Nearly a month after the North Bay wildfires ravaged the land, the Napa Valley Film Festival charges forward as planned.
The decision to carry on was not an easy one, according to co-founders and directors Brenda and Marc Lhormer, who quickly reached out to employees and seasonal staff (many of whom lost homes) to verify their safety. Next, they assessed the state of screening venues, partner wineries and the overall footprint of the fest to determine the viability of continuing.
“A week and a half after the fires began, we called our team together, our masks on, choking back air. We went around the room and asked how everyone was feeling, mentally and physically. We asked every single person, ‘Do you think you can still do this?’ The resounding answer was, ‘Yes. We want to do it more than ever, so we can be a part of the recovery efforts and make this the most memorable festival yet.'”
Realizing they were in a position to assist, the Lhormers are donating 10 percent of all revenues to the Napa Valley Community Foundation Disaster Relief Fund. Presenting sponsor Lexus also stepped up and donated 1,000 tickets to select screenings for those impacted by the fires.
The festival lineup remains unchanged. More than 120 films, Q&As, culinary demos, special events and winetastings are set to take off on Nov. 8 with the opening-night screening of The Upside, starring Nicole Kidman and Bryan Cranston, at the Uptown. The film tells the true story of a Park Avenue billionaire left paralyzed after a hang-gliding accident.
With the political climate of the country at a tipping point, there are a bevy of films that strike against the presidential grain. ACORN and the Firestorm tells a moving story about the grassroots organization that played a notable role in the campaign that led to Barack Obama’s landmark victory in 2008. LA 92 dives into the events surrounding the uprising following the Rodney King beating.
To further torment the president, there are a string of films featuring strong women and their plights for equality. A Fine Line spotlights San Francisco chef Dominique Crenn, who delves into why only 6 percent of all head chefs and restaurant owners are women. Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table tells the tale of the chef and business woman whose legendary career shaped the culinary scene in New Orleans and launched Emeril Lagasse and Tory McPhail.
Fans of the cult classic Thelma and Louise will revel in the documentary Catching Sight of Thelma and Louise, which examines how much (or little) has changed in the way women are treated and perceived. Famed director, writer and producer Nancy Meyers (Something’s Gotta Give, The Intern) will be honored on Thursday, Nov. 9, as part of the Celebrity Tribute night at Lincoln Theater in Yountville. Others being spotlighted include Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg, Nikki Reed and Ian Somerhalder. On Friday, Nov. 10, Will Ferrell will be honored at a special tribute followed by a screening of the actor’s favorite film, Stranger Than Fiction.
This year’s fest features more than 19 films from Bay Area filmmakers, actors and locations, including Make It Work: The Idea, about the students of Phillips Elementary in Napa, many of whom are children of immigrants living beneath the poverty line—none of which stopped them from beating 100,000 other kids in an online math competition.
The feature Quest, about a 12-year-old graffiti artist, was inspired by the life of its director-writer, Santiago Rizzo, who rose beyond a violent upbringing, thanks to Bay Area teacher Tim Moellering, who took Rizzo in as a child and changed his life.
Copia makes a comeback this year as a screening venue, hosting the gala on Saturday Nov. 11, and serving as home to the Culinary Stage. CIA chefs, filmmakers, and wine and food experts come together for unique sessions including “Let’s Eat Some Bugs Everyone!” which will dissect the latest culinary wave, with filmmakers from The Gateway Bug, who are sure to stir up something original.
Celebrities expected to attend this year’s festival include David Arquette, Dennis Quaid, Elijah Wood, Zoey Deutch, Lou Diamond Phillips, Thomas Middleditch, Haley Joel Osment, Jim Rash, Eric Stoltz and Lea Thompson. The NVFF will wrap with a screening of Molly’s Game at the Uptown, which follows the true-life story of Olympic-class skier Molly Bloom who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game before being busted.
Perhaps the most fitting film of the festival may be Man in the Red Bandana, the story of an unsung hero who rushed people to safety on 9-11 before the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed on him.