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Sonoma International Film Festival, a Survival Guide

With more than 90 films, shorts, documentaries and a star-studded red carpet, there's almost too much to do at this year's festival.

It’s time to start plotting: how are you going to see the 90 films, documentaries, animations and shorts scheduled for this year’s Sonoma International Film Festival?

Though the 14th annual film festival doesn’t officially kick off until Thursday night, there’s plenty to keep you entertained over the next few days as nearly 200 filmmakers flock to Sonoma to wine, dine and hobnob with the best in the industry. The full schedule is posted online (grab it here), but if that’s a tad overwhelming, here are some cliff notes.

Unique to this year’s festival is a plethora of thought provoking documentaries. “This is the year of the docs!” says Kevin McNeely, the festival's executive director. “Of the 600 submissions that came from 14 countries, a majority of them were documentaries…terrific ones.”

So, whether your taste veers towards slapstick comedy, human rights documents or even if you’re in it for the party hopping, here’s your play-by-play, day-by-day guide of what to expect, and what not to miss, at this year’s festival.

Wednesday, April 6

The Film Festival starts with a Kick-Off Party (well, duh) at , from 5–6:30 p.m.  Though opening night isn’t until tomorrow, there’s two all-star movies slotted for the evening.

You May Not Kiss the Bride is a wedding themed comedy, featuring a star-studded cast (including Dave Annable, Katharine McPhee, Rob Schneider, Mena Suvari, and Kathy Bates) detailing the trials of a bumbling pet photographer – yes, really - thrust into adventure after his Croatian bride is kidnapped.  , 6:30 p.m.

If you’re in a more contemplative mood, the first of the festival’s many superb documentaries, Frederik Marx’s Zanskar, details the last original Tibetan Buddhist society as they struggle to retain ties to their traditions and heritage. Marx follows the tribe's elders taking a group of 17 children on the treacherous journey through the Himalayan mountains to the only nearby school, where they will learn the details of their culture.  , 6:30 p.m.

Thursday, April 7

If you’re trying to attend on the cheap, today’s the day – everything before the opening night reception is free to the public.

Don’t miss the Sonoma Valley High School Media Arts Program Showcase, which will screen the short works of about 20 high school students enrolled in film coursework. The films are the product of a year of study in the wonderful high school Media Arts program at l, sponsored, in part, by the Film Festival. 9 a.m., (Though, if you miss this, there’s a second showcase April 10.)

Looking for action – Deeper tags along with ‘freeriders’ – extreme snowboards who eschew ski slopes for the back-roads of mountains.  Sebastiani Theatre, 12:30 p.m.

Party-hoping time: the Opening Night Reception brings food, beer, and wine to the Festival’s Backlot area from 5 – 6:30 p.m., catch a flick, then hit the Opening Night Party at , lasting from 8:30 p.m. to midnight.

In between the party-hopping, there are a few films to catch: Narrated by John Lennon’s sister, Julia Baird, Come Together: A Beatles Tribute, follows hundreds of Beatles tribute bands during “International Beatle Week” in the fab-four’s hometown of Liverpool.  7 p.m.

Not into pop-music? Staring the always wonderful, Oscar winning Marion Cotillard, Little White Lies tells the tale of a group of friends on holiday, as tragedy thrusts them into greater intimacy and understanding of their relationships. No one does angst like the French. , 6:30 p.m. (also 9:15 p.m.)

Friday, April 8

Take a deep breath; the festival is in full swing today.

Catch some of the festival’s three separate programs of shorts, staring the likes of Claudia Schiffer and Julia Stiles, starting at 9:15 a.m at Mia’s Kitchen at Vintage House.

Based on radio personality and author Gary Nulls’ investigative series, Death By Medicine examines the foibles of the American healthcare crisis through painstaking analysis of injuries and deaths caused by medical malpractice. According to Nulls the problem is two-fold: a lack of regulation coupled with undue influence from lobbyists. 12:30 p.m.

Though often thought of as simply “Mrs. Gavin Newsom,” the Lt. Governor’s wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom is a tour de force of her own. With Miss Representation the documentary filmmaker and Stanford Business School grad examines the role the media plays in shaping (or misshaping) the role of the modern female. Fresh off the heals of the 2008 election, Newsom brings thoughtful gravitas to the 24-hour-media cycle, along with a roster of big name feminists, including Katie Couric, Geena Davis, Jane Fonda and Dianne Feinstein. A panel of prominate women will moderate. 6 p.m.

A local journalist tries to capitalize on the Snooki phenomenon in Love Chaos, where a down on his lunch North Jersey writer, tries to catapult himself to the big times by going under cover as a “guido.” Not sure what that is? The film will explain.  9:15 p.m., (Also, Saturday at 12:15 p.m.)

Also not to miss, the festival’s pulls out all the stops with Street Food Court, with local food trucks sourcing the best stuff from around town. Catch the booths on the south side of on Friday, 5:30 –10 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 8:30 a.m. – 10 p.m. 

Saturday, April 9

If you’ve only got one day, today is it. So get up, get your pass and get going.

Saturday morning is family time with The Black Stallion, Carroll Ballard’s tale of a young boy’s adventures with an Arabian stallion. The director will be on hand, as well as a whole roster of fun events, including costumed characters and kid-themed food. r, 9 a.m. Tickets: $10

If you’re hoping that this year’s festival will propel you to fame, fortune and the Hollywood hills don’t miss The Pitch Panel, where a group of movie-making gatekeepers will hear two minutes of your best idea. Want to be in front of the camera, instead of behind it? Stick around for the Casting Workshop. Both events meet at Room 110 at the r. Pitch Panel is at 9:30 a.m., Casting Workshop is at noon.

Narrated by Dustin Hoffman, Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story celebrates the particular connection between the post-war Jewish immigrants and their love for, and participation in, the great American sport of baseball. , 6:45 p.m. 

A Matter of Taste takes a microscope to the life of Paul Liebrandt - who at 24 was awarded three stars by the New York Times - one of a generation of immensely talented young chefs. The film looks at Liebrandt over a decade of his young career, and reveals the grueling work of the culinary industry. Mia's Kitchen at Vintage House, 12:15 p.m.

The film festival goes out on a limb Saturday afternoon for a “sidebar” series on UFO films.  At 12:30 p.m. catch Crop Circles: Crossovers From Another Dimension, Terie Toftenes documentary on the mysterious unexplained cutouts. Stick around for Out of the Blue, at 6:30, which looks at the hidden evidence of alien encounters. In between a forum of UFO experts and aficionados will answer questions.
Room 110, , 276 E. Napa St, 12:30, 3 p.m, and 6 p.m.

The moment you’ve been waiting for: the festival gives a Lifetime Achievement Award to Susan Sarandon. Following the award and accolades, hosts the Festival Gala. Tickets will cost a pretty penny ($250), but they include food from area restaurants, wine and music. If that’s not in your budget, hang outside and you might catch a glimpse of cinematic stars. Award happens at , 126 First Street West, at 6 p.m. Festival Gala takes place at Sebastiani, 389 Fourth Street East, 8 p.m. – 11 p.m.

Sunday, April 10

Irish director Juanita Wilson’s first feature length film As If I Am Not There tells the story of a young Bosnian teacher, whose life is changed when she is taken as a prisoner of war. Wilson, who just made Variety Magazine’s list of “Top Ten Directors to Watch In 2011,” is certainly one to watch for the festival. r, 12:30 p.m.

Harpooned Soul: The Jade Bell Story documents the after effects of an overdose which left a 23-year-old man blind, mute and immobile. It was a combination of cocaine and heroin, which surged through the veins of Jade Bell. Half warning tale, half character study, the movie seeks to inspire the viewer to make the most of their life choices.

Music pops up in the most unlikely places. Kinshasha Symphony profiles the creation of the first symphony orchestra in the Congo, and the unlikely ways that art can inspire.  New Belgium Lounge at the , 6:30 p.m.

It all comes down to the Awards Ceremony at 8:30 p.m. at the Backlot. Wines from Cline Cellars and Jacuzzi Winery will sooth the spirits of winners and losers alike.
Get more information on Sonoma Film Festival schedule, or purchasing information online. Keep in touch with the festival on Facebook and Twitter, and get film trailers on YouTube. Follow along with the film festival through a Sonoma Patch series.

Keri Brenner (Editor) April 05, 2011 at 03:47 PM
Awesome roundup! Looks like a great event...Thanks Alexis!
Dorothy April 07, 2011 at 02:06 PM
The "survival guide" is fantastic. Thanks.
Elora April 09, 2011 at 11:16 PM
Good guide to the film festival. The video you put up, the trailer for Missrepresentation, is very powerful.

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