Cinequest 25 Film Festival Preview

by on February 23, 2015

This year marks the silver anniversary of San Jose’s Cinequest Film Festival.  In the 25 years since co-founders Halfdun Hussey and Kathleen Powell started up the festival, some things about it have changed.  The Camera 3 theatre served as the festival’s first home, attracting 3,000 attendees.  This year’s festival, which runs February 24 through March 8, will have several screening venues including the California Theater and the Camera 12 to house the more than 100,000 attendees expected to come to the event.

One thing that hasn’t changed about Cinequest is its celebrating being a nexus of both artistic innovation and technological invention.  The premieres of such technological firsts as an online film festival and digital film projection demonstrate why Cinequest has a reputation for showcasing the “future of film.”  This year’s technological first can be found in the two Barco Escape programs.  They’re theatrical screenings which take the triple screen projection format into the 21st century.

Readers more interested in checking out the films Cinequest will be screening during its 25th celebration might want to start with the Opening Night film.  Dana Nachman’s documentary “Batkid Begins: The Wish Heard Around The World” tells the story of how Miles Scott’s simple wish to be Batman for a day in San Francisco turned into an event that led over one and a half billion people around the world to go to social media to cheer the boy on.   Among these cheerleaders was President Obama.

David Matthews, the subject of Julie Sokolow’s documentary “Aspie Seeks Love,” has posted personal ads on telephone poles for over 20 years.  Hampering his search for love are his tendency for giving TMI in his ads and his dealing with Asperger’s Disease from age 41 on.

Jean Vigo’s classic romance “L’Atalante” tells a simple love story involving a barge captain, his new but increasingly bored bride, and life on a shipping canal.  What makes this screening special is its being shown in conjunction with a Media Legacy awards ceremony for Metro Newspapers film critic Richard von Busack.

This year’s other recipient of Cinequest’s Media Legacy Award is Thompson on Hollywood blogger and IndieWire contributor Anne Thompson.  Preceding a conversation with Thompson is a screening of Argentina’s Foreign Film Oscar nominee, Damian Szifron’s award-winning anthology film “Wild Tales.”  What people will do to obtain revenge is the theme linking these short tales, as the results run from dark comedy to utter catastrophe.

The far more somber Icelandic drama “Life In A Fishbowl” was also submitted for the Foreign Film Oscar but failed to make the final cut.  This film concerns three people leading dramatically different double lives involving such problems as alcoholism and rendering ethically compromised work.  Their paths do unexpectedly cross, but can they achieve individual redemption?

Redemption of an entire village is the problem faced in the Kosovan film “Three Windows And A Hanging.”  A village’s menfolk react negatively to a newspaper’s story of how four village women were raped by enemy soldiers.  Concern about tradition and “honor” leads to denials and worse.

For a darkly funny take on men who want to hurt women, there’s “Kill Me Three Times.”  For very different reasons, several men want to kill the same woman.  Yet are their homicidal desires really genuine or are these desires the result of the woman’s manipulations?

Aron, the hapless protagonist of the Hungarian comedy “For Some Inexplicable Reason,” doesn’t even have a person to blame for the disasters that have befallen him.  This young man’s only answer is to continually try (and fail) to find something resembling order.

Jennifer Siebel Newsom, as in filmmaker spouse of future California gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom, offers a more proactive consideration of the cause of modern man’s problems.  Her documentary “The Mask You Live In” posits that traditional expectations of manhood have been socially harmful for men, an idea that will probably give a “men’s rights” group hives.  Newsom also serves as host and interviewer for Cinequest’s evening with actress Rosario Dawson.

Man’s relationship to ghost forms the premise for a couple of Cinequest entries.  The comic antagonists in the Belgian film “Halfway” are a recent divorcee and the previous tenant’s ghost.  Both of them want the same house.  The arrival of a beautiful innocent newcomer soon complicates their relationship.  By contrast, Hungarian comedy “Afterlife” involves a confidence-challenged son stumped at how to get the now aimless spectre of his formerly tyrannical father to leave the house.

Teenager Jay may be wandering the American frontier in the Sundance award-winner “Slow West.”  But he’s left Scotland to search the Wild West for an ex-lover.   However, the woman he seeks has been targeted by a bounty hunter and a bloodthirsty posse.

Carol, the protagonist of Canadian comedy “Songs She Wrote About People She Knows,” has earned enmity from others in a different manner.  An art therapy class inspires her to write moody songs expressing very frank opinions about her friends and relatives.  The chaotic results range from following artistic dreams to taking restraining orders.

A strange-but-true trio of musicians is the subject of the documentary “Unplugged.” The film introduces the viewer to three Balkan musicians who generate some incredible tunes from playing leaves.

Ending the festival on a somewhat upbeat note is the romantic comedy “5 To 7.”  No, this isn’t a modern day adaptation of the Agnes Varda classic “Cleo From 5 To 7.”  It’s the story of a young aspiring writer who has an affair with an older married publisher between the hours of 5 to 7 PM.  As the young man’s desire for the older woman grows, the boundaries that he previously accepted begin to feel too constricting.  Inevitably, a choice must be made.

Don’t let the plethora of films offered by Cinequest intimidate you.  Find a movie that intrigues or interests you, even if doesn’t feature a familiar star on the marquee.

(Cinequest runs February 24 to March 8, 2015 at various venues around San Jose’s downtown.  Check out for further information.)

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