Disclosure: I covered the 2014 Napa Valley Film Festival as Media, but treated my experience as an actual festival goer. Story unfolds below. Post may include affiliate links that help keep the site running.
Last night capped off the end to the 4th annual Napa Valley Film Festival. This year bringing 22 feature films into competition with one another in over 125 screenings throughout the 5 day festival.
No matter who came to the festival, how they would make the festival theirs was completely up to them. Whether they chose to stay in Napa or ventured forth into other festival village communities. Whether they would dive into films left and right, or stop to enjoy the views and meals along the way or perhaps make it all about the late night parties from the opening Festival Gala Thursday evening all the way to the ending Wrap party on Sunday evening.
But one thing that Napa truly has against many other film festivals is the unique ability of bringing the wine community and film community together in one place so easily.
This year the festival brought out some pretty great storytellers in their Narrative Feature categories with three that really touched the mark, and was even showcased during the rewards ceremony Sunday evening:
Amira & Sam: Winning Best Narrative Feature and 10K from Meadowood News. The story here: Sam is an army veteran struggling to assimilate into normal life stateside. He works a variety of odd jobs, tries his hand at stand-up comedy, and is recruited by his cousin into some shady investment dealings. Sam’s already complicated life is made more so by Amira, an Iraqi woman dealing with her own issues who is the daughter of an old army colleague.
Throughout the festival, while talking with other festival goers, this movie kept coming up. Unfortunately, I did not get to see this one, but can’t wait to see it for myself.
Another star of the festival in the Narrative Feature category was:
East Side Sushi: Winning the Best Screenplay category of the Festival. The story: Juana’s Work-preparing fruit for the family’s sidewalk cart—is steady but hardly her life’s calling. Despite the objections and concerns of her family, Juana decides to pursue her dream of becoming an expert sushi chef, to go where her heart tells her, not where she is expected to be.
Where is that exactly? Eyes on a local sushi restaurant within her neighborhood. This story brought out the heart, the passion of finding something you love along with blending two beautiful cultures together in a well written script that had you laughing at parts along with tears at others. And to think the filmmaker, Anthony Lucero, wrote his script at the Napa Beazley House so this film truly has gone full circle. I will be writing more about this film down the road.
One other Story that happened to be the Audience Favorite at The Lounge at the Napa River Inn was Bar America. The story: Hank, an animal-loving Bukowski-type, and Charlie, a hollowed-out yet charming war vet, host a webcast with a mission to capture the truth–the rawness of America–through interviews with real people. Things get interesting when a couple of shady characters take an unhealthy interest in commercializing the show. This was the perfect film to end the night on Friday evening, a film with lots of laughs while bringing up a very real social issue, when War Veteran’s acclimate to life after being in the military. The story, based on a real life war veteran and friend of Director: Matthew Jacobs.
Other Narrative Features I saw throughout the festival that really touched me included: Wildlike, Song One, and many, many recommended Sun Belt Express to me.
And on the other side of the spectrum that Napa is known for: The Documentaries. Unfortunately, this year I didn’t see as many as last year, but the ones I did take the time to see, I thoroughly enjoyed. (Underwater Dreams and American Native.)
The Documentary Feature winner of the festival was: An Honest Liar. For as long as there have been magicians and illusionists, there have been doubters and debunkers making sure that the general public doesn’t get taken for a ride. One of the greatest illusionists of his era was “The Amazing Randi,” who made the shift from magic and escape acts to exposing the frauds who prey on unsuspecting victims.
And the Audience Favorite Awards:
.Audience Award for Favorite Actor presented by Rutherford Hill goes to Dev Patel from The Road Within.
• Audience Award for Favorite Actress presented by O’Brien Estate goes to Zoe Kravitz from The Road Within.
• Audience Award for Favorite Animated Short presented by Hess Collection goes to The Missing Scarf.
• Audience Award for Favorite Documentary Feature presented by Priest Ranch goes to States of Grace.
• Audience Award for Favorite Documentary Short presented by Luna Vineyards goes to Slomo.
• Audience Award for Favorite Lounge Feature presented by Hill Family Estates goes to Bar America.
• Audience Award for Favorite Narrative Feature presented by Rutherford Ranch Winery goes to Amira & Sam.
• Audience Award for Favorite Narrative Short presented by Clos Pegase goes to The Gunfighter.
• The runner-up for Narrative Shorts presented by Cairdean Vineyards goes to Selling Rosario.
This year’s festival also welcomed two new venues to the scene. The Domaine Group, an event focus group surrounding wine offering unique, elevated experiences, and their screening venue was no different:
The venue offered couches, comfy chairs, and yes, even inflatable couches. During morning screenings even offering glasses of mimosas for purchase.
The second new screening venue is none other than City Winery, taking over the former Napa Opera House, an iconic town center for so many Napa locals. This screening venue offering a completely new twist to the festival with meal service provided during your screenings. The only odd thing is that if you attend a screening by yourself, it might make things a little awkward, but they did offer seats at the bar area.
City Winery was host to many of the Red Carpet Screenings where Celebrities would come live for the Q&A’s after the movies which was also the venue that saw a ton of big lines. Unfortunately, for many, this was one of the most frustrating parts of this years Napa Valley Film Festival, and for some, waiting even an hour, didn’t gain them access into the screening of the film. More and more, the Red Carpet Screenings are always the place with the biggest turn outs at the Napa Valley Film Festivals, but of all the years of the festivals, it was the most noticeable at the 4th annual event.
But, one thing is for sure, Napa Valley truly knows how to put on an event, and the film festival is no different. I truly can’t wait to see what 2015 will have to offer especially when it comes to the films. Stay tune for some feature film reviews from the 2014 festival.