Film Festival Chronicles Napa Valley•Sonoma County
Wine Country Film Festival Platinum 20th Anniversary Edition — 2006 1987 — Festival’s Inception In 1987, Napa Valley and Sonoma County did not have a single movie screen dedicated to independent, international or art ﬁlms. The Cold War was still raging. Apartheid was a blight on South Africa. Against this backdrop, a new breed of American artists was making ground breaking ﬁlms that represented fresh ideas. Platoon was poised to sweep the Oscars. Hannah and Her Sisters, The Mission, Mona Lisa and A Room with a View were among the year’s best. Stephen Ashton was a local ﬁlmmaker living in Sonoma Valley. Upon his return from Colorado’s prestigious Telluride Film Festival, he decided to bring ﬁlmmakers and their inspiring ﬁlms to our area. He believed that cinema would inspire us to go beyond our limitations. His passion became his mission: to establish a Film Festival that would make a difference - one that would alter people’s perceptions of one another, bridge
cultural gaps and would venture into territories providing insight into the world of the arts, social issues, and international understanding. When the last frame went dark on May 4, 1987, Stephen’s dream - the Wine Country Film Festival - proved to be a winner.
The Festival’s program of 35 ﬁlms with attending ﬁlmmakers and engaging exchanges had challenged us and changed how we looked at the world. Filmmakers inspired us with tales of the making of their remarkable ﬁlms. They included Jeremy Larner (The Candidate),
Richard Boyle (Salvador), Ron Shelton (Time Under Fire), Rob Nilsson (On the Edge) and Paul Jarrico (The Salt of the Earth). Eager for more of this amazing experience, we formed more committees and started to plan for year two. 1988 — Talent Galore. Quick to out grow 4 days and 4 nights, our Festival grew to 8 days/8 nights in three towns including Petaluma, Santa Rosa and Healdsburg. It also took place in July and August. Our program format included four ﬁlm series: American Independent Features (now called U.S. Cinema), Arts in Film, International Films (now called World Cinema) and Films from Commitment (now called Cinema of Conscience.) We dedicated our Festival to the late Paul Kohner whose special kind of magic was felt throughout Hollywood for ﬁve decades. We welcomed ﬁlmmaker Irakli Kvirikadze, our ﬁrst international guest, from the Republic of Georgia in
the USSR (at that time.) We were all anxious to learn about the effect of Glasnost on his country. 1988 also marked a large increase in the number of celebrities, directors, producers and notables who attended the event including Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr, Spalding Gray, Mare Winningham, Dean Stockwell, and Anthony Edwards. Our Opening Night premiere ﬁlm A Fish Called Wanda starring Kevin Kline, John Cleese and Jamie Lee Curtis made the critics’ top ten list that year. Before the world premiere of Married to the Mob, our ﬁrst tribute went to its director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Stop Making Sense.) The on stage interview was hosted by LA Times Art Editor, Charles Champlin who later wrote “this is a pleasant surprise - a ﬁlm festival without all the glitz and glamour. Intimate, thought provoking - sure to be one of the best.” 1989 - Festival Expands to 10 Days. Taking another signiﬁcant step to establish itself as one of the most rewarding events in the region, our Festival expanded to 10 days/10 nights, featured over 70 ﬁlms and added
to our program The Planetary Series (now called EcoCinema). We welcomed from the Soviet Union ﬁlmmaker Rashid Nugmanov, scores of independent ﬁlmmakers and actors including Oscar winner Lynn Redgrave, Oscar nominee Sally Kirkland, and actor David Carradine (of “Kill Bill II” fame). Highlights included Opening Night’s hilarious When Harry Met Sally by Rob Reiner starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies, and videotape, Barbara Trent’s explosive Cover Up: Behind the Iran Contra Affair, and a Master Class on Acting with Michael York and David Carradine. Closing Night’s premiere Blood Hounds of Broadway starred Matt Dillon, Randy Quaid and Madonna.
1990 — Festival Expands to Napa. Bigger than ever, our Festival hopped over the mountains into Napa County to present ﬁlms at the Vista Cinema in Calistoga. Highlights included more ﬁlms about the planet including Gaia: The Living Planet, For Earth’s Sake: The Life and Times of David Brower and If Dolphins Could Talk. Stephen expanded his festival circuit traveling to Toronto, Russia, Berlin and Cannes in search of international gems for our local viewing. Our ﬁrst Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Dudley Moore. Festivities included a reception at Viansa Winery in Sonoma Valley, a luncheon at Korbel Champagne Cellars in Guerneville, and a Tribute at the Lincoln Theater in Napa Valley. These intimate hours with Dudley are treasured memories. We will never forget his piano performance at the Lincoln Theater nor will we forget his generosity, goodwill and comic genius.
1991 — 5th Anniversary. By our Fifth Anniversary season we had hit our stride. Returning to Healdsburg, Petaluma and Calistoga our Festival expanded to 12 days/12 nights. With growing international acclaim, we premiered over 80 ﬁlms and added Music in Film to the program.
We established a Sister Film Festival in Odessa on the Black Sea. We premiered the stunning and provocative A Day in October by Just (Babette’s Feast) Betzer. The ever entertaining Rip Torn as Walt Whitman mesmerized us with a reading of poems preceding the ﬁlm Beautiful Dreamers. In the Arts in Film series David and Albert Maysle’s Christo in Paris was the standout documentary. Other highlights included the sold out screening and world premiere of The Linguini Incident starring David Bowie with director Richard Shepard (The Matador) on hand and Vojtech Jasny’s Why Havel? narrated by Milos Forman. This ﬁlm is an intimate look at one of the most extraordinary ﬁgures of our time, Vaclac Havel, the dissident playwright who became President of Czechoslovakia.
1992 — Outdoor Screenings Begin. We launched Films al Fresco™ our spectacular outdoor ﬁlm screenings at the Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley. Lina Wertmuller’s Saturday, Sunday and Monday starring Sophia Loren was the perfect al fresco ﬁlm to kick off this program. Today our Festival shows more 35mm ﬁlms outdoors than any other festival in North America. Nicolas Cage attended the screening of Honeymoon in Vegas. To further our understanding of other cultures we added Discover the Americas (now CineLatino.)
We introduced our Poster Artist Series featuring world renown artists LeRoy Neiman, Sam Francis, Rick Garcia, Renato Casaro, Lu Hong, Patrick Morrison, Bob Nugent, Rafal Olbinski, and Wosene Kosrof who created original art pieces for our Festival. Film legend cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond attended the Fest with his ﬁrst directing effort The Long Shadow. 1993 — Nastassja Kinski Graces Us. Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet opened the Fest at the Uptown in Napa. Baraka with its stunning juxtaposition of images and music was spectacular under the stars at Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma. An Evening with Nastassja Kinski, with an interview on stage conducted by Michael Krasney, preceded La Bionda. During the outdoor screening of Le Souper we served a three course meal. 1994 — Gregory Peck Honored. Our Opening Night ﬁlm Tin Cup starred Cheech Marin, Rene Russo and Kevin Costner. The ﬁlm was introduced by Cheech Marin who earlier that day hosted a Celebrity Golf Tournie. Our next Life Achievement Award went to the legendary Gregory Peck at Rutherford Hill Winery in Napa Valley. We honored
his career as an actor and his work with the American Civil Liberties Union and other humanitarian progressive movements. He and his wife stayed for the weekend and attended smaller get togethers with valley residents.
1995 — Anthony Quinn Honored. Our Opening Night premiere was Gus Van Sant’s To Die For starring Nicole Kidman and Matt Dillon. Anthony Quinn received our third Lifetime Achievement Award at Clos Pegase Winery. He was honored for both his acting career and his magniﬁcent talent as a painter and sculptor. Alfonso Arau’s A Walk in the Clouds starred Quinn, Keanu Reeves and Aitana Sanchez-Gijon screened al fresco at Viansa Winery. 1995 marked the 100th Anniversary of Cinema. Special events included an Evening with Eleanor Keaton who came to the Festival to honor her husband Buster Keaton at the screening of his classic The Cameraman, Claude Massot’s Kabloonak and Splendor starring Marcello Mastroianni. Closing Night premiere ﬁlm at Viansa Winery was John Boorman’s Beyond Rangoon starring Patricia Arquette, Aung Ko and Frances McDormand. 1996 — Tenth Anniversary. Turner Classic Movies partnered with us to present the newly restored silent ﬁlm Faust by F.W. Murnau. The ﬁlm screened outdoors at Viansa with musical accompaniment and a performance by opera soprano Diane Di Stasio. We established the David L. Wolper Documentary Film Prize, named after the renowned ﬁlm producer (Roots, The Thorn Birds.) We proudly presented O Quatrilho by Brazilian director Fabio Barreto. Sonoma County’s internationally known “Little Fiddlers” performed before Alan Miller’s Oscar nominated Fiddlefest. Martin Sulik’s The Garden - Slovakia’s ofﬁcial submission to the Oscars won our 1996 Best of the Fest International Award. 1997 — Screenings in Jack London State Park. Our Valley of the Moon Cinema™ unspooled ﬁlms outdoors in Jack London’s old winery ruins in Glen Ellen for the next six years. Presenting a stellar program of over 100+ ﬁlms from around the globe, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote “like a ﬁne wine, this festival gets better with age”.
Miramax’s Shall We Dance by Masayuki Suo opened the Fest. Hallmark Entertainment’s version of The Call of the Wild starring Rutger Hauer and narrated by Richard Dreyfuss stayed true to London’s original tale. A Tribute to Philip Kaufman (The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Right Stuff, Henry and June) preceded White Dawn starring Louis Gosset Jr. and Warren Oates. Carla’s Song starring Robert Carlyle, Oyanka Cabezas and Scott Glenn by acclaimed British director Ken Loach, won Best Picture in our International Series. A Tribute to Celeste Holm (Gentleman’s Agreement) preceded Still Breathing starring Holm, Lou Rawls, and Brendan Frasier. Jo Menell (in person) and Jonathan Demme’s monumental Mandela told the story of South Africa’s President Nelson Mandela and his lifetime struggle for freedom. 1998 — Festival Invited to UN. For the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights, Stephen was invited by the UN to present ﬁlms from our Festival in Geneva and to present Martin Scorsese and other ﬁlmmakers awards for their contributions to human rights through cinema. Our Distinguished Producer Award was given to Anant Singh, producer of over 40 ﬁlms including Saraﬁna starring Whoopi Goldberg, Cry the Beloved Country starring James Earl Jones, and 2004’s Oscar nominated Yesterday. A stirring Tribute to Robert and Margrit Mondavi honored their accomplishments in the arena of culture and life itself. Columbia Tristar’s Dance With Me by Randa Haines starring Vanessa L. Williams and Chayanne screened under the stars. The Michael Wolff Quartet performed before the screening of The Tic Code, starring Gregory Hines and Polly Draper. A relatively unknown Hilary Swank starred with Jason Robards in Heartwood. The newly restored version of Nights of Cabiria by Federico Fellini
(1957 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film) was a rare treat for moviegoers. 1999 — Ernest Borgnine Honored. Opening Night at Sequoia Grove in Napa Valley was the premiere of The Nephew starring Pierce Brosnan and Hill Harper. Life Drawing starring Mark Ruffalo and Beth Ulrich opened our Sonoma run. Richard Shepard’s Oxygen starred Maura Tierney and newcomer Adrien Brody. Best Feature (International) went to Rolf de Heer’s fantastic Dance Me to My Song. The powerful Cabaret Balkan - The Powder Keg from Yugoslavia, Best European Film of the Year, was a sell out. Our Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Ernest Borgnine who won the Oscar for Best Actor in the ﬁlm Marty - the ﬁrst American ﬁlm to win the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival.
2000 - Honorees Kirk Douglas, Richard Harris and Rita Moreno. In Person Tributes were presented to Kirk Douglas, Richard Harris and Rita Moreno. World famous glass artist Dale Chihuly created the awards for our distinguished honorees. One of the year’s best ﬁlms Luis Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bougeoisie screened under the stars. French director Patrice Leconte’s stirring Girl on the Bridge was a Festival favorite. From Iran, Farhad Mehranfar’s The Tree of Life won our Gaia Film Award. On behalf of HH The Dalai Lama a representative from Tibetans in Exile received our ﬁrst Humanitarian Award.
2001 — Jose Ramos Horta Honored. Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World starring Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson and Steve Buscemi had its Northern California at Sequoia Grove Vineyards in Napa Valley. This offbeat gem won our Best Independent Film Award. Our Humanitarian Award to Nobel Peace laureate Jose Ramos Horta preceded The Diplomat. Malachi Roth’s Limon: A Life Beyond Words following the life and career of dancer-choreographer Jose Limon won Best Film in the Arts series.
2002 — George Lucas Drops By. George Lucas was a surprise guest during our Life Achievement Award to Richard Dreyfuss at Domaine Chandon. Stars Kiefer Sutherland and Nastassja Kinski shined in Paradise Found, the story of Paul Gauguin. Argentine director Eliseo Subiela received our Distinguished Director Award. Rivers and Tides and Eric Valli’s Himalaya took top honors. 2003 — Charlie Chaplin Award. Acknowledging Charlie Chaplin’s diverse talents, humanitarian efforts and social mindfulness we established the Charlie Chaplin Award. It was presented to John Turturro whose talents include acting, writing and directing. Jane Seymour was honored at the Sebastiani Theatre
in Sonoma for her work to eradicate measles in Africa as documented in James Keach’s Disease of the Wind. Gerald Corbiau’s extraordinary The King is Dancing won Best of the Festival. 2004 — Patrick Swayze Dances in. The Festival opened with Bob Smeaton’s Festival Express at Sequoia Grove Vineyards. We were honored to screen Born into Brothels which won the Oscar for Best Documentary. A Tribute to Patrick Swayze was attended by over 300 people. Patrice Leconte’s Intimate Strangers won Best of the Fest. A Salute to Africa included Cosmic Africa and a photographic exhibit by Paige Depont at Kunde Estate Winery in Sonoma Valley. 2005 - Carroll Ballard Receives Our Gaia Award. Make It Funky! opened the Fest at Nickel & Nickel Winery in Napa Valley. We hosted Tributes to Jack Klugman and director Carroll Ballard and Master Classes with Ballard and cinematographer Barry Stone. An Evening with Danny Trejo preceded Champion his inspiring true story.
CineLatino (20 Spanish language ﬁlms) and EcoCinema (20 eco ﬁlms) were enthusiastically received. Spanish director Joaquin Oristrell’s Unconscious won Best of the Fest. Chateau Felice Winery and Nicholson Ranch Winery hosted our Sonoma County outdoor ﬁlms. Nobel Peace laureate Jody Williams received our Humanitarian Award at Copia in Napa prior to the world premiere of Disarm and dove release at Nickel & Nickel Winery. 2006 —
PLATINUM 20th ANNIVERSARY...
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