Wrap-Up | Napa Valley Film Festival 2017

In just seven short years the Napa Valley Film Festival, (the brainchild of husband and wife team Brenda and Marc Lhormer), has become one of the preeminent film festivals in the United States. The duo envisioned a fall film festival that would exhibit the year’s best new independent films and likely Oscar and Golden Globe Awards contenders, while simultaneously leveraging Napa Valley’s outstanding food, wine and hospitality to deliver an unparalleled immersive and transformative festival experience.

The 7th Annual Napa Valley Film Festival took place between November 5-12, 2017, beginning with the premiere of the Guillermo del Toro Oscar contender The Shape Of Water. Two of the film’s stars, Michael Shannon and Michael Stuhlbarg, made appearances to promote the film, (a front runner for a multitude of 2018 Oscar nominations), which features Sally Hawkins in the lead playing Elisa, a mute woman who discovers an alien-like being at the lab facility where she and her friend, Zelda (Octavia Spencer), are employed as janitors. The film takes place in 1962 Cold War America.

When speaking to Michael Shannon, about his work on The Shape Of Water, he had nothing but praise for “genius” director Guillermo del Torro. “He’s one of the great directors on earth,” says Shannon, to us on the Red Carpet. I ask Shannon how he is so fortunate to pick great parts, and seemingly have a body of work that even Meryl Streep would be jealous of. (He has two Oscar nominations under his belt, including for last year’s critically acclaimed Nocturnal Animals and one of the best things about HBO’s Boardwalk Empire). “Au contraire,” he laughs, “You haven’t seen Kangaroo Jack, I take it,” replies Shannon, laughing about one of the films he seems to regret having made. “It’s been a long journey, like the tortoise and the hare. I was the tortoise. I am definitely not an overnight sensation.

“I guess my de facto position is that I would rather be at home with my kids. So if you’re going to make me come do something it better be good. As for the movie getting a lot of awards buzz, this is all Guillermo. It was his vision and dream and I am just walking around in it.”

Michael Stuhlbarg, whom we spoke to a number of times during the festival, because he appeared in two films in the fest, (Call Me By Your Name and The Shape of Water), tells Dylan Tracy, (Wild About Movies managing editor), that he “worked closely with a voice tutor” for his role as a Russian in The Shape Of Water. “Practice makes perfect. A lot of time intensive work. Breaking down the pronunciation of the words, what the words mean, the order in which you’re speaking them, the order in which they make sense to an American and vice versa, the order in which they make sense to a Russian. Understanding those things so that you’re so familiar with them so that it just flows out of you [is what you’re going for]. My tutor was essential in the process and helped me hear the nuances of things that I couldn’t hear very well.”

The Festival kicked off in full swing Wednesday with a trio of films – The Year Of Spectacular Men, Amanda And Jack Go Glamping, and Quest – in which cast members and directors walked the red carpets.

For Amanda And Jack Go Glamping, making appearances were David Arquette, the film’s lead, along with the film’s director, Brandon Dickerson, two producers (Cathleen Sutherland, Susan Kirr), and up and coming teenage actor Chris Carptenter.

Producer Cathleen Sutherland told us how she got David Arquette to sign on to play the lead. “I am friends with Patricia [Arquette, David’s sister]. We worked together on Boyhood,” (Sutherland produced the Oscar  winning film), and I told her that I thought that David would be a perfect fit for the role of Jack. She said, ‘Let me send him the script.’ The day after he received the script he called me and told me that he would love to do the film.”

On the red carpet, at the film’s festival premiere, Arquette couldn’t seem happier. It began pouring rain the minute he started walking the carpet, but he stood out there answering questions and promoting the film. “It’s only rain,” he laughed.

Quest, which went on to win a plethora of awards at the festival, including Audience Favorite (Narrative), and Audience Favorite Actor, featured appearances by the film’s director (Santiago Rizzo) and stars, including Gregory Kasyen.

Santiago Rizzo, the film’s writer and director, couldn’t have been more excited. Bumping into him at the closing night gala, right after it was announced that his film had won the Audience Awards for Best Film and Best Actor, it was apparent that he was on cloud nine. “I made this movie to make a difference,” he said. “If you can’t try to help make people’s lives better, what’s the point in living?”

Thursday saw the premiere of Oscar contender Call Me By Your Name, which was written and produced by James Ivory (A Room With A View, Howard’s End, Remains Of The Day), and features Armie Hammer in the lead role. The film tells the story of a scholar (Hammer) who spends a summer “somewhere in Northern Italy” in 1983 with a professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) and his family, and develops a romantic relationship with the professor’s teenage son, (Timothee Chalamet). Stuhlbarg and Chlamet’s performances are Oscar worthy, as is the film’s screenplay, direction, cinematography and original score.

Michael Stuhlbarg has an Oscar caliber scene at the end of the movie, where he talks to his son, who is heartbroken that his summer romance is over. “I would like to think if I had a child that I would be able to be as understanding as my character. I would hope that I would be able to be present enough to know that they are going through something like this, to pay attention, to listen, and to be there for them in every way.

“People don’t necessarily always have the courage to say all the time what you want to say to them. In this case, [on screen], I got to say some really remarkable things to the actor who was playing my son. The words were full of love, compassion and tenderness.

The director of Call Me By Your Name, Luca Gaudagnino, (who lives in Italy), hints at what’s in store for the sequel that is already in the works. “The book and the movie on which it is based end differently,” he told me. “The book has 50 additional pages, from where the movie leaves off. I think it would be great to follow the two characters years later, when they are adults and have families of their own.”

Izzy Gets The F**k Out Of Town also made an impression at the Festival, winning the Special Jury Award for Best Breakout Performance for Mackenzie Davis.

Elijah Wood made an appearance at the Festival for the documentary 78/52, in which he appears briefly in an interview with the film’s director (who was also in attendance at the Festival).

A VIP event held at the Lincoln Theater on Thursday night featured celebrity tributes to Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg, Ian Somerhalder, Nikki Reed and Nancy Meyers.

Ian Somerhalder and Nikki Reed, who just had a baby, (and who brought their baby with them to Napa, but not to the event), were being honored for their charity work with rescue animals.

Nikki Reed and Ian Somerhalder spoke with us right before they received the Humanitarian Tribute.

“We have separate stories and separate paths, starting when we were young, and at some point merged in more ways than one. We ended up getting married, and marrying our passions, with each other as well,” said Reed.