Sonoma Film Fest Director Kevin McNeely on upcoming events


With the Sonoma International Film Festival fast approaching, Program Director Kevin McNeely spoke with 429Magazine about the Festival’s many highlights set to take place this year.

In its 17th year, the festival is set to host 112 films from 22 different countries, with two hundred filmmakers from twelve countries attending the event.

The festival is a five-day affair, with all the venues within walking distance of the hospitality tent in the middle of the Sonoma Plaza, boasting award-winning films, luxury cuisine and infamous Sonoma fine wines.

Due to kick off on Wednesday, April 2, and ending on Sunday, April 6, the festival will be hosting a series of LGBT themed films as well as a Queens and Cowboys Party in celebration of the documentary “Queens and Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo.”

429Magazine: So has it been five years since you’ve opened the festival up to specifically LGBT themed movies?

Kevin McNeely: That’s right. I’d say we’ve had more of a greater focus in the last five years but we’ve had a film or two that’s focused on that subject before. But it’s been great and very well received. We have a vibrant, active and cool gay community in Sonoma and they’ve really embraced these films.

This year we also have the Queens and Cowboys Party. Dot429 and Out In The Vineyard are the sponsors of the party on Saturday night, which is in junction with the film “Queens and Cowboys,” which follows Wade Earp, who’s related to Wyatt Earp. He happens to be a cowboy, happens to be a champion, and happens to be gay.

We had a similar LGBT party with a different theme last year. We had a film playing at the festival that came out in New York called “The Last Disco Revolution.” Basically it was about how the whole gay movement came out of the closet onto the dance floor. There were some wonderful clubs in New York that bought the whole focus on the gay movement by associating with a very stylish fun theme. This film was about that and how these clubs really came to the attention of the rest of the country. So we had this massive disco party in Sonoma.

There’s also a free shuttle service to and from the event on Saturday night. [Note: although completely free, patrons must reserve tickets to ride.]

429Mag: So were you involved in choosing “Queens and Cowboys” as one of the movies to play at the Festival? What drew you to it?

KM: Yeah! It’s an absolutely wonderful film. It’s a strong documentary, it’s well put together and it deserves all the attention that it’s going to get.

The film recently won both the audience award and the jury award at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. It was well deserved.

429Mag: And can you tell me about some other movies playing this year?

KM: We have a wonderful Spanish program called Vamos Al Cine with seven or eight films from Cuba. We have four Cuban filmmakers coming for their respective films and others from Mexico, Venezuela, Spain and Argentina.

So we have a lot of depth in our Spanish language films and we have a lot of depth in our international films.

We have everything from our Oscar-winning “Great Beauty” to a wonderful film out of Nigeria called “Half a Yellow Sun.” [There’s] a film out of Taiwan called “Everything Is Fine Here,” and we also have a great slate of French films. We have “Le Chef” which is so great because we’re all about food and wine so to have a film about that subject is just ideal.

We have a little bit of everything for everyone. We have sixty plus full-length films, whether they are documentaries, world-cinema or American indies. And then we have four shorts programs, with five films in each of those programs. And we have five food films. We hang our hat on that. We also have our children’s program this year, which, weeks in advance of the international screen premiere, will feature “Rio 2.” So that’s great for young and old.

The children’s program on Saturday morning also has the Olate dogs from one of our films, “Le Souvetage,” coming to put on a show. They are highly trained performance dogs. And they are sponsored by Halo, Purely for Pets, which is Ellen DeGeneres’ company. Ellen also sent ten thousand pounds of dog food as a gesture of appreciation to Sonoma’s pet rescue organization called Pets Lifeline. That’s so Ellen!

429Mag: Is the Children’s section of the festival new?

KM: No, that’s been going on for years. And that’s with selfish motivation because I have a 12-year-old daughter here. She gets to invite her entire class because it’s free for all kids with the parents only paying $10.

We’ve done a bunch of different things over the years but this year there’s a local group called “Everybody’s A Star” performing. These are autistic kids who are wonderful musical performers.

Right after their performance there’s a film that blows my mind, from Disney. It’s a Nature film called “Wings of Life” and the cinematography is extraordinary. So that’s really great. Our children’s program goes until around 1:30 in the afternoon.

429Mag: Are there any other noteworthy aspects to the festival this year?

KM: Yeah, we have a bunch of noteworthy things. On Friday night we have a film called “Born in Chicago” and it’s [about]a bunch of white guys during the 60s that go to Chicago to learn how to play the blues. There are world-renowned blues artists such as Elton Bishop, Charlie Musselwhite, Barry Goldberg, Harvey Mandel, Nick Gravanite, who, after the film, are going to show up and play. It’s going to be a mind-blowing concert.

We also have a local guy from Mill Valley called Martin Shore and his film “Take Me To The River” is about Stax Records, which was an all-time record company that had some of the most incredible performers. And in this film you got everyone from Dylan to Snoop Dogg and just some of the performers who recorded at Stax Records in there. This film just premiered and won the Audience Award so that’s pretty noteworthy.

Overall we try to do everything for a bunch of different groups. We’re not really buttonholed to one thing. We feel we’re a really responsible festival. We do things about the environment and social causes. We do things about kids and we do things about sports and we have films from all over the world. Our little deal is that we’re welcoming, entertaining, and inspiring, so we try to live up to that.


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