Finding Myself at Napa Valley Film Festival

My mother told me this moment would come and I didn’t believe her at the time. But here we are. Having just turned 30 and wobbling a bit on my axis from learning how to balance working a day job in San Francisco with running a creative life alongside it, I find myself groaning and rolling my eyes when faced with “another bloody party.”

Let me explain further.

I have found, over the past few months of having to match my daily rhythms to the rave-party beat of a city in the throes of being taken over by the ultimate cool of the tech billionaire start-up kids’ dreams and the lockstep of the commuter herds, that I am suffering from a strange form of social schizophrenia. It appears most strongly when having to step over the homeless people thronging the sidewalks to get myself that 6$ coffee, which may be the only thing standing between me and a felony-assault event whilst fighting to either get to my desk, or remain at my desk for the required length of a Workday.

Make no mistake, San Fransisco is a city under ideological siege. The frail and nebulous ghosts of the Summer of Love are being driven out by skinny jeans, designer drinks and the power of money. A bar that the Beat Poets once frequented, pouring deep zen thoughts into their beer, is now a destination bar for techsters (hipsters with a tech background).  Let me say I have no issue with this....I just don't know how/where to place myself alongside it. 

I find myself constantly leaping back and forth over the chasm that is opening between my empathy for my fellow man and my fear for my own survival. At any given moment San Francisco can be Utopia/Dystopia all at the same time.

I think every generation goes through this as it leaves the comfort and warmth of assumed values and bumps up against the cold, hard cliff-face of reality. But I think this has become bigger, darker and scarier than ever before. We are living the Third Industrial Revolution, disruptive technologies will turn our worlds inside out. Climate Change is real and accelerating. Social unrest and war have become immediate and available to whomever wishes to jump in and shape it. The world is both smaller and larger than we remember it to be. It's a Small World is not just a children's amusement park ride anymore. 

All that being said ( and of that, more later.) You may begin to understand the thought that wandered through my mind as I picked up my camera and notebook and sped off to Napa Valley for the 2015 Film Festival ,…… “OMG, another bloody Film Festival!!” why are we doing this?

And I spent the rest of that weekend, ( which included the tragic events of Friday 13th in Paris) answering that question for myself.

What is a Film Festival?

In essence, it sounds like the recipe for a damned good party.

You take a lot of people who love Movies, along with the people who make the Movies, (for various reasons, more of that later) and you place them together in a venue of either scenic or cultural significance, add a liberal dusting of sponsors and media, garnish with as many celebrities as you can gather, and hey Presto! You have yourself a Festival.

If only it were that simple.

A lot of people poured their time, energy and passion into making NVFF not only shiny and sparkly on the outside, but also giving it the ballast of a social conscience, intellectual veracity and some genuine effort and attention at showcasing original voices and emerging creativity. In short, there was some gravitas among the party favors. At its best a Film Festival tries to identify the stories we are telling ourselves about our future and promotes those who tell it best.

Along with all the Red Carpet hoopla and there was plenty with A-listers like John Travolta promoting his movie Life on the Line, a film that looked at the real life struggles of the gentlemen who keep our power on come any weather. John is posing below with a bevy of the real deal.

We had the opportunity to interview the four finalists of the Lexus/Weinstein Company collaborative short film event. It was a brief, but lovely interaction with three of the four, (the fourth was still en route having left his hometown of Paris on that fateful Friday, our hearts go out to him) and indicative of the world class quality of what was on offer.

And speaking of parties, the Friday evening After Party, held at Raymond Vineyards in St. Helena was a jaw-dropping blowout of epic proportions

I managed to take in showings of two short documentaries, initially I found the juxtaposition rather odd, but on reflection, couldn’t have been better. The first, “Nefertiti’s Daughters” focused on the brave female street artists responding to the uprising in Cairo of 2011.

Trailer for Nefertiti's Daughters

The second, ”Teen Press” followed a group of aspiring journalists at Santa Barbara Middle School in Sunny California

Trailer for Teen Press

The ensuing Q&A and interaction with the audience was an inspiring example of exactly what a good Film Festival is about. The opportunity to bring unlikely imagery, people and conversations together. Watching  as the young people from SBMS spoke about their experiences learning the tricky art of communications and interpretation, and listening to their questions to the filmmakers of Nefertiti's Daughters, I realized that this, like cheese and wine, was a perfect pairing. The very old speaking across time and culture to the very new, This is the world our children will inherit no matter where they are born, and sometimes they will have to reach down very deep, to the roots of their cultural inheritance to re-invent a future that is livable for everyone.

So, did any of this help with my social-schizophrenia dysfunction ? I’m not sure. I still had to get up Monday morning and put my working girls’ pants on one leg at a time…….but…..I can say that beauty, along with a little truth and goodness goes a long way toward creating a quiet, still space to rest a bruised and battered soul. We all know the healing power of a timely story, how it can touch places deeper and more profound than surface contacts. How you feel after a good conversation when you know that you were both heard and seen. How all of this can stop pain and anger and catastrophe, both great and small, in its tracks.

I think I saw a lot of that at NVFF, so was it just another bloody party? Yes, and No. As parties go it was a really good one , but it was also more than that.