It’s white-knuckle time for the Napa Valley Film Festival’s organizers, filmmakers and fans, with a key venue and two hotels still fixing earthquake damage ahead of the Nov. 12 opening night. The post-quake craziness comes just as the four-year-old event is getting traction in Hollywood for its Oscar Season-adjacent timing, with companies setting encore screenings and star appearances, to tout awards contenders from earlier in the year.
The festival bills itself a mix of film, food and, of course, wine, with its own wine director pouring bottles from 150 of the region’s best-regarded vineyards. A recent Los Angeles event spotlighting the festival featured The Weinstein Co. President David Glasser, who said his company will use it to push awareness of several TWC awards contenders. Among those projects: The Imitation Game, with festival appearances scheduled for director Morten Tyldum and cast members for the biopic about martyred cryptography pioneer Alan Turing.
“I went there and it was amazing,” Glasser said of his initial visit to the festival, which last year saw 16 TWC people attend. “Harvey (Weinstein) and I love this film festival.”
This year’s plans for a bigger and better event were interrupted early Aug. 24, when a 6.0-magnitude quake hit the Carneros district just west of Napa, one of four towns in the Valley hosting a wide variety of festival events and screenings. While Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga largely escaped damage, Napa didn’t, said festival directors Brenda and Mark Lhormer, and neither did festival staff members living downtown.
“Several of the staff lost everything they owned that was breakable,” Brenda Lhormer said. “One employee’s apartment was red-tagged (as uninhabitable). It’s really made (the quake’s impact) personal.”
Key among the festival’s non-human casualties: the 850-seat Uptown Theatre, a vintage movie palace previously converted to live performance, Brenda Lhormer said. Last year, the festival experimented, using the theater to screen Sound City, the Grammy-winning music documentary directed by Foo Fighters‘ leader Dave Grohl.
“We have two shows there, but it’s closed,” Brenda Lhormer said. “We made this big bet and then the quake happened.”
This year, the Lhormers planned to use the theater for several events, including a screening of the Mike Myers-directed Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, an entertaining, sometimes touching documentary about the influential and seemingly omnipresent entertainment manager.
The film’s distributors hope it will get some Oscar looks here at year end, after a series of festival and other screenings. Both Myers and Gordon are expected to attend, and given Gordon’s involvement in the celebrity chef movement, and the festival’s own foodie culture, expect some superstar chefs to show as well.
One possible comfort for worried organizers: the Uptown has scheduled a Ziggy Marley concert and David Sedaris performance ahead of festival events. The critical mass of pending events may further encourage the work to wrap in a timely way, Mark Lhormer said.
The festival also plans a screening of Black Or White, the racially charged drama produced by and starring Kevin Costner alongside Gillian Jacobs and Octavia Spencer. The film debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival to strong buzz (titled then as Black And White before it had clearance problems). The film just sold to Relativity a few days ago in time for an awards push.
Dealing with the closed theater is only one of the headaches challenging the Lhormers. About 200 hotel rooms in downtown Napa (out of about 6,000 countywide), including a significant portion of those at festival HQ Westin. Also knocked out was a boutique hotel used to house celebrity attendees. The losses are forcing the Lhormers to adapt, and to undertake some strong messaging that the show(s) will go on, throughout the county, no matter the problems.
#TFIOS, as it’s known to its legion of social-media-savvy teen admirers, is probably the year’s biggest hit, at least based on the ratio of production costs, $12 million, to worldwide gross, more than $300 million. But like some of the other contenders that debuted early in the year, the film is coming to Napa for a chance to be seen by an upscale audience that likely will contain some awards voters and their friends.
Other notable screenings include Harmontown, the just-released doc about fractious Community creator and podcaster Dan Harmon with sidekick Jeff Davis scheduled to appear. Harmon, who’s to be married that weekend, will Skype in during a Q&A, Mark Lhormer said.
Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, the tour documentary about the great country rocker on his last tour before he was institutionalized for Alzheimer’s disease, will also screen. Campbell’s children, who performed with him on the tour, are scheduled to appear at the Napa screening, and, in a special twist, the last performance of that last tour was in the damaged Uptown Theatre. Like Campbell, the festival is soldiering on despite some setbacks.
“The world did not need another film festival, but no film festival does an experience like we do,” Mark Lhormer said.