The Sonoma International Film Festival truly came of age as the 16th edition came to a close Sunday night following five s days of films from around the world.
“This has been an extraordinary year,” said SIFF Executive Director Kevin McNeely. “We are energized by the talent we’ve seen by both emerging and established filmmakers and we’ve enjoyed introducing them to our vibrant community.”
This year’s festival kicked off with the Opening Night screening of the “The Iceman.” Director Ariel Vromen and cast member Ray Liotta were in attendance and participated in a Q&A for the packed house at the Sebastiani Theatre. The two extended their stay in Sonoma in order to participate in the Sonoma Valley High School Media Arts Program where they answered questions from over 300 local aspiring filmmakers, as well as to attend a dinner that evening by presenting sponsor Netflix DVD.
Sonoma Spotlight Award recipients Mary-Louise Parker and Demián Bichir (pictured) were honored together at a Saturday evening tribute event reflecting on each of their noteworthy careers in film. The two engaged in playful conversation with moderators Elliot Kotek and Claudia Mendoza-Carruth with respect to each of their bodies of work, as well as their time spent together on the series “Weeds.” Festival Executive Director Kevin McNeely presented the actors with their awards, which in true Sonoma fashion were crystal ice buckets from Tiffany & Co.
Festival attendees were treated to a weekend full of food and fun, with daily wine tastings in the Backlot Tent, a Latin Fiesta with Mexican food by Rancho Viejo and music by the Carlos Herrera Band, a special beer dinner and film tour from premiere sponsor New Belgium, as well as an LGBT Secret Disco Party and Festival Gala, complete with music from local U2 cover band Unforgettable Fire.
Continuing the festival’s program of Latin films, this year’s Vamos Al Cine (Cinema en Español) celebrated the contributions, culture and values of the town’s vibrant Latino community. The program offered cinema from Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, Spain and Mexico. Highlights included “Hecho en China” (Made in China), starring Odiseo Bichir and audiences were treated to an introduction of the film by his brother Demián Bichir. Acorazado tells the hilarious tale of a failed Mexican trade unionist from “Veracruz,” by Director Álvaro Curiel de Icaza, as well as the US premiere of Carlos Osuna’s animated feature “Fat, Bald, Short Man.”
Jury members for SIFF this year included screenwriting guru Syd Field, talent manager Beth Holden-Garland and USA Today film critic Claudia Puig for the Narrative Features. Tom Davia, director of Festivals & Alternative Theatrical Distribution for Shoreline Entertainment, writer-producer Darryl Ponicsan, and Susannah Greason Robbins, executive director of the San Francisco Film Commission made up the jury for Documentary Features. The Short Film jury included Mari Aixalá Dawson, founder of Animari Films, Bears Fonté, director of programming for the Austin Film Festival, and Elliot Kotek, editor-in-chief of Beyond Cinema.
The jury agreed they had a tough decision this year with such high quality films, which were interesting, unique and tremendously diverse. A common theme of the program was media manipulation and invasion of privacy, which was reflected in the winning films “Blackbird” and “Terms and Conditions.” In the end, the jury emerged confident that the next generation of films is in good shape.
FESTIVAL AWARD WINNERS
Best American Independent Feature: “As High As The Sky,” directed by Nikki Braendlin.
Honorable Mention for American Independent Feature: “Favor,” directed by Paul Osborne.
Best World Feature: “Blackbird,” directed by Jason Buxton
Best Documentary Feature: “Terms and Conditions May Apply,” directed by Cullen Hoback.
Best Narrative Short: “Chance of Rain,” directed by Philipp C. Wolter
Best Documentary Short: “The Flogsta Roar,” directed by Johan Palmgren.
AUDIENCE FAVORITE WINNERS
Best American Independent Feature: “As High As The Sky,” directed by Nikki Braendlin and star Caroline Fogarty, who was there to receive the award.
Audience Award of for Best Documentary: “Living on One Dollar,” directed by Zach Ingrasci, Sean Leonard and Chris Temple, who were on hand to receive the award.
Best World Feature: “Jackie,” (The Netherlands), directed by Antoinette Beumer.
Festival attendees partied on into the night following the Closing Night screening of “A Monkey on My Shoulder,” directed by Marion Laine and starring Juliette Binoche and Edgar Ramirez.