If you just can’t wait for the Sundance and Santa Barbara film festivals, now there’s a new option for getting your festival fix before Thanksgiving. Running from November 9 through 13, the inaugural Napa Valley Film Festival will feature an array of features, shorts, and documentaries, including some of the most lauded films of 2011 that have already been released along with hot premieres of big films that will open between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. What’s more, it’s located in four gorgeous walkable villages in Napa — Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, and Calistoga. More than 100 wineries and some of the finest restaurants in the world will be participating in the hospitality aspect of what is sure to be an epic, long weekend of screenings, tastings, great food, and discussion. I spoke with Marc Lhormer, the executive and program director of the Napa Valley Film Festival, by phone last week as he was gearing up for the big event.
How does this festival work?
It runs Wednesday through Sunday. It’s modeled on Telluride. Wednesday is sneak preview night, and this year that’s going to be the Clint Eastwood film J. Edgar with Leonardo DiCaprio. Then Thursday is opening night, which this year will be The Descendants, the new film from the director of Sideways. Then we have Butter, with Jennifer Garner, and Like Crazy, which was my favorite film from Sundance. There are 101 films total as of right now, and 125 wineries taking part. As far as the format of the festival goes, we have premieres, we have competition categories and a distinguished panel of judges, and also we have an audience award. All the winners will get very collectible 3.5 liter bottles of wine that have been donated by our sponsoring wineries. The way it is set up, the participants have a lot of options. There are four separate villages involved, and each one will have several film venues so that you could easily just walk around one village for the whole night or you could go from one to the others. We’ve got over 300 ranking people from the film industry who are committed to coming, and many of them are filmmakers, actors, and other artists associated with the films, so there will be lots of interesting folks to talk with. The whole thing is available by a pass system, with different levels of access going all the way from $10 rush tickets for individual screenings to the Pass Plus and Patron Passes that offer access to special events, like winemaker dinners with the stars and filmmakers.
Starting a new film festival requires some consideration of what’s already happening in the industry. How do you see your festival fitting into the annual calendar?
Well, Sundance has kind of cornered the market niche for independent films, and Santa Barbara and Palm Springs are great places for people to do their Academy Awards campaigns, so we see our role as to provide the perfect end to the year in the pre-Thanksgiving slot. We’re promising the best of the festivals that precede us on the calendar — all the way from Sundance through Berlin, Cannes, Toronto, and Telluride, plus these amazing sneak previews of awards season films that will be released in the window between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Look at it this way: last year we did a dry run, just for the locals, and here’s what they saw: three great films that premiered at other festivals, plus three that were previewing before an end-of-the-year release. Those three preview films were Rabbit Hole, Blue Valentine, and The King’s Speech. We felt we delivered on that promise — the best of 2010 — and we think we can do it again, better.
For information and passes to the inaugural Napa Valley Film Festival, visit napavalleyfilmfest.org.