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Reality Grip

Napa Valley Film Fest lines up special guests, provocative films

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Survival on Screen Natural-disaster documentary 'Code and Response' is one of many timely films screening at the Napa Valley Film Festival.
  • Survival on Screen Natural-disaster documentary 'Code and Response' is one of many timely films screening at the Napa Valley Film Festival.

As locals reel over the Kincade fire, the Napa Valley Film Festival (NVFF), running Nov. 13–17, keeps a grip on reality with apt screenings of powerful films.

First up, Code and Response, which tracks four coders bent on using technology to fight the wrath of Mother Nature. The IBM-produced documentary goes inside the aftermath of some of the worst natural disasters of 2018, as four "coders," from California, Japan, Puerto Rico and Mexico, use technology to support front-line first responders.

"We were compelled to get on the ground and learn more from first responders but also learn from some local coders who are making a difference," said executive producer/writer George Hammer. "When we actually saw towns turned to ash and the personal toll on individuals, it really hit home. I am pleased that we can premiere the film for the people of California as their battle with Mother Nature rages on and their search for answers inspires the next generation of ideas."

The war against anti-LGBTQ laws peacefully unfurls through a song in Gay Chorus Deep South, which takes viewers on an emotional ride of reckoning. The award-winning film follows the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, as they perform throughout the Southern states, to enlighten and shift thinking in a place where people remain divided over faith, politics and sexual identity.

Motherload propels the cargo-bicycle movement and the mission to decrease the carbon footprint, one cycler, bike and family at a time. Director Liz Canning went in search of a way to bike with her young twins and unearthed a new way of life. Canning posted a trailer for the film in 2011 and invited submissions that captured the cargo-bike experience. The effort fueled a crowdsource initiative that resulted in the feature-length documentary. "There's a Fairfax family in the film who replaced a car with a cargo bike after watching the trailer online," she says. "They were one of hundreds of local families whose lives were transformed by Jelani Bertoni and The Bicycle Works [one of two Marin-based cargo/utility/e-bike shops featured]."

Provocative programing continues with Coach, which follows the plight of San Francisco State Women's Soccer Coach, Tracy Hamm, who the U.S. Soccer Federation denied access to an internationally recognized accreditation. Martha: A Picture Story, chronicles the life of Martha "Marty" Cooper who upset the continuum when she documented the first images of graffiti to appear in New York City subway cars in the 70s and became the first female photographer at the New York Post. Cooper's book Subway Art went on to become one of the most stolen books of all time.

Frothy features like Greener Grass step in to lighten the mood. The farcical romp stars Upright Citizens Brigade mainstays Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe, who make their directorial debut. They set the film in a candy-coated, soccer-mom-infested, Stepford-like suburbia, where family members are "swapped," braces reign, and social-climbing and neighborliness hit hilarious highs.

Good vibes roll on at the screening of I Want My MTV, where '80s-lovers and MTV-worshipers unite. The buzzed-about doc takes viewers on a nostalgic ride that chronicles the rise of the network that brought music videos to the masses. Commentary from Sting, Pat Benatar, Billy Idol and more is sure to get people dancing not only with themselves, but down the aisles. The throwback theme continues at the Saturday-night Gala at Lincoln Theater, which encourages attendees to tease up their hair, stick on the shoulder pads and slide into a pair of acid-washed jeans to rock the night away.

A-list celebs will light up screens throughout the fest, starting with the Tuesday Sneak Preview of Ford V Ferrari (Matt Damon and Christian Bale) and the Wednesday Opening Night screening of Just Mercy (Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson).

This year's Celebrity Tribute programing honors Kevin Bacon, Olivia Wilde, Vanessa Hudgens, Jillian Bell, Mena Massoud, Kelsey Asbille, Dean-Charles Chapman, Jacob Elordi, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Liana Liberato and others, who should attend events on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The fest rolls out the red carpet for locals with a new community-screening program that grants Napa Valley residents free entry to all morning screenings at Lincoln Theater.

No NVFF would be complete without a hefty pour of wine-related screen talk. The closing night showing of Verticals delivers. The series, directed by Jason Wise, focuses on Napa Valley winemakers and the human condition that comes with the territory. The Sunday screening at the Uptown Theatre marks not only the world premiere of Verticals, but the launch of SOMMTV, the first food and wine dedicated streaming platform. Wise, whose filmmaking cred includes the SOMM trilogy, describes the venture as a Netflix-like streaming service for wine and culinary enthusiasts. After days of turmoil over wildfires, public safety power shut offs and the general state of the union, a clink of the glass to honor the strength and endurance of our valley and the people who inhabit it feels like the perfect "wrap" to the festival week.

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