Along with tributes hosted by Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush honoring Alan Cumming, James Marsden and Rising Stars Adam Driver (“Lincoln,” “J Edgar”) and Imogene Poots (co-starring in “A Late Quartet” showing at NVFF), the feature lineup includes Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut “Quartet,” The Weinstein Co.’s “Silver Linings Playbook” and the world premiere of the doc “Somm.”
As if watching movies all day isn’t enough, the locals roll out red carpets for parties and celebrations that even make Cannes and Sundance parties pale in comparison.
It stands to reason, of course.
Napa Valley, home to America’s first world-class wine region, makes its living off hospitality. Wine events take place the year around and wineries make a business out of hosting tastings, dinners, auctions and even weddings.
So festival founders Marc and Brenda Lhormer knew what they were doing when they launched the inaugural festival last November in the picturesque towns of Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga.
Not only could the film festival veterans bring in top year-end films for visitors and local audiences alike, but the resources exist here for the best food and wine of any film festival anywhere.
The Lhormers put me on the Narrative Features jury last year and, believe me, it was a happy struggle to find time to watch movies with all the great receptions and parties.
A Opening Night Gala at the famed Robert Mondavi Winery was a epicurean extravaganza as celebrity chefs contributed exquisite dishes to accompany the RMW wines for about 800 people.
The festival returns to that venue this year for its Festival Gala. I won’t eat all day!
Last year’s event proved to local wineries and other potential patrons and businesses that the Lhormers could put on a show. But Year Two has not been without its challenges, Marc says.
“From an operational standpoint the second year was significantly easier,” noted Lhormer, who with his wife ran the Sonoma Valley Film Festival for several years. “But the financial aspect is still a challenge.
“Last year we got a lot of first-year favors,” he explained. “But those are harder to come by in Years Two and Three. You have to pay more to employees and contractors, thus you need to raise more and more money.
“The economy is still soft and a a lot of potential sponsors are sniffing around but not making the bigger commitments we need them to. Since we’re not as fully financed as we need to be, a heavy burden falls on the staff to not screw up business relationships and to keep everybody happy.”
This year 115 films will show at NVFF, which is up from last year where just over 90 screened. Submissions jump to 540 films over 340 entries last year. Programmers of course looked at hundreds more at other festivals during the year.
The festival gets under way Wednesday at the Napa Valley Opera House with the world premiere of Jason Wise’s “Somm.” The documentary tells the story of four talented young sommeliers attempting to pass the Master Sommelier exam, a test with one of the lowest pass rates in the world.
Longtime film critic and historian Leonard Maltin will act as the president of the jury, providing leadership to the other jurors grouped into three categories: Narrative Features, Narrative Shorts and Documentary Features and Shorts.
The award to win, of course, is the Meadowood Best U.S. Narrative Feature Award that includes a $10,000 prize from the Meadowood golf club in the Valley.
Several docs will concern wine itself including “Like the Old Vine” (about Napa pioneer Mike Grgich), “Boom Varietal” (about Argentine Malbec), Chateau Chunder: A Wine Revolution” (the Australian wine industry) and “Biodynamic” (New Zealand viticulturists use of biodynamic agriculture).
Forget popcorn. Pour me a cabernet.
Click here to find the NVFF web site and schedule.