With March well under way and spring around the corner, the clouds are starting to clear in the North Bay, meaning the stars are coming out to shine. From now through May, several of Hollywood's top actors, emerging filmmakers, gifted documentarians and others will make their way to Sonoma and Marin for special screenings and festivals offering one-of-a-kind film experiences for local audiences.
First up, one of the most recognizable faces in movies for the last 30 years, John Cusack comes to Santa Rosa to screen and discuss his hit comedy High Fidelity on March 15 at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts.
The story of record shop owner Rob Gordon (Cusack) recounting his top five failed relationships is set against a backdrop of over 70 pop songs spanning multiple decades and genres of music; the film has become one of the most beloved romantic comedies for music and film lovers alike. Cusack not only starred in the movie, he co-wrote and co-produced it, bringing the novel by Nick Hornby to life.
"I had made a bunch of films with Joe Roth, who ran Disney," says Cusack. "And I had just made the first film I wrote and produced called Grosse Pointe Blank. We had a really good experience, and we had a big soundtrack on that movie. Kathy Nelson, who was the music supervisor, was a real wizard."
After the success of Grosse Pointe Blank, Cusack turned to High Fidelity and brought Nelson along for another music-centric film. But this time, the music took on a physical role, with Cusack and his friends (Jack Black and Todd Louiso) hanging out in a record shop and debating various top five lists like "Top five recording artists" and "Top five musical crimes perpetrated by Stevie Wonder in the '80s and '90s."
High Fidelity also told a compelling story about love and relationships, as Rob attempts to figure out where he went wrong in the past and fix his current romantic situation, while also reorganizing his record collection autobiographically.
"I'm not as much of a collector in person, but I certainly value music the same way," says Cusack of his character. "A lot of people live autobiographically through art, and they have albums and songs and movies that mean something to them in their life, when they first heard the song, or the era of the song. Those themes run close with me."
High Fidelity was also the breakout role for Jack Black, whom Cusack recruited for the part. "I knew we had an ending to the film because I knew Jack and had seen his act Tenacious D in Los Angeles," says Cusack. "I knew the part was perfect for him and that he would be able to knock 'em dead with the music at the end. We had a ball."
Beyond being one of the most entertaining movies about music ever, High Fidelity captured an audience through the relatable characters and emotional narrative.
"It tells a lot of secrets about men, our inner monologue and thought processes," says Cusack.
On hand for the screening and conversation, Cusack looks forward to the chance to talk with fans of the film.
"What we usually like to do is take questions directly from the audience," says Cusack, who has toured with other films. "They're into the movies and know them well. I like to take questions and let them ask whatever they want."
John Cusack appears Friday, March 15, at Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. 7:30pm. $39 and up. 707.546.3600.
Sonoma International Film Festival
Celebrating its 22nd year, the Sonoma International Film Festival takes over Sonoma's historic plaza for five days, March 27–31. The fully walkable festival includes more than 90 films ranging from independent features, shorts and documentaries from around the world.
Past guests to SIFF have included stars like Bruce Willis, Susan Sarandon, Meg Ryan, Robin Williams and Danny Glover, and it wouldn't be a Sonoma event without offering world-class cuisine from local artisans and exceptional wine from Sonoma vintners to go with the films.
This year includes another packed lineup of parties and screenings, starting with the opening-night reception featuring live music from the Rich Little Band and a screening of the new film Ladies in Black, about the lives of a group of department store employees in 1959 Sydney and directed by the Oscar-nominated Bruce Beresford.
Other special events include the very popular Chefs and Shorts Dinner on March 28, featuring highly regarded culinary luminaries preparing a five-course dinner inspired by short food films from around the world.
Another must-see highlight of this year's SIFF is the UFO symposium on March 30, boasting two investigative documentaries, Aliens at the Pentagon and The Nimitz Encounter, and a panel discussion. There's also a showcase of the Lunafest traveling film festival on March 30 with a program of films by women filmmakers. Beyond the festivities, SIFF supports the visual arts educational programs in Sonoma Valley schools and community outreach programs.
Passes for the Sonoma International Film Festival, running Wednesday to Sunday, March 27–31, at Sebastiani Theatre and nearby venues in Sonoma, are available at sonomafilmfest.org.