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Feeling Festive

director bear
Dennis Ziemienski



A new film festival is added to county

By Gretchen Giles

THERE SEEMS TO BE some law governing the direct proportion of big-budget bloaters being released on an unsuspecting moviegoing public to the amount of innovative film festivals acting to offset that bloatage.

For example, the Wine Country Film Festival has just completed a successful four-week, two-county run, and the Mill Valley Film Festival--which last year screened two of its films in Petaluma--is set to celebrate its 20th year.

And take the Sonoma Valley Film Festival. Haven't heard of it? That's because this is its first year, and what a year this promises to be.

Chaired by BASS Ticketron president Jerry Seltzer, and with an advisory board comprised of such marquee names as director Francis Ford Coppola, actors Danny Glover and Mare Winningham, comedian Tommy Smothers, audiophile Bernie Krause, and filmmaker John Lasseter, the Sonoma Valley Film Festival--organized to flare up Oct. 17-19--promises to stay in lights for some time to come.

Organized partly as a benefit for the venerable Sebastiani Theatre, this festival also bolsters the effort to underwrite the ambitious Sister Cities program instituted nationally under the Eisenhower administration and implemented locally in 1987, when Sonoma got sororal with cities in Italy, the Ukraine, and Mexico.

Screening all films at the 63-year-old Sebastiani, the Sonoma Valley Film Festival kicks off on Friday, Oct. 17, with a blast from the past, reinventing the '50s as well as perhaps only a venture that involves Coppola could.

With plans to take over the Plaza area across from the Sebastiani, festival organizers will host a hot-rod car show, a barbecue dinner with food of the era ("Jell-O molds?," we inquire. Publicity chair Katherine Krause just laughs), a sock hop in the middle of the street, and of course, actual films being shown in the theater.

Saturday opens with the video Just Kids, a project undertaken by Tony Barbera of Barbera Film Works, a truly by-, for-, and with-kids effort. Featuring the work of local children who auditioned to write, produce, act in, and provide costuming and sets for the short film, Just Kids is locally filmed and will screen in conjunction with a behind-the-scenes film detailing their efforts.

Other plans for Saturday morning include jugglers, magic and musical events, and even valet parking for those youngsters who arrive pedaling their own two- (or three-) wheelers.

Saturday proper features a directors' panel discussion on the arts of filmmaking and the FX particulars of special effects, with movies screening all day. Saturday night is a benefit gala with a dinner dance at the historic Sonoma-Solano Mission aimed at re-creating the platinum-blonde glory days of early Hollywood.

Showing that night is a rarity, a film produced solely for a film festival. With the cash backing of festival chairman Seltzer and others, writer, filmmaker, and actor William Richert is producing his version of Dumas' classic The Man in the Iron Mask. Begun filming this summer, Iron Mask has 55 speaking parts and yet is being made on a $300,000 shoestring budget. The actors and crew are helping back this inexpensive project in hopes of recouping a substantial profit after its festival debut.

Sunday is the festival's finale, with screenings all day. Films are still being chosen, and event producers are yet attending other festivals to glean choices.

Celebrities are promised, but Krause demurs when pressed to name names. Those who wish their own name in lights may opt for the softened lighting the Sebastiani shines before the films, as individual chairs may be "bought" for refurbishment, the donor's name plaqued onto the seat afterwards.

"This event," says Krause with satisfaction, "involves the whole community directly."


For details on the Sonoma Valley Film Festival, call 939-0306 or 939-2784.

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From the August 14-20, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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