Napa Valley Film Festival Delights the Senses of Sight and Taste

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California’s Napa Valley is a renowned destination. Visitors come from far and wide to experience its vast offerings of food, wine and art. This past weekend was no exception, as thousands of visitors poured in to experience the 8thannual Napa Valley Film Festival.

Indulging in traditions
I had the joy of attending the Napa Valley Film Festival again this year and indulged myself in the splendors that each of the festival’s five days had to offer. The world-class event, which ran from November 7-11, honors an annual tradition of celebrating fantastic independent films and their makers.

The festival, presented by non-profit organization Cinema Napa Valley, attracted visitors from far and wide to partake in screenings of over 100 independent films, exclusive studio sneak previews and filmmaker Q&As. Over 300 filmmakers gathered to meet with fans and viewers at the screenings. 

“This was a special year that highlighted the importance and immense contribution of women to film from writing to producing to directing,”
said Patrick Davila, Chairman of Cinema Napa Valley. “We also celebrated a very diverse group of filmmakers making independent films extremely vibrant and fresh.”

In addition to the films, the event featured food and drink famous for the area with LIVE culinary demonstrations and, of course, Napa Valley-famous wine tastings each day to delight the senses. The festival’s numerous special events featured food from over 50 of Napa Valley’s most celebrated chefs and restaurants.

“It’s impossible not to love the Napa Valley Film Festival,” said guest Scott McDonald of Los Gatos. “My wife and I attend every year! It’s a complete sensory experience that seamlessly blends delicious wine, food, scenic beauty and great films”.

In the evenings, the Napa Valley Film Festival hosted lavish parties and exciting events, such as Raymond Vineyard’s Film Industry Mixer, Festival Gala, Opening Night parties and intimate vintner dinners. Countless notable actors and filmmakers attended the festival this year, as they have in the past, and these events allowed for interesting artist-audience interaction opportunities, all located in one of the most breathtaking areas of wine country.

“We adore the film festival for bringing together the world of wine, film and culture,” said Jean-Charles Boisset, Raymond Vineyards Proprietor. “The most inspiring moments are the filmmakers sharing with our guests their art; those that have earned their success in Hollywood and those who have just begun to find their voice. Wine & Film are meant to be together – the catalysts for friendships, life and passion!”
Celebrating film
The films comprising this year’s festival fell into the traditional array of categories, such as Narrative Features and Shorts, Documentary Features and Shorts and Special Presentations. The Napa Valley Film Festival also included a special section of cutting-edge films called the Verge.

The festival opened its viewing weekend with Green Book, starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. It closed with the documentary feature Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind directed by Emmy-winning filmmaker Marina Zenovich.

Other notable films shown throughout the extended weekend included Vox Lux, featuring Natalie Portman, The Front Runner with Hugh Jackman and Ride with Ludacris and Sasha Alexander.

This year, films were presented in 10 beautiful winery and theatre venues in Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga. And it wouldn’t be the Napa Valley Film Festival without the option to grab a glass of award-winning wine to accompany each film from one of the over 100 wineries participating in this year’s festival.
Kicking off a weekend of excitement
This year’s festival kicked off on Wednesday, November 7 with a selection of film screenings and a Kick Off Party held at The Studio by Feast it Forward in downtown Napa. As always, the opening night festivities set the tone of excitement and inspiration to come as the events continued throughout the weekend.

Apart from the films it presented, one of the most notable parts of the Napa Valley Film Festival was its Celebrity Tributes. The annual Tribute programs honor some of the greatest and most outstanding players in the film industry.

The Celebrity Tribute event took place at the Lincoln Theater in Yountville on the evening of Thursday, November 8. Filmmakers, actors and audiences gathered to view highlight reels for each honoree and hear live discussions.

Academy Award-winning writer, actor, director and musician Billy Bob Thornton, most recently featured in Amazon’s Goliath series, was honored this year with the Caldwell Vineyard Maverick Tribute. Additionally, actress Alice Eve received the Raymond Vineyards Trailblazer Tribute. Eve was most recently acclaimed for her performance in the Netflix series Iron Fist and can be seen in upcoming films such as the sci-fi thriller Replicas. Finally, Laurence Fishburne, known for his impressive work as a film actor, producer and director, was honored with the Charles Krug Legendary Actor Tribute.
Tributes and awards continue
On Friday, November 9, the awards and tributes to esteemed actors and actresses continued with a special screening of the documentary This Changes Everything—an incredible showcase film illuminating gender disparities in Hollywood. Following the screening, central figure of the documentary Geena Davis—perhaps most recognizable from Thelma & Louise, The Accidental Tourist, Beetlejuice, The Fly, The Long Kiss Goodnight—received the Davis Estates Visionary Tribute.

Also on Friday was the presentation of the Miner Family Winery Legacy Ensemble Tribute to the esteemed alumni of the Groundlings Theatre and School in Los Angeles. Groundlings has fostered some of the industry’s best and brightest comedians. In attendance this year were the talented and hilarious Jordan Black, Stephanie Courtney, Tracy Newman, Cheri Oteri, Julia Sweeney and Michaela Watkins. The theater was filled with laughter as the group looked back on their time at The Groundlings, giving the audience a peek into the early days of SNL and working with other amazing talents that have come up through the Groundlings program.

“My favorite film fest moment this year was getting to meet the Groundlings one on one, and listening to them tell stories about their experiences as students and actors. I never really knew about the Groundlings school, and it was a very enlightening experience,” said Dave Miner, owner of Miner Family Winery.

Later in the evening, Dave Miner hosted one of the exclusive vintner dinners at Miner Family Winery. The Groundling alumni were in attendance, making for a memorable night of continued laughs, good food, gracious hospitality – all in the comfort of Miner’s cozy wine cave by candlelight. 

“The best thing about hosting dinners for the film festival is that you get to interact with actors. film makers, patrons, and local friends in a relaxed setting over great food and wine. The cave is a special setting for this,” said Miner.
Rising Star Showcase
Continuing with the festival’s esteemed presentation of actors, the Rising Star Showcase hosted on Saturday, November 10 at Materra | Cunat Family Vineyards gave audiences an opportunity to ask questions and converse with young and talented stars breaking into the film industry. This was the second year the showcase was a part of the Napa Valley Film Festival and is poised to be part of a long-standing tradition. This year’s honorees included Taissa Farmiga (American Horror Story, The Nun), Billy Magnussen (Maniac, Game Night), Camila Mendes (Riverdale, The New Romantic), Rosa Salazar (Alita: Battle Angel, Maze Runner: The Death Cure), Tye Sheridan (Ready Player One, X-Men: Dark Phoenix) and Alexandra Shipp (Love, Simon, X-Men: Dark Phoenix). 

“The Rising Star Showcase was very dynamic and insightful. The setting is the perfect frame for the actors and actresses of tomorrow and really embodies the spirit of the Napa Valley,” said Davila.

Following the Rising Star Showcase was one of the most anticipated events at the Napa Valley Film Festival: the Awards Ceremony. Each year, a team of juries and audiences select films to honor in various categories. 

After the awards were announced and excitement and inspiration filled the air, attendees made their way to the lavish Festival Gala for a night full of spectacular wine, live musical acts and mingling among filmmakers and attendees.
Taking Five at Hotel Villagio in Yountville 
While the excitement of the Napa Valley Film Festival kept me busy, I also found time to relax in between events at Hotel Villagio – one of my favorite hotel destinations in Napa Valley. Located in the charming town of Yountville, Hotel Villagio offers guests the chance to re-energize in style at their sophisticated 22-acre estate that offers stunning guest rooms complete with fireplaces and large outdoor patios.  

Hotel Villagio is one of the top places to stay during events like the Napa Valley Film Festival. Don’t be surprised if you see your favorite actor, director or producer in their newly renovated luxe lobby in between Q&As, screenings and VIP events. 
Between the enlightening work of the featured filmmakers, the delicious food and drink and the soft retreat of Hotel Villagio, this year’s excursion to the Napa Valley Film Festival was amazing. The festival is consistently among the highlights of the Napa Valley calendar, but the focus on women’s contributions to film and the broader celebration of diversity in the film industry made this year’s festival particularly special. Next year’s is sure to be memorable, and it was clear to me that anticipation and excitement is already in the air. Mark your calendar for next year’s film festival on November 13-17, 2019.

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