Come every April, there are four words that get uttered here in Sonoma – “the film festival returneth.” Well, no one actually says it quite like that, but the annual cinematic juggernaut is such a transformative presence on the town that it deserves biblical-sounding lingo. Or at least something vaguely Shakespearean, like:
“Is this an independent film which I see before me?”
“What light through yonder projection booth breaks?”
“Friends, Sonomans, cinefiles, lend me your eyes.”
Or, from the programmers, “To screen or not to screen? That is the question.”
I could go on all day, but I won’t. I’ve got a four-day film-going itinerary to plan. I know – who am I fooling? It’s actually the party plan that’s most pressing – I attend the films only when I need a cool, dark place to sleep off the revelries. I’m kidding. Mostly.
Ever year, since early in the last decade, I’ve written a piece about the Sonoma International Film Festival. Even when I lived in Los Angeles, I’d make the annual journey north to pen a few hundred words for the San Francisco Chronicle and when I repatriated to wine country my tradition continued to our local papers. I’ve written about nearly every aspect of the film festival experience as well as the experience of writing about the festival, which I realize I’m beginning to do again, so I’ll stop. Right. About. Now.
The trick, you see, is that the festival hasn’t happened yet and I’ve done this long enough to know that every iteration is a unique experience unto itself. To anticipate how it might take shape, its various contours and nuances, would be like assessing a newborn’s career path based on the appearance of its belly button.
At best, it’s tea leaves, at worst, it’s wrong (and sometimes, eerily, right). That is to say, we must treat it with all the openness and love with which we’d treat an infant, mewling and puking. And if you happen to find me in that state, thanks in advance for holding my hair and calling Vern’s Taxi.
This is a hazard for me since the festival is an amalgam of at least two of my passions: cinema and wine. Both have stolen entire afternoons from me, whether at a matinee or the girl and the fig (ditto my third passion but I’m too gentlemanly to share). The festival’s wino-ism is not lost on its planners, who, after all, made a mascot of a talking bottle named Tipsy. I was going to make a gag about “delirium tremens” but the bottle warned me not to.
Which brings me to a point of consideration when attending the festival – though many of the festival’s venues will be pouring wine, returning to the bar during a screening is considered gauche, as is stocking up by attempting to bring several glasses of wine to your seat at once. Sure, the bottle jock might buy your lame shtick about bringing wine to your pal – the first time – but he’ll cut you off when you return, not least of which because you’ll likely have spilled a substantial portion on yourself when juggling the first round.
Do this instead – buy a bottle from one of our local bottle shops, guzzling it in the Plaza where it’s legal to do so, then tuck yourself into a seat at the Sebastiani, wait for the projector to flicker to life and wait to see what dreams may come.
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Daedalus Howell will read from and sign copies of the paperback edition of “I Heart Sonoma: How to Live & Drink in Wine County” at 7 p.m., Thursday, April 19 at Readers’ Books, 130 E. Napa St., Sonoma. DHowell.com.