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The 15th Annual Sonoma International Film Festival

[Archived Post from February 25, 2012]

Picture it: You, standing in the Sonoma sunshine, looking fabulous in your Ralph Lauren sundress and wide-brimmed hat, holding a glass of Le Crema Pinot Noir while chatting with the producer of Chico & Rita about how he should have won the Oscar for best animated feature, not the silly movie about a schizophrenic lizard. And, why yes, I will have another of those savory little artichoke tartlets being served by the Bistro Boudin staff.

If you enjoy films, then why not attend the 15th Annual Sonoma International Film Festival? It’s one of the nation’s top ten destination film festivals, and it’s a lot easier to get to than Sundance’s Park City. The festival was founded in 1997, and has since become a mecca for lovers of film, food, wine, and music, as well as an annual gathering place for film industry insiders, filmmakers, critics, and celebs (Susan Sarandon, John Lasseter, Michael Keaton, Bruce Willis, Lauren Hutton, and Saul Zaentz are all past attendees and discussion panel participants).

Watch, Eat, Drink, Gossip, Repeat

The Film Festival takes place over five days in mid-April in the town of Sonoma, with its bucolic town square as the epicenter and eight film venues within an easy stroll. Which means once you park your car you can leave it there and spend a most pleasant day watching your favorite indies from more than 100 new independent films from around the world, partaking in the question-and-answer session with filmmakers, actors, and producers after the screenings.

After each film you’re encouraged to stroll over to The Backlot Tent—the culinary hub of the Film Festival—to nosh on gourmet cuisine and Sonoma Valley wines and scope out the scene while waiting for the next showing (“Is that Robin Williams over there talking to Danny Glover?”).

Trash Talk

The highlight is this year’s Festival is the vaudeville performance by cult director John Waters (Hairspary, Cry-Baby, Serial Mom) of This Filthy World. This latest iteration of his evolving monologue to all things trashy draws from Waters’ fascination with true crime, exploitation films, fashion lunacy, and the extremes of the contemporary art world. “John Waters exemplifies some of America’s most unique filmmaking beyond mainstream storylines. His ability to portray extreme characters with both darkness and humor is a testament to his extreme talent,” said Festival Director Kevin McNeely. “We are excited and honored to have him attend our festival.” His performance on Saturday, April 14, is sure to sell out, so be sure to purchase tickets as far in advance as possible.

Bring Your Teen

While most of the film screenings are for adult audiences, the festival promoters and Red Bull Productions have teamed up to create a venue for teens that includes two of the most exciting sports action full-length documentary films ever made: Mt. St. Elias (skiing) and The Art of Flight (snowboarding) both bring the rush of adventure and abandon to the festival mix as the Red Bull Team zips energy drinks from venue to venue via a fleet of Mini-Coopers.

La Quinceañera Film Fiesta

The Sonoma International Film Festival will mark its 15th birthday in April with a new offering aimed at celebrating Spanish-language films. “La Quinceañera Film Fiesta,” a two-day festival-within-a-festival, features documentaries from Spanish-speaking countries.

Some of the films being offered include the Cuban film Chico & Rita, which is nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 2012 Academy Awards; Detras del Milagro (Beyond the Miracle), the story what happened after the 33 Chilean miners were rescued after being trapped 69 days underground; the Spanish film Entre Lobos (Among Wolves) tells the remarkable true story of Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja, who as a child learned to survive with a pack of wolves that eventually accepted him as one of their own.

“La Quinceañera” is set from 11am to 11pm on Saturday and Sunday, April 14 and 15, with a kick-off party complete with mariachi music set for Friday, April 13, in the Back Lot tent on the Plaza. Whenever possible, the filmmaker, actors or producers will offer question and answer sessions after the screenings. Each film, presented in Spanish with English subtitles, will be offered for $1 a ticket, with one- and two-day packages offered as well.

Lady Gaga’s Secret World

Last year more than 200 filmmakers presented 97 films from 14 countries at the Festival, and this year will host even more screenings, such as Wall: The Journey Up from Stephen J. Wampler, the first person with cerebral palsy to climb and summit Yosemite’s El Capitan peak; the acclaimed Israeli film Dolphin Boy, and Lady Gaga’s Secret World, an inside look at how the superstar rose to fame.

The 2012 Sonoma International Film Festival starts on Wednesday, April 11, at 5pm, and culminates on Sunday, April 15, at midnight. Passes come in four price ranges: Anniversary, Star, Premiere & Festival:

Festival Pass ($175 each; $320 for two): Access to all regular films and panels & Closing Night Awards Party.

Premiere Pass ($325 each; $600 for two): Access to all films and panels with priority film entry before Festival Pass holders; Opening Night Reception; entry to celebrity Spotlight Tributes; Closing Night 1st film screening and Awards Party.

Star Pass ($675 each; $1,275 for two): Access to all films and panels with “Fast Lane” entry for priority seating; access to all receptions and post-film parties; all Spotlight Tributes; “Big Night” Party; entry to special VIP Food & Wine area of Backlot.

Anniversary Pass ($1,500 each): The ultimate SIFF experience with all the benefits of the Star level pass — plus access to fleet transportation during The Festival; “Meet & Greet” with celebrities; Intimate, private small group dinner with Festival Tributee.

For general Festival information and to purchase passes, log onto sonomafilmfest.org or call 707/933-2600.