Red all over: The Sonoma Valley Film Festival lures with fine film, food, and wine. (Photo by/courtesy of Sonoma Valley Film Festival, 2007)

Seven from the Sonoma Valley Film Festival

Eve O'Neill April 4, 2008

There are few things in the Bay Area more adventurous and relaxing than being able to take off a day or two and head to Wine Country. The mere fact that driving less than 30 miles north of San Francisco and Alameda counties warrants taking off a “day or two” is testament both to spring fever and the siren song of Sonoma’s hospitality, the lure of the vineyards and riverbanks.

The Sonoma Valley Film Festival, which runs April 9-13, has gone to great lengths to enfold the event in its surroundings. Complimentary food tastings prepared with fresh, regional ingredients will be offered before every single screening. The festival sommelier has chosen over 30 locally produced wines to pair with each food selection. It’s no surprise that the opening night gala at Jacuzzi Winery is sponsored by Food & Wine magazine.

If all of that sounds a little intimidating to the non-foodie cineaste (festival sommelier?!), know that the event does appear to cohere around its two central themes. If a movie holds the ability to bring complete strangers together as a viewing public, food holds the promise of all the good will of its creation, it’s preparation and singular ability to unite. Enjoying yourself should be automatic, especially if there really are wine pairings with 9 a.m. screenings. It doesn’t hurt that it’s centered around Sonoma Plaza, and the furthest two screens are only three blocks apart.

1. The film festival opens with Fugitive Pieces, Jeremy Podeswa’s story of a writer dealing with his traumatic childhood escape from Poland during World War II. It stars Stephen Dillane, Rosamund Pike, Rachelle LeFevre, Ayelet Zurer, and Rade Serbedzija. LeFevre, Zurer and Serbedzija will all be attending the opening night screening in person.

2. Alek Keshishian’s Love and Other Disasters, “presented by” Luc Besson and David Fincher, arrives via a sneak-preview screening April 9 with in-person appearances by Keshishian and Matthew Rhys, who stars alongside Brittany Murphy, Orlando Bloom and Gwyneth Paltrow in this British Vogue matchmaker comedy.

3. This year the festival pays tribute to Michael Keaton, a.k.a. the Best Batman Ever, on Saturday, April 12, with a discussion of his work in film as well as his directorial debut, The Merry Gentlemen, followed by a screening of the classic 1988 Tim Burton comedy Beetlejuice, in which, of course, Keaton plays the title roll.

4. There are 73 other films screening in between the big opening night and the closing. Check out Elvis and Anabelle fresh off its premiere at SXSW; it’s a love story set in west Texas with a slightly morbid twist—Anabelle is a beauty pageant winner who dies of eating disorders, but is miraculously resurrected.

5. You could also see Lynch, a behind-the-scenes style documentary about the elusive filmmaker and directed by someone who calls himself only blackANDwhite, apparently a member of the director’s inner circle who prefers to remain anonymous. Most of the footage takes place during the filming of Inland Empire and Lynch has also been referred to as Lynch (one) because of its rumored place as the first in a three-part series.

6. Animated feature Flatland: The Movie, starring Martin Sheen, Michael York and Kristen Bell, is based on the mathematical satire of the same title written by Edwin A. Abbott in 1880. The main character, a lowly square, gets to experience life in another dimension for the first time.

7. On April 13, in keeping with the lighthearted atmosphere, the Sonoma Valley Film Festival closes with the musical documentary Young at Heart, which follows a seniors-only choir who cover artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Coldplay and Sonic Youth. Much of the true brilliance of the Young at Heart choir stems from the obvious sense of humor held by both the choir director and the members—how could you not enjoy a group of seniors tackling rock classics with titles such as Schizophrenia, I Will Survive, and I Wanna Be Sedated?

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