Two movements have dominated discussions in 2018: gender equality and action over outrage, topics that reign at this week's Napa Valley Film Festival, running Nov. 7–11.
The fest, now in its eighth year, takes a stand with the #ArtInspiringAction initiative, where provocative, issue-based films amp up theatergoers to take action in support of themes explored in the films. One such documentary, This Changes Everything, features an army of A-list actresses who speak out on gender disparity in the entertainment industry. Actor, activist and producer Geena Davis (the main subject of the film), will be presented with the Visionary Award on Friday, following the screening. Davis will be honored for her work to further women's rights and gender equality; as special envoy for the U.N.'s International Telecommunications Union, and through her nonprofit, the Geena Davis Institute.
On Saturday, a panel, Women in Film: Shattering the Glass Lens, will further extend the conversation around equality with a lineup of female filmmakers who will discuss their careers and ways we can band together to effect change in the industry.
Other #ArtInspiringAction programming includes Afghan Cycles, about a tribe of Afghan women who, despite cultural barriers, oppression and death threats, rally against the patriarchal hold of the Taliban for the freedom to ride a bicycle. Soufra follows the journey of Mariam al-Shaar, a generational refugee, who spent her whole life in a refugee camp in Lebanon. Over the course of the film, Shaar changes her fate when she builds a catering company and food truck with the help of fellow refugee women.
Ask for Jane tells the story of a group of college women who developed an underground abortion network to help over 11,000 women get illegal abortions in Chicago between 1969 and 1973. The film is based on the real-life activist group, the Janes, who operated a spy network to assist with abortions before being arrested in 1972.
A bevy of Bay Area films hit the screen, including Uncrushable, directed by celebrity chef Tyler Florence. The film documents the last year's wildfires through the eyes of some of those most affected, including victims who lost homes or businesses, first responders, chefs and winemakers. Empire on Mainstreet spotlights serial entrepreneur Crista Luedtke, who changed the face of Guerneville when she opened the Boon Hotel & Spa and El Barrio amid local opposition and a devastating flood.
Brewmaster tracks the rise of the craft-beer industry and offers a glimpse into Sonoma County beer brewing in the '70s and features the New Albion Brewery. And tails are sure to wag at the #ArtInspiringAction screening of Pick of the Litter, as theatergoers see a litter of puppies scrap it out on a quest to become guide dogs for the blind. The movie is directed by Bay Area filmmakers Don Hardy and Dana Nachman.
With all the drama on and off screen, festival-goers can laugh it off at a sneak peek of the National Geographic miniseries Valley of the Boom (premiering January 2019). The two-episode screening explores the detonation and disruption of the tech boom and browser wars of the '90s, weaving scripted dialogue and real-life segments. Bradley Whitford and Steve Zahn star.
Funny bones are sure to be flexed at Friday's special tribute honoring the legendary Groundlings theater group, which launched comedic wunderkinds like Will Ferrell, Lisa Kudrow and Melissa McCarthy. Ferrell said this about his experience at last year's fest, "I was just happy to be a part of the festival and do a little Q&A but to be honored as well," Ferrell said about last year's festival. "It's great because in the comedy world, we don't get a lot of awards. It's nice to have your work recognized." One of Groundlings' founding members, Laraine Newman, is expected to attend alongside alums Cheri Oteri, Taran Killam, Stephanie Courtney and Julia Sweeney.
At Thursday's Celebrity Tribute, actor, producer and director Laurence Fishburne will receive the Legendary Actor award, alongside Maverick Award recipient Billy Bob Thornton. Saturday's Rising Star Showcase will honor up-and-coming talents, including Camila Mendes (Riverdale), Billy Magnussen (Game Night), Rosa Salazar (American Horror Story), Alexandra Shipp (X-Men: Apocalypse), Tye Sheridan (Tree of Life) and Taissa Farmiga (The Nun; What They Had).
Two new venues make their debut at this year's fest. In Calistoga, theatergoers can get rolling at the drive-in theater at the Calistoga Fairgrounds, which will screen a daily double feature and sport 50 parking spots for cars and bleacher seating for 100, with enough throwback snacks to cure even the meanest case of the munchies.
The new Feast It Forward studio in Napa will host the Wednesday-night kick-off party and serve as the down valley hub, with a diverse programing and party scene that includes culinary demos, film inspired wine and food pairings, a filmmaker lounge and live music, all set within a happening indoor-outdoor space.—Christina Julian
Napa Valley Film Fest runs Wednesday, Nov. 7, through Sunday, Nov. 11, at several venues in Napa County. Visit nvff.org for the full lineup.