The Sonoma International Film Festival’s 17th edition came to a rousing close Sunday night following five days that featured capacity audiences for a wide variety 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.”
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 and Latin rhythms, as well as the LGBT Queens & Cowboys party, inspired by the film of the same name, complete with music and dancing.
Festival audiences were treated to a special concert following the screening of “Born in Chicago,” featuring musicians from the film, including blues greats Elvin Bishop and Charlie Musselwhite, Nick Gravenites, Harvey Mandel and Barry Goldberg.
And in between all the fun, some 90+ films at seven downtown venues.
FESTIVAL AWARD WINNERS:
A disillusioned architect and his distant father come together after many years, but when a woman from the past resurfaces, old wounds threaten to break their new-found relationship. The film stars Mary Steenburgen, Justin Bartha and Michael Lerner.
Jury notes: Universal recognition of the father-son relationship told through the specificity of a cultural lens.
Best World Feature: Siddharth, directed by Richie Metha
After sending away his 12-year-old son Siddharth for work, Mahendra (a chain-wallah who fixes broken zippers on the streets) is relieved his financial burdens will be alleviated. But when Siddharth fails to return home, Mahendra learns he may have been taken by child-traffickers. With little resources and no connections, he travels across India with the hope that whatever force arbitrarily took his child away will return him unharmed.
Jury notes: Tremendous heart and humanity in a quickly changing time… classic storytelling with a fresh perspective.
Honorable Mention: Everything Is Fine Here, directed by Pourya Azarbayjani
An engaged girl is gang raped in a desert area of Teheran. In a strict conservative society the crime of the assailants is the catastrophe of the victim. Overwhelmed by rumors her life turns into a nightmare.
Jury notes: A courageous approach to narrative storytelling.
Best Documentary Feature: The Human Experiment, directed by Donald Hardy, Jr.
Narrated and executive-produced by Oscar winner Sean Penn, the film documents how thousands of untested chemicals are in our products, our homes and in us. The film follows a band of unlikely activists who are fighting back. Ranging from a conservative businessman to a teenage radical, they are staking their lives on this battle to protect our health. They go head-to-head with the powerful and well-funded chemical industry to uncover a system that’s been hidden from consumers, where science is for sale and million-dollar PR campaigns keep dangerous products on the shelves.
Jury notes: An important story that needed to be told, and equally entertaining.
Best Narrative Short: Door God, directed by Yulin Liu
On Chinese New Year, a little girl learns reality is not what it seems as she discovers how betrayal can be done out of love. A seven-year-old girl, Lingli, has been waiting two years for her mother to come home. When her family finally puts up the Door God on Chinese New Year, her mother finally returns, but brings irreversible change to Lingli and her family.
Jury notes: A moving tale of a small girl and her father learning to exist following the mother’s abandonment… a story of hope and stoicism.
Best Documentary Short: Happy Hands, directed by Honey Lauren
In 1975 Saigonm, actress Tippi Hedren gave her time and heart on the South China Sea, bravely helping Vietnamese refugees and eventually becoming a fixture in the camp known as Hope Village. There, Miss Hedren personally conceived and provided the means for twenty of the first refugees to establish themselves as manicurists. Together, they brought beauty to the masses, and established a new industry that became a Vietnamese American Dream for a people whose language has no word to describe it.
Jury notes: A revealing introduction of how South Vietnamese immigrants earned a living and gained a sense of self via an unlikely route — nail salons.
AUDIENCE FAVORITE WINNERS
The Stolman Audience Award of $1,000 for Best American Independent Feature:
The Fourth Noble Truth, directed by Gary T. McDonald
After being convicted of road rage, a playboy movie star is sentenced to individual mediation lessons with an enlightened Buddhist teacher.
A³ Audience Award of $1000 for Best Documentary: Taking My Parents to Burning Man, directed by Joel Ashton McCarthy and Bryant H. Boesen
Burning Man is a arts festival in the Nevada desert that is notorious for dust, destruction, and debauchery. Needless to say, it’s not your average place for a family vacation…that is until Bry decides to rip his parents from their day to day office jobs and throw them into an adventure of a lifetime.
Audience Award of $1000 for Best World Feature: Butterfly’s Dream, directed by Yilmaz Erdogan
In a small Turkish town, two young tuberculous poets try to survive while publishing their poems. As they both fall in love, their life would never be the same.