As another year closes on the Mendocino Film Festival, another chapter in the town’s storied cinema history is also written. This year, the festival welcomed 55 films from 18 countries, including documentaries, animated shorts, California premieres and multiple Sundance and selections.
Mendocino’s roots in film
Over the years, the festival itself has been a draw for film buffs, aspiring filmmakers and world-renowned creators alike.
Last year, Oscar-winning producer Marc Sondheimer stopped by to regale audiences with a behind-the-scenes look at his approach to making Pixar shorts. Also in attendance were Pierce Brosnan and his wife, Keely Shaye Brosnan. The couple screened their award-winning documentary, Poisoning Paradise, and accepted the festival’s Rogue Wave Award.
This year, Jimmy Smits and Esai Morales, stars of the widely-praised Mi Familia, brought their star power to the festival, along with the film’s Oscar-nominated writer-director Gregory Nava. The film, which also stars Edward James Olmos, Jennifer Lopez and Constance Marie, was showcased at the festival to a great reception.
But, Mendocino’s movie roots run far deeper than just a year or two. They stretch back decades to make this cozy coastal community a staple in the world of cinema, both past and present.
Mendocino’s captivating scenery and quaint, out-of-the-way charm have been the backdrop for movies dating back decades. James Dean can be seen standing by the town’s bluffs in the critically acclaimed East of Eden (1955). H.P. Lovecraft’s terrifying novel-turned-film, The Dunwich Horror (1970), uses Mendocino to set the tone for an occult mystery. You may even recognize Mendocino as the backdrop for Stephen King’s Cujo (1983) or as the fictional town of Lawson, CA in The Majestic (2001) starring Jim Carrey.
The annual Mendocino Film Festival celebrates these pages in the town’s cinematic biography, while also highlighting modern achievements in filmmaking. Through the festival, Mendocino has solidified itself as a destination for film, year after year. This year was no exception.
“Every year we’re fortunate to have one or two noteworthy people make the journey to support our festival. Three years ago, Andre Leon Talley; last year, Pierce and Keely Shaye-Brosnan; this year, Esai Morales and Jimmy Smits. And they have all been wonderful and such a boost to the festival. They’re present at the films and the parties and have all been just genuinely wonderful people,” said Guy Pacurar, Film Festival Board Member and Owner of Mendocino’s Brewery Gulch Inn.
Kicking off the festival
The 2018 Mendocino Film Festival began Thursday, May 31 with a sneak preview for supporting members and sponsors of the festival’s headliner films as well as jury awards and accolades. The juries, made up of Los Angeles and Bay Area-based film industry professionals, awarded Night Comes On best narrative feature, and Summer 1993 for Best Narrative Directorial Debut. Dark Money was best documentary feature, and Rodents of Unusual Size received a special Films For Our Future award. Welcome to Country won best short film and a Special Jury Award for Short Film Director went to Dave Mullins for Lou. The opening night ceremony also presented Rogue Wave Awards to Jimmy Smits and Esai Morales for their work as co-founders of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, which increases access for Hispanic artists and professionals and fosters the emergence of new Hispanic talent. (The Rogue Wave Award was established by the festival to honor those individuals within the film industry who have used their talents, celebrity and resources in service to society and the world at large.)
On June 1, the festivities officially kicked off with a fun opening night party—a chef showcase for members and sponsors. The event included a hearty selection of regional wines, craft beers and craft cocktails, with food prepared by 17 local celebrity chefs. Diverse entertainment spanned everything from a performance by The Bad Aunties, a San Francisco improv-comedy troupe, to a live burlesque show with Les Filles Rouges.
Three Days of Cinematic Excitement
Following celebrations, the real shows began, transforming Mendocino into a moviegoer’s paradise for 3 full days of cinema.
“Early in the festival, viewers were treated to powerhouse flicks like Nick Offerman’s much-lauded Hearts Beat Loud, a Brett Haley-directed favorite from Sundance,” said Michael Fox Mendocino Film Festival Board President. “Also shown early in the festival was Academy Award Nominee Faces Places, the road-style documentary about getting to know the stories behind everyday people around the country. The Fred Rogers biopic, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? saw strong viewership and further cemented itself as one of the most promising films of the year so far.”
Day 2 saw a diverse range of movies hit the screen, including Sundance selection Eighth Grade, directed by comedian Bo Burnham, RBG, the much-acclaimed Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic, and Florida Project, Academy Award Nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Willem Dafoe. “SXSW hits, ¡Las Sandinistas! and Meow Wolf, also welcomed full houses on day 2. Animated masterpiece Coco—Academy Award Winner for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song—packed audiences in, as did foreign features like the uplifting Irish musical drama The Drummer and the Keeper and French World War II saga The Guardians,” said Claudia Puig Mendocino Film Festival Program Director. “While two special evening shows featured standing room only audiences—Love, Gilda, and Getting Naked, this year’s audience award winner was a tie, with 2 of our most riveting documentaries taking the prize: RBG and Won’t You Be My Neighbor.”
As the festival came to a close, audiences were treated to a wide array of powerful films including Gustav Moller’s The Guilty, the Sundance-selected Dark Money, and a matinée showing of the shocking, emotional documentary Three Identical Strangers.
“I think this year’s selection of films is one of the most diverse and compelling that I have seen since moving to Mendocino 12 years ago. And I think the ticket pre-sales (350 ahead of any previous year to date) bears that out,” said Pacurar.
Thematic elements tell the story
As it does each year, the Mendocino Film Festival entertained, stunned and delighted audiences with riveting, thought-provoking and award-winning independent and international films. “One of this year’s core themes focused heavily on women in cinema—with women-centric films like RBG, Ovarian Psycos and Chavela—as well as cultural diversity through films such as Mi Familia, Night Comes On and Soufra. Powerful female leads and gender-conscious stories paved the way for women to flourish at the center of some of the festival’s most anticipated films,” said Puig. On Saturday morning the festival featured a Women Filmmakers Panel, moderated by Puig, with 8 female directors and producers engaging in lively discussion about challenges faced, as well as goals and expectations for the #timesup era.
This year’s Mendocino Film Festival also focused heavily on essential contemporary issues. Politics, environment, social struggles and other hot-button topics all had stories to tell across each day of the festival.
“We want our films to reflect the triumph, struggle, conflict and uplift of our shared humanity. The diverse slate of movies we showed at the festival this year are meant to engage us on all levels. Films such as Quest, Inventing Tomorrow, Harold & Lillianand Brimstone & Glory reminded audiences of the power of the human spirit and underscored the reality that everyone has a story to tell,” said Puig.
Regardless of what type of cinema captures your heart or enthralls your mind, this year’s festival had something for everyone, with selections destined to become classic favorites.
The charm and allure of Mendocino Coast
My visit to the Mendocino Film Festival this year was perfectly complemented by my stay at the historic Noyo Harbor Inn & Restaurant, located in Fort Bragg – just a short drive away from Film Festival activities. The inn offered a sublime outlet for rest and relaxation, as well as further proof that the Mendocino coast is a true slice of heaven. “Noyo Harbor is a very classic and unspoiled (by overdevelopment) unpretentious working harbor,” said owner Joseph Marino. “The myriad of colors and smells, movement in the abundant sea life, where trees and old wood pilings meet water and boat, the taste of salt air, hopeful fishermen, the comforting and intriguing melodies of this Shangri-La mesmerize me every time I happily return.”
The inn offers instant access to Northern California’s Coastline, Noyo Harbor, the Noyo River and plentiful walking trails, completely surrounded by natural vistas and portrait-worthy landscapes on all sides.
Noyo Harbor Inn & Restaurant offers all of the amenities you could want, wrapped in luxury and allure. Each room is its own handcrafted space—a departure from any traditional hotel room or generic inn lodging. Rooms are cozy, wrapping you in the warmth of natural wood and plenty of wonderful sunlight.
Venturing into the facilities themselves, the Noyo Harbor Inn & Restaurant features a gorgeous pre-prohibition era inspired bar, capable of serving up craft cocktails and world-class wines—the perfect place to unwind after a full day of cinematic adventures. Evenings at the inn are best spent on the restaurant patio at sunset. “Our patio is perched over the Noyo River. It’s a view that can’t be beat, especially when combined with excellent service and delicious farm to table cusine, said Marino.Get to know the area
If you’re looking to wander off and explore just a little, you’ll find that beauty abounds from the nearby Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. Located on 47 acres that lie between California’s scenic Highway 1 and the Pacific Ocean, this magnificent site includes canyons, wetlands, coastal bluffs, and a closed-cone pine forest. Set among this striking background is a varied array of plant collections. The moderate climate allows for growing a wide range of tender species plants which cannot survive the more extreme heat or cold that occurs in other locations.
They are especially known for rhododendrons. Their collection includes more than 125 species of rhododendrons and more than 190 cultivars, many developed by the region’s enthusiastic and generous rhododendron growers. More than 1,000 rhododendrons can be seen blooming throughout the Gardens from early spring until June.
Also nearby is Pacific Star Winery. This destination is a must-visit for anyone who appreciates wine and beautiful views of the ocean—of which it offers both in excess.
Thanks to local attractions such as these, superb lodging options and the storied history of the region, the annual Mendocino Film Festival continues to establish itself as a world-class destination for cinema each year. Capping off its 13th successful year, the festival has once again proved itself among the most anticipated of the year and cemented its worthiness among filmmakers, critics and movie-goers alike.