Lights, Camera…Cliche!

For about a decade, it’s been my professional privilege to write something pithy about the Sonoma International Film Festival, in all its various incarnations, for any of a number of affiliations. Google my name and “film festival” and one will find enough published pixels to cobble together a couple of digital flicks with some to spare for the DVD “extras.”

Which is also why I dread writing about the festival which, in of itself, has never been short of a peak experience for me, whether that be boozing it up with a bunch of weekending showbiz types or waking up under a bench in the Plaza with the sinking feeling that I sold my life story to some crank for the price of a Glarifee. Such phenomena are part of what film historians may someday call the “total festival experience” and, as such, are a pleasure to recount in print when one can remember them. It’s the lead paragraphs that I dread writing. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve written and deleted “Hollywood and Vines” in the last half-hour. That phrase, which facilely conflates the motion picture business and wine country, has been my standby film fest line for years. Its shabbier alternate “Lights, camera, appellation,” has also seen its share of deaths and resurrections on this page. I once used the opening line, “Wine, women and – film?” in the San Francisco Chronicle a few years back when the program featured special honors for a gaggle of actresses. I can only surmise the reason my editor didn’t mercy kill the line, or me for that matter, was because she too was flummoxed by the issue.

Another winner was ye olde “a vintner’s blend of” trope, which preceded a laundry list of genres, events and sundries in a tidy, if tired, opening line. I’m pretty sure I’ve used “vintner’s blend” in other Sonoma contexts like “a vintner’s blend of barbeque accessories” and a “vintner’s blend of parking violations.” Remember, a vintner’s blend of failed metaphors is like a winemaker’s cuvee of similes. The film festival’s Web presence,, has its own lead line that’s only a notch above the inanity of mine: “Lights. Camera. Corkscrews. Action.” Granted, they annually face the same problem I do in re-packaging the festival such that it’s always exciting and new, though some dark part of me thinks it would have read better as “Lights, camera, screw-cap, action.” Somehow, that’s a better budgetary fit for the indie film types soon to swarm our village. And here’s the funny part – certain Sonomans will bitch that screw-caps don’t necessarily infer cheap wine and the filmmakers will bitch that they’re out of it.

Not that all filmmakers are drunks with entitlement issues – just the good ones. Fortunately, the collective generosity fomented by the festival always results in a lot of purple, capped teeth. For ours is not a market festival wherein deals are made and careers are born. The Sonoma International Film Festival is what I once dubbed a “resort festival.” Filmmakers don’t come here seeking the Holy Grail in a three-picture – they’re here because the cup is always half-full in Sonoma, both literally and figuratively, and for many, this is about as good as it will ever get.

Which brings me to how I should have started this damn column: There are no second takes, so get ready for your close up, Sonoma. It’s just us, the cameras and those wonderful people out there in the dark …

Daedalus Howell’s film “Life of Making” screens as part of the Sonoma International Film Festival at 6:30 p.m., Saturday, April 17 and April 18, with “The Desert of Forbidden Art” and “American Artifact: The Rise of American Rock Poster Art” respectively. Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, 551 Broadway, Sonoma.

Ever the intrepid reporter, Howell will offer live coverage, from tweets and blogs to streaming video reports, throughout the Sonoma International Film Festival, April 15 to 18, at

Static People provides soundtrack for Sonoma International Film Festival

Photo by Cathy StancilSonoma band plays filmmakers? bash at Sonoma?s Little Switzerland

SONOMA, CA (April 7, 2010) Sonoma Valley?s most secretive music endeavor, Static People will provide a living soundtrack to the Sonoma International Film Festival?s Filmmaker?s Bash, Saturday, April 17 at Little Switzerland in the rustic El Verano area of Sonoma County.

Static People, comprised of vocalist Dmitra Smith, guitarist Pascal Faivre, bassist Daedalus Howell and percussionist Mundo Murguia, formed as a private, artistic project last September when the four Sonoma residents discovered they are neighbors living within blocks of each other in Boyes Hot Springs.

Since then, the band has diligently honed a ?post-punk-rock-opera? sound at a warehouse in Sonoma under the guidance of multi-platinum producer Jason Carmer (Third Eye Blind, The Donnas, Run DMC, Kimya Dawson, Chumbawamba and Korn).

In keeping with the spirit of the film festival, both Faivre and Howell will also be debuting films at the annual event. Faivre is an actor in the French language film Quand Tu Veux and Howell is director of the art documentary Life of Making.

Joining Static People onstage are The Dont?s (spelling intentional) , a critically-lauded San Francisco-based act. ?Fusing 90s alt-rock with Talking Heads quirkiness, The Dont’s create a truly eclectic sound,? reports CMJ.

The gig is open to the public. Tickets, available at the door, are $12 (gratis to credentialed filmmakers and media). Doors open at 9 p.m., Little Switzerland, 19080 Riverside Dr., Sonoma. (707) 938-1616.

For more information on the Sonoma International Film Festival, visit Information on the talent is available at and

Listen to Static People tunes at

DHowell.TV: From YouTube to BoobTube

If your cable provider is SureWest and you’re in any of these markets in California (Loomis, Carmichael Citrus Heights, Antelope, Granite Bay, Sacramento, Roseville, McClellan, Elk Grove, Lincoln or Rocklin) tune into i2TV for broadcasts of DHowell.TV

Yeah, I’m big in Elk Grove.

Anyway, if you’re not in those markets but have an insatiable need to see me chew the scenery, consider tuning into SunTV on Sonoma’s Comcast channel 27. Thanks to the evil machinations of Bob Taylor, a seemingly endless loop of my content unspools daily. Am told if 10 people comment positively about him on this post we’ll do more…

Barring that, you can always tune in at

Micro Moguls Unite

Sonoma is rotten with moguls. They run the gamut from top dogs helming storied institutions to bottom-feeders in dire need of institutionalization. I like to pretend I’m in the middle – feeding off the bottom of the top. Or the top of the bottom, depending on the status of my invoices.

Moguldom is a matter of scale and perspective. A crumb is a feast to an ant. A feast of crumbs is better than a feast of ants – unless you’re on a low-carb diet, then it’s debatable. If the Buddha had an MBA, this is how he’d talk, which, to a creative type, is only slightly less confusing than any other economic pundit. Which is to say “Flower.” Of course, being a “mogul” is a completely subjective notion. As regards my own career, I use the term with a healthy heap of “self-conscious complicit critique,” a smarty-pants term I learned in a literary criticism class in college and, had I not dropped the class, I could tell you what it means.

Like most of my colleagues in this market, I am a “micro-mogul,” which is like being a real mogul except that the empires are smaller but more manageable. In fact, they’re more likely to be measured in terms of gigabytes rather than dollars and only multinational inasmuch as we have access to the World Wide Web when the wifi at EDK is working. That said, the model works. Many of us launched our empires when disgorged in a spray of corporate bloodletting back when the first Recession hit. Others still, saw how much fun we’re having and started their own empires so as to join the party, then realized it was actually work and left to study Zen and the Art of Counting My Money. Good on them. This is a hard road but not a lonely road.

Though times have changed irrevocably in the media game, my colleagues and I are committed to the course. Some have their own fiefdoms; others are polar bears adrift on an ice cube of vanishing relevance. True media people, however, are like cockroaches that can type. Nuke us and we’ll give you 800 words about it by sunrise.

This is a lifestyle choice. We enjoy meeting interesting people, drinking fine wine and eating well, then faking a fight for the tab, which we inevitably lose. Our clients run the gamut from national concerns to the chap next to us at the cafe, who name-drops you on Twitter in exchange for a 30-second consultation on the relative merits of the “Medium Organic Italian Roast” versus the house-blend.

I’m something of a prodigal son returned from the belly of the beast, happily repatriated to a changed landscape, one improved by vineyards and profligate use of the word “artisanal.” When I have occasion to reflect on the course of my career, one that is profitably immersed in culture, arts and media, I am as grateful as I am amazed that one can make in Sonoma (I focus on the arts and media and leave the culture part to the cheese-makers). This is where opportunity conspires.

We should be proud, Sonoma. We prove time and again that geography and profession need not be opposed. That the good life and making a living can be one in the same; that community and commerce share more than a handful of letters. We are micro-moguls. And we sleep well.

This may not be the American Dream, but it gets us through the night.