The ultimate celebration of film, food and wine, the Napa Valley Film Festival (NVFF) lights up wine country at the most colorful time of year, November 7-11. Now in its eighth year, NVFF will present 100 new independent films and studio sneak previews in 10 beautiful venues in Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga. Attendees will interact with more than 300 filmmakers at screenings and special events, as well as enjoy daily culinary demonstrations and wine tastings.
We caught up with Napa Valley Film Festival Co-Founder & Artistic Director, Marc Lhormer to get a closer look inside all that the festival has to offer this year.
Travel Writer, Jennifer Boden: Tell us about this year’s Napa Valley Film Festival. When is it and what are some of the “star” films guests should look forward to?
This November 7 – 11 we present our 8th annual Napa Valley Film Festival. The festival is a grand celebration of the best of film, food and wine, taking place over what we like to think of as an “extended weekend” from Wednesday through Sunday, in venues stretching the length of the valley from Napa in the south to Calistoga in the north.
Along with culinary demonstrations and afternoon wine-tasting and dozens of special events where guests get to mingle with over 300 visiting filmmakers (writers, directors, actors, producers, industry execs) our film program of exactly 100 films includes the year’s best new independent films and a handful of higher-profile awards season contenders. Some of the most buzzed about titles include:
– Green Book, already winner of the Audience Favorite Award in Toronto (always a predictor or likely Best Picture Winner for the Oscars)
– Vox Lux, featuring Natalie Portman and Jude Law in a powerful and challenging film and in roles like you’ve never seen either of them before.
– A Private War, with Rosamund Pike playing heroic war journalist Marie Colvin.
– This Changes Everything, the star-studded documentary about the gender imbalance in Hollywood.
– At Eternity’s Gate, with Willem Dafoe in a bravura performance as tortured and brilliant artist Vincent Van Gogh.
– The Front Runner, with Hugh Jackman as doomed political rising star Gary Hart coping with the scandal around his affair in 1987 with Donna Rice.
Does the Napa Valley Film Festival have something for everyone?
Yes, we make sure our Napa Valley Film Festival has something for everyone. We have features and shorts, narrative films and documentary films; wine everywhere, but also Stella Artois, and a Glenfiddich tasting lounge; culinary demonstrations featuring Monogram Appliances and Cuisinart and Miner Family Winery, parties galore, hi-end exclusive experiences for members of our Patron Circle, affordable passes for the whole festival, and also last minute $20 rush tickets at the door to every screening. We have about 8,000 unique individuals attending the festival each year, with total admissions over the festival week of about 50,000.
What Celebrity Tributes are taking place this year? Big stars attending?
The Tributes this year include such terrific talents and human beings, including Laurence Fishburne, Geena Davis, and Billy Bob Thornton, along with a talented actress named Alice Eve. We’ll then have a separate Tribute to the Groundlings Theatre & School where so many top comedic talents got their start. Six famous alums are joining us, including Stephanie Courtney, Taran Killam, Laraine Newman, Cheri Oteri and Julia Sweeney. Then our separate Rising Star Showcase will take place with another six young actors and actresses starting to make noise in Hollywood: Taissa Farmiga, Billy Magnussen, Camila Mendes, Rosa Salazar, Tye Sheridan and Alexandra Shipp.
Can you enjoy delicious Napa Valley Wine while watching films?
So much wine! At the movies, at the afternoon intermissions up and down-valley. At all of the events. Over 100 wineries participate each year. One of the most indulgent and enjoyable experiences is the Friday night Vintner Circle Dinner Series. Our 20 Vintner Circle member wineries host intimate dinner parties with patrons and filmmakers and Meadowood Napa Valley hosts our top supporters and honorees at the annual Movie Mogul Dinner. All told 800 attendees enjoy those 21 dinners simultaneously, and then party into the wee hours with all of the filmmakers at the infamous Friday Night Bash!
You founded this film festival in 2009. Where does your passion for film come from and how did you get the idea to start NVFF? Has it been everything you dreamed of?
Yes, my wife Brenda and I founded the festival after a year spent promoting and distributing our first feature film production Bottle Shock which had had its world premiere at Sundance in January 2008. Vintner friends of ours asked us why this beautiful destination didn’t have a world class film festival, and the rest, as they say, is history. Brenda and I have always been movie lovers, and also appreciators of great food and wine. We romanced with getaways from Silicon Valley to Napa and Sonoma back in the late 80s and were married in Napa Valley in the summer of 1991. So, the seeds for all of this do go way back. It’s wonderful to see everyone appreciating the results of our vision and the hard work of a lot of people and partners each year.
What films are you personally looking forward to most this year?
The only one of the 100 films I haven’t personally seen already is The Front Runner which we are screening on our sneak preview night, which also happens to be Election Night, Tuesday, November 6. I also can’t wait to see Green Book again on Opening Night, and we have a preview of a new TV series Valley of the Boom that is just outrageously fun. We’re showing the first two episodes of this show about the rise of the internet during the second half of the 90s.
Tell us about some of the top Off-Screen events?
The Culinary Demonstrations are so fun, and we also have a special event we do with Variety called 10 Chefs to Watch, this year highlighting food truck chefs. And of course, the afternoon Intermissions, with wine and live music each day. There is also the Festival Gala, our biggest, fanciest, fun party on Saturday night where people get seriously dressed up (which never happens in wine country) and party like there’s no tomorrow with the best food, wine, live music and dancing into the wee hours.
What is Napa Valley Film Festival’s Mission?
We are committed to supporting the art of independent cinematic storytelling through filmmaker development programs and nurturing an audience who appreciates the work of these artists. We also are opening eyes and expanding horizons for Napa Valley youth by exposing them to the inspiring filmmakers and films that come to the festival each year. Bringing artists and audience together and showing off the food, wine and hospitality of the Napa Valley is a joy and a privilege.
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