscar-winning 1969 concert film “Summer of Soul,” but colorful stories recounted his days working with Harvey Weinstein at Miramax, Tom Rothman at Searchlight, and Ruth Vitale at Paramount Vantage. There is no question, he said, that the market for documentaries today is stronger than the two-hour independent narrative.
And San Francisco food and film critic Meredith Brody moderated “A Conversation About Food and Cinema” with culinary filmmakers. Thursday’s Devour’s Chefs & Shorts Dinner menu is inspired by the shorts spoken during the five-course meal (with a different wine for each course), including Ben Proudfoot’s tearjerker “World’s Best Chef,” about pioneering California chef Sally Schmidt. , whose charming cookbook, “Six California Kitchens,” was published posthumously in 2022 at local Sonoma bookstore Reader’s Books. This is the Sonoma experience: an eye-opening film combined with delicious gastronomy and a little local color.
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