My husband and I didn’t know what to expect from the Napa Valley Film Festival when we bought a day pass for last season’s Sunday showcase. But when Vera Farmiga pranced across the stage of the Uptown Theater to thank us for coming to see a showing of “Burn Your Maps,” we knew we were in for an interesting day.

People in the crowd raced to snap photos of the Oscar-nominated actress with their cellphones. If you don’t capture it on your mobile device, did it really happen?

I’ve loved Farmiga since I saw her go toe-to-toe with George Clooney in “Up in the Air.” I wasn’t about to spare a second searching for my phone in my purse. I was soaking up her every word. She apologized that she wouldn’t be able to stay for the Q&A after the screening, but she expressed her love for the film we were about to see and seemed sincerely grateful that people had gathered to see it.

“Burn Your Maps” was a revelation. It was everything I want in a movie. I laughed, cried and was taken on a journey that is a testament to the beauty of the human spirit. As the story unfolded, I could feel the tale — about an everyday American boy who suddenly believes that he is a Mongolian goat herder and must return to his homeland — lacing its way into my heart.

I’d say see the movie for yourself, but “Burn Your Maps” briefly slipped in and out of theaters earlier this year during a limited release, and it has yet to find its way to DVD or an online streaming site. I know, because I check regularly, and my heart aches because this story may never reach the masses in the way I think it deserves.

Perhaps I will find a new “Burn Your Maps” this year. After the one-day experience with the Napa Valley Film Festival last year, my husband Chuck and I were hooked and purchased a five-day festival pass during the holiday sale. We’ve been waiting for this week all year. We pored over the festival program like we were studying for a college exam. We each had a program in our lap as we talked out what we wanted to see, clutched pens and highlighters as we jotted notes and drafted preliminary schedules.

There are more than 100 films being shown at this week’s festival, and Chuck and I plan to see as many as we can. We’ve plotted an ambitious schedule that will have us moving across the Napa Valley in search of movies that will entertain and inspire, and I doubt we will be disappointed.

What I love about the Napa Valley Film Festival is that it is accessible to everyone. My husband and I are diehard movie lovers. Our combined DVD collection is rather extensive. We store our discs in binders because there simply isn’t enough room for all the protective plastic cases. Because we love movies so much and we had such a great day at last year’s festival, we decided to go for the full experience.

But the Napa Valley Film Festival is customizable. You can get a mid-week pass, weekend pass or a one-day pass. Or, if you don’t want to commit and just want to see a film or two, you can get in line and assuming there are seats available, which there typically are for the smaller films, you can buy tickets show by show as you go.

Plus, you never know who you’ll see at the screening you go to. Some directors host Q&As after the films to discuss the finer points of film making and actors stop by to chat about films and their approach to their craft.

If you like movies, you’ll like the Napa Valley Film Festival. There is something for everyone at that festival. You can see just the movies or you can take advantage of opportunities to wine and dine with movie moguls. It all depends on your interests and how fat your wallet is.

The glitz and glamour is enticing, but Chuck and I are movie people. I told Chuck that Will Ferrell would be honored during a tribute at the Lincoln Theater on Friday. Chuck and I quote Ferrell’s movies often, so I thought he’d want to go, but upon learning that the ceremony went up against a host of film screenings, he said he’d rather catch an oddball flick instead. Sorry, Will. We love you, but we already know that “Stranger Than Fiction,” which will be screened after the tribute, is one of your best films. It’s in our DVD collection.

If you’ve thought about attending the Napa Valley Film Festival, but still aren’t sure if it is right for you, follow me online as I blog about my adventures and experiences at I will be checking in each day to let you know my thoughts on the movies I’m seeing and my overall musings about this year’s festival. For quick takes, you can follow me on Twitter at @NVR_Samie and on Facebook at


Samie Hartley is the Napa Valley Register online editor. Her column Simple & Sassy runs on alternating Sundays.