Maybe it’s because it is a Wednesday morning or because this is a screening of three documentary shorts, but Chuck and I are easily the youngest people at the Copia Theater. No matter. Our Napa Valley Film Festival experience has officially begun.
I like the Copia Theater. We saw a film here last year. It’s cozy. Not too big, not too small. It’s recommended that you arrive 30 minutes before a screening, but Chuck and I managed to slip in 5 minutes before showtime. Wednesday morning probably had a lot to do with that as well.
Before I go into my thoughts about the documentaries we watched, I have to offer this disclaimer: There will by typos. I’m going to try to make these entries as coherent as possible, but I’m writing on the fly in between screenings and attempts at balanced meals. It may get weird. It may get sloppy, but hold tight.
The Napa Valley Film Festival is grouping together short films in blocks so that you see two or more in one viewing. “Short Features 2”, which will screen again on Sunday, Nov. 12, at Freemark Abbey in St. Helena at 5:15 p.m., includes “Standing/Still Standing”, “Little Warriors”, and “Love 99”.
“Standing/Still Standing” was the least polished of the docs, but it packed the most heart. We meet paraplegic yoga instructor Matthew Sanford as he offers his healing strategies to three people who have lost control of their bodies in one form or another. Bruce has lost most control of his body due to ALS, Britt was injured in an IED attack while serving as a Marine in Afghanistan, and Angie was injured when she fell from a trapeze. All three were in good physical form, living active lives, when fate had a different plan. Each of their stories are heart-wrenching on their own, but their determination, guided by Sanford, is so inspiring.
You meet these people in their darkest time, but Sanford is able to use yoga as a spark that lights this internal flame of perferverance. It’s raw, but incredibly beautiful.
I would have rather seen a full length documentary about this and skipped the other two. Not that “Little Warriors” and “Love 99” weren’t good, but I just didn’t feel connected to them.
“Little Warriors” is a look at how a group of Indiana school children lead an effort to get a Climate Recovery Resolution passed in Indianapolis. It is inspiring to see young people so passionate about the well being of the Earth, but the viewing experience is passive. Perhaps it is because the film description spoils that they succeed, so I wasn’t as invested in the process. But perhaps I wasn’t the target audience. This film would have more impact if it is shown to school-aged children to show them that they do have a voice, and that if they band together, they can accomplish great things. I wouldn’t mind seeing kids here in Napa take on such a task.
“Love 99” follows theater actors in Los Angeles as they battle with their stage actors union to save the creative spaces in the city known as the 99-seat theater community. It’s far more complicated than that but that is what it boils down to. Academy Award winner Helen Mirren is the narrator. This is a film about artists striving to save art. It is a struggle that we see all over the country, but this story didn’t move me much. Then again, I don’t live in L.A. I don’t know of these theaters. I don’t know what these theaters mean to the community as well as the actors who bring the stories to life. Again, I’m probably just not the right audience. I’m not an actor. I thought I wanted to be an actor when I was a kid. This film made me glad I didn’t, and that was clearly not the point.
After the documentary shorts, we grabbed lunch at Filippi’s Pizza and then killed time exploring the Oxbow before returning to Copia for a culinary demo. Anyone with a film pass has dibs on a seat in the CIA culinary theater, but you need to show up early because the theater seats about 70 people. Sponsors, Patrons and Pass Plus folks get first seating and then everyone else in line is allowed to enter until all the seats are full.
I’ve taken a few classes at CIA at Copia, but this is the first time I’ve seen a full culinary theater. And it makes sense. When we sat down, there were three glasses of wine for sampling, a bamboo plate with three gorgeiously stacked fritters and a chocolate-wine candy treat already waiting for us. I have a feeling the culinary demos will grow in popularity as the Festival continues and word-of-mouth spreads. Chuck and I are already considering rethinking our schedule based on our expereince.
The demo we attended was called “Next Level Food and WIne For Film”. Translation movie snacks for adults. The chirizo and shrimp fritters rested on a white bean puree. We were given a fork and knife, but the fritter made for perfect finger food. I don’t like shrimp, but I didn’t mind these fritters. I crispy golden crunch with a burst of flavor and a swirl of cheese. Heaven!
Chef Sandy Sauter walked us through the preparation and we got a recipe card so that we can try the recipe out at home. The Film Festival is only 5 days, but the classes at Copia happen every week, so I recommend you check these out.
Maryann Woriec from The Wine Spectator offered commentary about pairing wines with movie snacks. She had some great tips, but I was too content sipping my wine and snacking to write any of them down.
Robin Akhurst representing Swanson Vineyards, based in Rutherford, delivered the details about the rose, merlot and sweet Angelica we were offered. We tried the wines and snacked on gourmet popcorn. I know I was feeling spoiled and the “Ooohhs” and “Mmmms” coming from my fellow demo attendees makes me think that everyone was having a good time, even if you don’t like wine.
There will be celebrities visiting the CIA culinary theater later in the festival. Elijah Wood is supposed to be there tomorrow. I wouldn’t mind sipping wine with Frodo Baggins, even if he is across the room.
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Chuck and I are headed to the Uptown Theater in the heart of downtown Napa in hopes of catching “The Upside” and “The Year of Spectacular Men”. I’ll be checking in after the shows to share my thoughts and give you a wrap up of day one. I’ll even sprinkle in some hyperlinking and other online magic.
I was a little concerned that Chuck and I weren't going to make it into the screening for "The Upside" when we saw that the line move up Third Street and turned the corner at Franklin Street. However, since the Uptown seats more than 800 people, I was feeling hopeful.
As we inched our way to the front of the line, I caught a glimpse of actor Tate Donovan. First celebrity sighting: check! Donovan would be the only high profile representative for the film, which stars Bryan Cranston, Nicole Kidman and Kevin Hart, but that's OK. It's flattering that any big names come out for our young and evolving film festival -- especially if they aren't being celebrated at any of the tributes or fancy dinners being held across the valley in conjunction with the festival.
"The Upside" was the big premiere of the day, so it felt pretty cool to have a seat to the show when half the theater was blocked off from "reserved" seating. The film was scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m., but when you've got VIPs making their way into your theater, you hold the show.
It was worth the wait. "The Upside" is delightful. It's the story of a paralyzed billionaire (Cranston) and the friendship he forms with an unlikely caretaker (Hart). Bryan Cranston can do no wrong in my book. I even liked him in "Godzilla". He delivers another quality performance in "The Upside", but it is Hart who shines. Naturally, the comedian offers comic relief in a story that could easily be a depressing, woe-is-me tale, but he offers levity that you don't expect from this story. There is a buddy comedy undertone that feels organic, and the bromance is what carries the film.
You can catch "The Upside" at Cameo Cinema in St. Helena on Saturday, Nov. 11, at 8:15 p.m. The film is flagged under "Award Season Screenings." I didn't get award season vibe from this film, but I was charmed and would recommend it.
Even though Chuck and I planned to see the next film playing at the Uptown, we were ushered outside to line up again, only this time it was raining. We joined a mass of people forming an umbrella shield against the heavens. All seemed well until word in the crowd spread that the lines had been changed from the previous showing. If we have to stand in the rain, we'd better be in the right line .... right? We were getting a lot of mixed information, so I left the cover of umbrellas to confirm that the lines had indeed switched so the "blue" line was now against the wall instead of on the far end of the sidewalk just a few hours ago.
People were not pleased about this inconsistency. They seemed more upset by the line switch then the fact that it was starting to rain pretty steadily. Chuck and I took it in stride. Hopefully "The Year of Spectacular Men" would be worth the wait and the wet.
"The Year of Spectacular Men" is Lea Thompson's directorial debut. The film was written by her daughter Madelyn Deutch, and sister Zoey stars in the film with Lea and Madelyn. The movie is a true family affair, and Lea and Madelyn giddily welcomed film festival guests to the screening and were kind enough to hang out after the show for a Q&A.
"The Year of Spectacular Men" isn't about the men but about adorably flawed Izzy as she tries to figure out her life post college. Part of this journey includes falling in and out of love with a variety of men who seem to bring out her worst and best sides.
The film is about growing up, and the struggles you encounter when you're technically an adult and yet you have no idea how to be an adult or a functioning member of society.
But what I love about this film is that it is about family -- family that you are born into and the family you forge along your way through life. And its about how your love for these two types of families help make your life make sense even when life is messy.
This is an indie flick you want to watch with your girlfriends while drinking wine and eating chocolates. There is something cathartic about it for the millennials who have already run the gauntlet and made it to the other side. We identify with Izzy. She's a mess, but you know she's going to be OK.
"The Year of Spectacular Men" screens Friday, Nov. 10, at Cameo Cinema in St. Helena at 5:15 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 11, at Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena at 1:30 p.m.
Tomorrow's write up will come later on Thursday. Chuck and I are doing back to back to back films at JaM Cellars, but I'm Tweeting in between films. Follow me @NVR_Samie.