In just seven short years the Napa Valley Film Festival, (the brainchild of husband and wife team Brenda and Marc Lhormer), has become one of the preeminent film festivals in the United States. The duo envisioned a fall film festival that would exhibit the year’s best new independent films and likely Oscar and Golden Globe Awards contenders, while simultaneously leveraging Napa Valley’s outstanding food, wine and hospitality to deliver an unparalleled immersive and transformative festival experience.
The 7th Annual Napa Valley Film Festival took place between November 5-12, 2017, beginning with the premiere of the Guillermo del Toro Oscar contender The Shape Of Water. Two of the film’s stars, Michael Shannon and Michael Stuhlbarg, made appearances to promote the film, (a front runner for a multitude of 2018 Oscar nominations), which features Sally Hawkins in the lead playing Elisa, a mute woman who discovers an alien-like being at the lab facility where she and her friend, Zelda (Octavia Spencer), are employed as janitors. The film takes place in 1962 Cold War America.
When speaking to Michael Shannon, about his work on The Shape Of Water, he had nothing but praise for “genius” director Guillermo del Torro. “He’s one of the great directors on earth,” says Shannon, to us on the Red Carpet. I ask Shannon how he is so fortunate to pick great parts, and seemingly have a body of work that even Meryl Streep would be jealous of. (He has two Oscar nominations under his belt, including for last year’s critically acclaimed Nocturnal Animals and one of the best things about HBO’s Boardwalk Empire). “Au contraire,” he laughs, “You haven’t seen Kangaroo Jack, I take it,” replies Shannon, laughing about one of the films he seems to regret having made. “It’s been a long journey, like the tortoise and the hare. I was the tortoise. I am definitely not an overnight sensation.
“I guess my de facto position is that I would rather be at home with my kids. So if you’re going to make me come do something it better be good. As for the movie getting a lot of awards buzz, this is all Guillermo. It was his vision and dream and I am just walking around in it.”
Michael Stuhlbarg, whom we spoke to a number of times during the festival, because he appeared in two films in the fest, (Call Me By Your Name and The Shape of Water), tells Dylan Tracy, (Wild About Movies managing editor), that he “worked closely with a voice tutor” for his role as a Russian in The Shape Of Water. “Practice makes perfect. A lot of time intensive work. Breaking down the pronunciation of the words, what the words mean, the order in which you’re speaking them, the order in which they make sense to an American and vice versa, the order in which they make sense to a Russian. Understanding those things so that you’re so familiar with them so that it just flows out of you [is what you’re going for]. My tutor was essential in the process and helped me hear the nuances of things that I couldn’t hear very well.”
The Festival kicked off in full swing Wednesday with a trio of films – The Year Of Spectacular Men, Amanda And Jack Go Glamping, and Quest – in which cast members and directors walked the red carpets.
For Amanda And Jack Go Glamping, making appearances were David Arquette, the film’s lead, along with the film’s director, Brandon Dickerson, two producers (Cathleen Sutherland, Susan Kirr), and up and coming teenage actor Chris Carptenter.
Producer Cathleen Sutherland told us how she got David Arquette to sign on to play the lead. “I am friends with Patricia [Arquette, David’s sister]. We worked together on Boyhood,” (Sutherland produced the Oscar winning film), and I told her that I thought that David would be a perfect fit for the role of Jack. She said, ‘Let me send him the script.’ The day after he received the script he called me and told me that he would love to do the film.”
On the red carpet, at the film’s festival premiere, Arquette couldn’t seem happier. It began pouring rain the minute he started walking the carpet, but he stood out there answering questions and promoting the film. “It’s only rain,” he laughed.
Quest, which went on to win a plethora of awards at the festival, including Audience Favorite (Narrative), and Audience Favorite Actor, featured appearances by the film’s director (Santiago Rizzo) and stars, including Gregory Kasyen.
Santiago Rizzo, the film’s writer and director, couldn’t have been more excited. Bumping into him at the closing night gala, right after it was announced that his film had won the Audience Awards for Best Film and Best Actor, it was apparent that he was on cloud nine. “I made this movie to make a difference,” he said. “If you can’t try to help make people’s lives better, what’s the point in living?”
Thursday saw the premiere of Oscar contender Call Me By Your Name, which was written and produced by James Ivory (A Room With A View, Howard’s End, Remains Of The Day), and features Armie Hammer in the lead role. The film tells the story of a scholar (Hammer) who spends a summer “somewhere in Northern Italy” in 1983 with a professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) and his family, and develops a romantic relationship with the professor’s teenage son, (Timothee Chalamet). Stuhlbarg and Chlamet’s performances are Oscar worthy, as is the film’s screenplay, direction, cinematography and original score.
Michael Stuhlbarg has an Oscar caliber scene at the end of the movie, where he talks to his son, who is heartbroken that his summer romance is over. “I would like to think if I had a child that I would be able to be as understanding as my character. I would hope that I would be able to be present enough to know that they are going through something like this, to pay attention, to listen, and to be there for them in every way.
“People don’t necessarily always have the courage to say all the time what you want to say to them. In this case, [on screen], I got to say some really remarkable things to the actor who was playing my son. The words were full of love, compassion and tenderness.
The director of Call Me By Your Name, Luca Gaudagnino, (who lives in Italy), hints at what’s in store for the sequel that is already in the works. “The book and the movie on which it is based end differently,” he told me. “The book has 50 additional pages, from where the movie leaves off. I think it would be great to follow the two characters years later, when they are adults and have families of their own.”
Izzy Gets The F**k Out Of Town also made an impression at the Festival, winning the Special Jury Award for Best Breakout Performance for Mackenzie Davis.
Elijah Wood made an appearance at the Festival for the documentary 78/52, in which he appears briefly in an interview with the film’s director (who was also in attendance at the Festival).
A VIP event held at the Lincoln Theater on Thursday night featured celebrity tributes to Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg, Ian Somerhalder, Nikki Reed and Nancy Meyers.
Ian Somerhalder and Nikki Reed, who just had a baby, (and who brought their baby with them to Napa, but not to the event), were being honored for their charity work with rescue animals.
Nikki Reed and Ian Somerhalder spoke with us right before they received the Humanitarian Tribute.
“We have separate stories and separate paths, starting when we were young, and at some point merged in more ways than one. We ended up getting married, and marrying our passions, with each other as well,” said Reed.
“I started working in Animal Rescue fifteen plus years ago (when she was just 14 or 15), really on a very small scale, starting in my own backyard.”
Ian Somerhalder jumps in, “we started (rescuing animals) as young kids. In regards to organizing an entire foundation, philanthropy, I think, is kind of multifaceted. It’s not just about saving animals. It’s also about creating a better mankind and environment. So passion for animals will always roll into compassion for one another and compassion for the environment. It’s an amazing thing we get to do. Saving little and big creatures is sort of what really our lives are about.”
On Friday, Hollywood superstar Will Ferrell was honored with a tribute, followed by a special screening of his dramatic film Stranger Than Fiction.
I asked Will Ferrell what it was like to reach the pinnacle of his career, at 50 years of age, with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Of course, the award he received at the festival was merely a tribute. He paused for a quick second, but as he always does, came back with a quick and witty response. “Thank you,” he laughed. “I guess I can just go play golf every day and hang it all up.”
As if movies were not enough, the 2017 Napa Valley Film Festival Featured an array of culinary demonstrations, wine tastings, vineyard tours and mixers, VIP parties and dinners, all of which featured stars and directors in attendance and participating. Elijah Wood and David Arquette tied on aprons and tried their hands in the kitchen, as is evidenced in the photos below. Ian Somerhalder cozied up to a pig.
Saturday afternoon the Materra Cunat Family Vineyards was the place to be, where six rising stars were honored. Among them, Gregg Sulkin (staring in the new Hulu series Runaways) Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049), Austin Stowell (Battle of The Sexes), Alex Wolff (My Friend Dahmer), Analeigh Tipton (The Long Home) and Odeya Rush (Lady Bird).
The Festival Gala on Saturday night pulled out all the stops with dozens of celebrities appearing on the red carpet, including Pierce Brosnan, (whose wife Keely’s documentary, Poisoning Paradise, and directorial debut was showcased in the fest), Lea Thompson, who directed both of her daughters, Maddie and Zoey Deutch, in the film The Year Of Spectacular Men.
Lea Thompson and daughter Zoey Deutch walked the red carpet. Just because we could, and since she was standing right next to her mother, we asked Zoey what her favorite movie of her mother’s is. “Some Kind Of Wonderful,” she replied, without skipping a beat. “It’s the movie where my parents met, (the film’s director, Howard Deutch, and Lea Thompson, have been married since 1989), and has a special meaning.”
Judy Greer was also there for her directorial debut, A Happening Of Monumental Proportions.
Since Greer is appearing in the new Halloweeen reboot, alongside Jamie Lee Curtis, as Karen Strode, we had to ask her if her character Karen was a long lost sister of Jamie Lee’s character, Laurie Strode. “I don’t think I can answer that,” she said, “without getting sued.” The character is still top secret.
Haley Joel Osment, Thomas Middleditch, Giancarlo Esposito, Dash Mihok and Jason Ritter also made appearances on behalf of their films that were showcased in the festival. (We bring you our interviews with them on another page, later this week).
In total, (short films, feature length films and documentaries, combined), there were over 120 films presented at the 2017 Napa Valley Film Festival.
If you missed this year’s festival, or if you want to plan ahead so that you don’t miss out on a spectacular experience next year, we have the dates for next year’s festival already; The 8th Annual Napa Valley Film Festival runs November 6-11, 2018. And we will be there once again.
It’s never too early to make plans to visit one of the most spectacular areas in the United States, especially during such an amazing week of films, food, wine and outdoors.
The full list of Juried Awards is below:
Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature presented by Italics Winegrowers, and with a $10,000 cash prize courtesy of Meadowood Napa Valley, goes to Stuck.
Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature presented by John Anthony Vineyards, and with a $10,000 cash prize courtesy of Meadowood Napa Valley, goes to Skid Row Marathon.
Jury Award for Best Screenplay presented by Darioush goes to The House of Tomorrow.
Jury Award for Best Ensemble Cast presented by Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley goes to The Boy Downstairs.
Jury Award for Best Narrative Short presented by Rombauer Vineyards goes to The Dam.
Jury Award for Best Documentary Short presented by Grgich Hills Estate goes to The Tables.
Jury Award for Best Lounge Feature presented by Duckhorn Portfolio goes to Quest.
Jury Award for Best Lounge Short presented by Acumen Wines goes toThe Arrival.
Special Jury Award – For Depth and Grace in Documentary Filmmaking presented by Castellucci Napa Valley goes to The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin.
Special Jury Award – Best Breakout Performance in a Lounge Feature Film presented by Materra Cunat Family Vineyards goes to Mackenzie Davis for her work in the film Izzy Gets the Fuck Across Town.
A full list of Audience Awards is below:
Audience Award for Favorite Actor presented by Tamber Bey Vineyards goes to Gregory Kasyan for his work in the film Quest.
Audience Award for Favorite Actress presented by Davis Estates goes to Olivia Holt for her work in the film Class Rank.
Audience Award for Favorite Documentary Feature presented by The Hess Collection goes to Skid Row Marathon.
Honorable Mention goes to 40 years in the Making: The Magic Music Movie
Audience Award for Favorite Documentary Short presented by Reynolds Family Vineyards goes to Make It Work: The Idea.
Audience Award for Favorite Narrative Feature presented by VGS Chateau Potelle goes to Quest.
Honorable Mention goes to Stuck.
Audience Award for Favorite Narrative Short presented by RiverHouse by Bespoke Collection goes to The Final Show
Honorable Mentions go to Life Boat and Brothers.
Audience Award for Favorite Short Feature presented by Eleven Eleven Winery goes to Taming Wild: A Girl and a Mustang.
All photos either by Dylan Tracy or “Courtesy of the Napa Valley Film Festival.