Film fest fades to black

The Sonoma International Film Festival brought down the curtain on its landmark 15th anniversary Sunday night, celebrating five extraordinary days of cinema that included an unprecedented 137 films from more than 30 countries.

The U.S. premiere of the acclaimed French film, “The Source” (La Source des femmes) brought a fitting end to the film program, which was international in scope as never before. The festival opened with the “The Lady,”which like The Source is from Luc Besson’s Europacorp, and then offered a stunning lineup of 15 Spanish-language films selected for La Quinceañera Film Fiesta, a festival-within-a-festival inspired by the coming-of-age ceremony celebrated by Latina girls on their 15th birthday.

Sunday’s night’s award ceremonies also reflected the festival’s international flavor, honoring the Québécois feature film “Starbuck” with both juried and audience-favorite awards.

Guests of honor during the festival included actor Christopher Lloyd and director John Waters, both of whom treated audiences to a showcase of their current projects before receiving tribute awards. Lloyd starred in both “Cadaver,” a short animated film by Jonah D. Ansell, and “Last Call,” a feature film by Greg Garthe, both of which were screened Thursday night. Waters performed his one-man vaudeville act, “This Filthy World,” to a sold-out crowd on Saturday.

Dame Shirley Bassey was in attendance for the world premiere of “Sir Billi,” Scotland’s first full-length animated feature. Produced and directed by Tessa and Sascha Hartmann, it stars Sir Sean Connery as the voice of Sir Billi, while Dame Shirley sings the film’s title track, “Guardian of the Highlands.”

“It’s great to be here and share this film with a wonderful Californian audience,” said “Sir Billi” director Sascha Hartmann. “It was great to see the excitement and emotions that filled the Sebastiani Theatre, because this is what filmmaking is all about – conveying emotion and engaging the audience. The incredible reaction was testament that our journey was all worth it!”

Besson’s Opening Night film, “The Lady,” played to a full house at the Sebastiani Theatre on Sonoma’s historic plaza after an introduction by Sonoma resident Robert Kamen, Besson’s longtime writing partner (“Karate Kid,” “The Fifth Element,” “Taps” and “Lethal Weapon”). Starring Michele Yeoh as Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Sonoma screening was especially timely, coming a week after Suu Kyi’s landslide election to the Myanmar Parliament. Radu Mihaileanu’s “The Source” closed the festival with a drama of female empowerment in the Arab world, but with a more comedic flair as it presented the story of a village of women who go on a sex strike until their men are willing to help fetch water from a nearby well.

The Sonoma International Film Festival – known for its fun, food and wine in addition to its inspired film programming – delivered entertainment in many forms with something for just about everyone: from a Cuban cigar lounge to performances by acrobats and circus performers; family films paired with dog adoptions to panel discussions about extraterrestrial life; beer gardens to freshly made donuts; red carpet spectacle with bagpipers and a Scottish parade to a fleet of rickshaw pedicabs taking guests from one venue to another; rock bands to tarot card readings; afternoon picnics to a skating demo with 100 roller derby girls in fishnets.

Festival Award Winners

Audience Favorite World Feature:

STARBUCK (Canada | 103 min. | dir: Ken Scott)

Audience Favorite Feature:

DOGGIE BOOGIE (USA | 87 min. | dir: Romanus Wolter)

Audience Favorite Documentary:

WALL: The Journey Up (USA | 88 min. | dir: Wally Baynard)

Audience Favorite from La Quinceañera Film Fiesta:

AMONG WOLVES (Entrelobos) (Spain/Germany | 114 min. | dir: Gerardo Olivares)

Best Narrative Feature:

STARBUCK (Canada | 103 min. | dir: Ken Scott)

Best Very Independent Feature:

HIDALGO: The Untold Story (Hidalgo: La historia jamás contada)
(Mexico | 115 min. | dir: Antonio Serrano)

Best International Feature:

MANIPULATION (Switzerland/Germany | 90 min.| dir: Pascal Verdosci)

Best Documentary Feature:

Tie between:
SHAKESPEARE HIGH (USA | 81 min. | dir: Alex Rotaru)
WALL: The Journey Up (USA | 88 min. | dir: Wally Baynard)

Best Animated Short:

TMZ (USA | 4 min. | dir: Bill Plympton)

Best Foreign Short:

VOLUNTAD & PAZ (Venezuela | 24 min. | dir: Carlos P. Beltrán)

Best Documentary Short:

BONE WIND FIRE (Canada | 30 min. | dir: Jill Sharpe)

Best Dramatic Short:

BEE (USA | 20 min. | dir: Raphael Hitzke)

Special recognition: Actor Lexi DiBenedetto
in LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED? (USA | 20 min. | dir: Kim Rocco Shields)

Best Experimental Short:

A FINGER, TWO DOTS, THEN ME (USA | 8 min. | dir: Daniel Holechek & David M. Holechek


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