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The 9th Annual Sonoma Valley Film Festival

Local Festival Makes Good

I was pleasantly surprised to learn recently that one of the top film festivals in the country is right up the road, so to speak, and that it offers a particularly tasty cinematic lineup as well as the opportunity to simultaneously indulge your culinary hankerings. The Sonoma Valley Film Festival promises an "intimate five days of new, top-quality independent films, with gourmet wine and food pairings at each screening, as well as special events, VIP receptions and tributes." I've long been aware of other festivals in the Bay Area, such as the San Francisco International Film festival and the Mill Valley Film Festival, but this was not on my radar.

This year's Festival will present a total of seventy-five films, including six world premieres, one North American premiere, and 15 West Coast and 13 Bay Area premieres, as well as many films produced by Bay Area filmmakers. Films are organized into six categories: American Independent Features, World Cinema Features, Documentary Features, Lounge Films, and Documentary and Narrative Shorts.

A quick glance at the program yields some particularly intriguing offerings -- the following is but a tiny sample. Kirby Dick's This Film Is Not Yet Rated, focuses on the anonymous, often clueless, and amazingly arbitrary group of people who give films their ratings. I've heard some encouraging buzz about this piece, and I love the idea of the film. Kinky Boots, from the UK, appears to be a bit of a Full Monty tale about a drag queen superstar rescuing a failing old-world shoe factory. Hog Island, directed and produced by local filmmaker Tom Clyde and filmed in Point Reyes, is the story of a woman haunted by her past who leaves behind her safe home and husband in San Francisco and rents a house on Tomales Bay where she befriends two drifters. I assume the local oysters must figure prominently in the story somehow, but maybe I'm just getting hungry thinking about the great food and wine up there.

Wordplay is director Patrick Creadon's look at New York Times crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz's work and that of his puzzle-building collaborators. As these pros demonstrate how to create a crossword, Creadon cleverly integrates interviews with celebrity crossword solvers, including Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, Jon Stewart, Ken Burns, and the Indigo Girls. And F*CK is evidently about the "f-word" and features dozens of interviews with actors, linguists, comedians, news commentators, politicians, scholars and people on the street, from Kevin Smith and Sam Donaldson, to Hunter S. Thompson and Ice T. I would guess this film is not rated PG.

If star-spotting rattles your cage, famous film people scheduled to attend the 2006 Festival include Danny Glover, Julie Delpy, Patricia Heaton, Melissa Joan Hart, Tony Shalhoub, James Denton, Brooke Adams, comedian/actor Brain Posehn, director Penelope Spheeris, Oscar-winning Pixar director John Lasseter, and legendary producer Zalman King.

There are also several panel discussions on a variety of topics where filmmakers will discuss their work, people can pitch story ideas to industry pros, the evolution of distribution will be hashed over, and the challenges of matching film to music will be explored.

Opening night presentations include Dance with the Devil, a special world premier directed by controversial auteur Zalman King (9 Weeks), a documentary which takes a backstage look at the steamy, jazzy and "very Bob Fosse" cabaret show at Harvelle's Nightclub in Los Angeles. Following the film's debut, the stars of Dance with the Devil will invade the theatre to perform their show live.

Last, but by no means least, the Sonoma Valley Film Festival is the only film festival in the world to boast its own official sommelier, for those of you who can't leave home without one. One might guess he's partial to pairing "buttery" Chardonnays with the popcorn and Junior Mints, but you never know.

The 9th Annual Sonoma Valley Film Festival
April 5th - 9th
Tickets: $10 at the door per screening, $50 for one day passes. $200- $1,100 for different levels of all-festival passes
707.933.2600