Movie News & Reviews

Starry Napa film festival’s show goes on, post-quake

“The Imitation Games,” a World War II drama about the Allies’ deciphering of Nazi encrypted messages, stars, in the foreground, Benedict Cumberbatch, and behind him from left, Keira Knightley, Matthew Beard, Matthew Goode and Allen Leech.
“The Imitation Games,” a World War II drama about the Allies’ deciphering of Nazi encrypted messages, stars, in the foreground, Benedict Cumberbatch, and behind him from left, Keira Knightley, Matthew Beard, Matthew Goode and Allen Leech. The Weinstein Co.

August’s 6.0-magnitude Napa earthquake has hampered the ambitious Napa Valley Film Festival. But not by much.

The festival’s fourth edition, which opens at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in Yountville with the WWII code-breaker thriller and early awards favorite “The Imitation Game,” still will run concurrently in four valley towns, as it did in previous years.

“What it really affected is the hotels,” said Brenda Lhormer, co-director of the NVFF, which goes through Nov. 16 and offers more than 125 films.

Downtown Napa’s Westin Verasa, a go-to festival hotel and its media headquarters, sustained water damage in the quake. It is not yet operating at full capacity, Lhormer said. And downtown’s Andaz hotel, also damaged by the earthquake, will not reopen until December.

“We had counted on them reopening” sooner, Lhormer said of the Andaz.

The festival has had to look for alternative accommodations for some filmmakers and other festival guests. The hotels’ issues also mean fewer places to stay for film lovers.

But the timing of another post-earthquake reopening worked out well. Downtown Napa’s Uptown Theatre will reopen this weekend, days before it will hold three NVFF screenings featuring big stars.

At 2 p.m. Nov. 13, the festival will screen “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon,” a documentary about a beloved Hollywood talent manager that already opened theatrically over the summer. Gordon and actor Mike Myers, who co-directed the film, will sit for a post-screening Q&A with Oscar prognosticator Dave Karger.

At 5:30 p.m., the festival will show the Kevin Costner drama “Black and White,” which is scheduled for January theatrical release. Costner plays a widower in a custody battle over his biracial granddaughter with the girl’s grandmother (Octavia Spencer). The film was written and directed by Mike Binder, who also collaborated with Costner on 2005’s “The Upside of Anger.” Costner is expected to appear with the film.

At 10 a.m. Nov. 16, the NVFF and the Uptown will host Shailene Woodley, appearing with “The Fault in Our Stars,” the hit film in which she plays a teen in love with a fellow cancer patient. Woodley will receive the Indie Impact Award from Variety magazine, a festival corporate partner.

Festival attendance has grown 20 percent each of its three previous years, Lhormer said. In 2013, the event drew 8,000 unique adult patrons. Lhormer anticipates similar growth for the 2014 festival, which offers screening venues and “festival villages” in the towns of Napa, St. Helena, Calistoga and Yountville.

This year’s event furthers the festival’s reputation as a stop on the early awards circuit, with the NVFF not just previewing films such as “Imitation Game,” which will open in theaters in December, but reviving the earlier releases “Supermensch” and “Fault in Our Stars.”

Woodley, who is being mentioned as possible Oscar best actress contender for “Fault,” is appearing at the festival at Variety’s behest, Lhormer said. But she’s already a festival favorite.

Woodley’s breakout film, “The Descendants,” opened the first Napa Valley Film Festival in 2011. Lhormer said “Descendants” director Alexander Payne, who was Lhormer’s Stanford classmate, told her at the time that Woodley was special.

“He said, ‘This young girl is on fire, and by this time next year, she will be the next major actress.’ It has been exciting to see her grow.”

The Napa Valley Film Festival also will mark the 10th anniversary of Payne’s “Sideways” with a screening at 1 p.m. Nov. 14 in Yountville. The Oscar-winning 2004 film took viewers on a tour of wineries in central California, not Napa. But there clearly are no hard feelings in the valley.

The festival will give out its own honors at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 14 in Yountville, to actors Costner, Michelle Monaghan and Jeremy Jordan.

Costner will receive the BVisionary Award, with the “B” representing awards sponsor Beaulieu Vineyard. Costner, Lhormer said, is an established star “who continues to want to break new ground” with projects such as “Black and White.”

Monaghan, best known for “Mission Impossible: III” and HBO’s “True Detective,” will be the subject of NVFF’s “Spotlight Tribute.” Monaghan “has done a lot of beautiful small films,” Lhormer said. Including this year’s “Fort Bliss,” in which she plays an Afghanistan war vet. “She is one of those actresses who embodies the grace of old Hollywood.”

That old Hollywood staple, the musical, will make an appearance with screenings of “The Last Five Years” at 5 p.m. Wednesday in St. Helena and 8:30 p.m. Thursday in Napa. Set for theatrical release in February 2015, “Five Years” stars actor-singers Jordan (“Smash”) and Anna Kendrick (“Pitch Perfect”). Based on a 2002 off-Broadway musical, the film tracks the ups and downs of a romantic relationship.

“This guy is so loaded with talent and nobody knows,” Lhormer said of Jordan, to whom the festival will bestow its “Domaine Chandon Rising Star Award.”

But Jordan has friends in rarified places: Harvey Weinstein, head of the studio behind “Five Years” (as well as “Imitation” and “Supermensch”) will attend the festival, partly to celebrate Jordan’s award, Lhormer said. “So the pressure is on.”

Call The Bee’s Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.


When: Wednesday-Nov. 16

Where: The towns of Napa, Calistoga, St. Helena and Yountville

Cost: $95 day pass; festival passes start at $295