The first Scottish animated feature film is making its world premier and is the most anticipated film in a diverse line up to suit all at the 15th Sonoma International Film Festival that will take place in California from the 11th-15th April.
This years line up also includes some exceptional documentaries about extreme snowboarding and youth circus performers as well as a couple of compelling films that have been based on true stories. These revolve around a deaf teenager who writes poetry via sign language, and a 12 year old boy who is the leader of a pack of wolves.
The festival wouldn’t be complete without the Student Film Showcase; an annual festival favourite that features the work of media arts students from Sonoma Valley High School. Here are the highlights:
World Premier of Sir Billi: This first-ever full-length animated film produced entirely in Scotland, featuring the voices of Sean Connery and Alan Cumming, is a roller-coaster adventure about a skateboarding grandfather’s quest to save the last beaver in Scotland. Produced by husband and wife team, Tessa and Sascha Hartmann,
Sir Billi will premier at the Sebastiani Theatre at 5:30 p.m on Friday, April 13, and will show again at 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 14, in the Sebastiani Winery Barrel Room. Tallia Storm, Scotland’s 13 year-old singing sensation, who has been invited to perform with Elton John at Falkirk in June, will perform live at Friday night’s premier.
Saturday Morning Family Program at Sebastiani Theatre: Sonoma’s historic movie venue will host a morning of family-oriented events centered around the screening of the whimsical film Circus Dreams – a vibrant documentary about a year in the life of Circus Smirkus, a renowned traveling youth circus – on Saturday, April 14th. This heartwarming and inspiring story by filmmaker Signe Taylor showcases the lives of the 12- to 18-year-old performers, some of whom will perform prior to the screening. Smirkus performers will engage in dazzling juggling, hula-hooping and street circus contortion acts. After the screening of Circus Dreams, the Smirkus troop will participate in a Q&A with the audience. Clo the Cow, from Clover Stornetta dairy, will be on hand passing out free yogurt samples.
Student Film Showcase: Students from Sonoma Valley High School’s ambitious Media Arts Program present short films on the big screen at the Sebastiani Theatre. Founded a decade ago in partnership with the Sonoma Film Society, the SVHS Media Arts program receives its primary funding from the Sonoma festival proceeds. In addition to work by current students, SVHS Media Arts graduate Mike Lee is returning to the Festival – this time as a an alumni of the program – to present his film, Alarm Clock Alley. He was the first SVHS student to have a film in the regular Festival program while still in high school, with THE D.D. in 2009. The Student Film Showcase is presented twice, at 9 a.m. Thursday, April 12, and at noon Sunday, April 15.
La Quinceañera Film Fiesta: Among Wolves (Entrelobos) is a beautiful film by Gerardo Olivares, presented as part of the La Quinceañera program, based on the true story of a boy who survives for 12 years in the mountains of Spain by becoming the leader of a pack of wolves. Best for children over 10, the film screens at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 14, at Sonoma Charter School in Agua Caliente. Free childcare is provided for all La Quinceañera films, and tickets are only $1 (or more by donation)
Art of Flight: This enthralling snowboarding documentary by Curt Morgan will screen at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, April 14, at the Community Center and again at 7 p.m. that night at Murphy’s Irish Pub, where burgers and fish-and-chips make for a great family dinner.
Bella Gaia: The Baum Foundation presents this film based on images of Earth taken from astronaut footage over the past 20-plus years. It will be accompanied by live music performed by renowned violinist Kenji Williams. The Baum Foundation is making available a block of free tickets to middle and high school students. The film will be screened at the Community Center at 6 p.m., Friday, April 13, and again at the Sebastiani Theatre at 6 p.m., Saturday, April 14.
Deaf Jam, directed by Judy Lieff, is the riveting story of a deaf Israeli teen who creates poetry using American Sign Language and joins with a hearing Palestinian poet to boldly enter the spoken-word slam scene. There will be two screenings of Deaf Jam: at Sebastiani Winery’s Barrel Room on April 12th at 2 p.m. and the Community Center on April 15th at 12:30 p.m.
Doggie Boogie is an independently produced family film by Romanus Wolter. Audiences will cheer as Pijon – a devoted Bichon pup – helps his owner and her dog-dancing uncle go for their dreams. Dog dancing, also called “Canine Freestyle,” is an international competitive sport where dog and human pairs dance in front of judges. Doggie Boogie’s message is that it is never too early or too late to go for your dream. Screening at Vintage House on April 12th at 6 p.m. and again on April 15th at 9:30 a.m, this film is not only family-friendly, but dog-friendly too! Bring your pups to get your “Grrr” on. Sonoma herding dog rescue ‘Herd It Through The Grapevine’ (HITTGV) is partnering with Doggie Boogie: Get Your Grrr On! to get the word out about rescuing dogs who have been abandoned. HITTGV’s mission is to rescue, care for, and rehabilitate unwanted, abused, and neglected dogs of herding breeds, concentrating on Australian Cattle Dogs and Border Collies.
Shakespeare High, a feature-length documentary by Alex Rotari, is about a determined group of teens whose immersion in the almost 100-year-old “Drama Teachers Association of Southern California’s High School Drama Program” compels them to overcome their difficulties and diversity and create better lives for themselves. Among the many famous alumni of this dramatic studies program are Kevin Spacey, Val Kilmer, Mare Winningham and Richard Dreyfuss – all featured in the movie.
Tiger Eyes, appropriate only for older teens, brings the Judy Blume classic teen novel to the big screen. Directed by Blume’s son Lawrence, this is the story of 17-year-old Davey Wexler who is coping with the sudden, violent death of her father and the emotional collapse of her mother. Set in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where the family abruptly relocates to be with relatives, Davey meets Wolf, a young Native American with his own secret. This is a universal story of love and loss, of a family torn apart, who slowly, painfully find the courage to face the future. Screenings at Sebastiani Winery Barrel Room at 8:30 p.m. on April 12th and the Woman’s Club at 10 a.m. on April 13th.
Wall: The Journey Up tracks Stephen Wampler’s heroic quest to be the first person with Cerebral Palsy to climb Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan. The vertical face of El Capitan spans twice the height of the Empire State Building. Wampler encounters both strife and triumph during his quest. The short documentary, directed by Tommy Baynard, captures Wampler’s amazing tale. Wampler will be in attendance at the Festival and a Q&A will follow the screening at The Woman’s Club on April 13th at 5 p.m. Wall will have a second showing at the Sebastiani Theatre on April 14th at 1 p.m.
Wolves Unleashed follows world-renowned animal trainer Andrew Simpson as he travels to the other side of the world to make the biggest wolf documentary ever attempted. This film will make people question everything they thought they knew about wolves – they will see an animal that is graceful, caring and trusting. The animal action in this film has never been seen before. The film will be screened at the Community Center on April 13th at the Sebastiani Winery Barrel Room on April 14th, both screenings at 11 a.m.
La Quinceañera Film Fiesta is sponsored by the Fred & June MacMurray Foundation. The Sonoma International Film Society and Film Festival rely on the generous support of sponsors and corporate partnerships to help fund the year-round film society – a cultural asset important to Sonoma, its youth and to independent filmmakers everywhere. Special thanks to this year’s committed sponsors and partners: (Premiere) AT & T, Comcast, Mia’s Kitchen & TOG Wines, and Chateau St. Jean; (Major) Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, MacArthur Place Inn & Spa, New Belgium Brewing Company, Sonoma County Tourism Bureau and Wine Country Party & Events; (Supporting) Luna Fest, TV 5 Monde, Vode Lighting and Wild Fire Web. Primary winery partners are Buena Vista Winery, Don Sebastiani & Sons, and Sebastiani Vineyards. Transportation partner: Pure Luxury Transportation.