Movie News & Reviews

Sacramento, Nevada City film festivals offer variety of journeys

The documentary “Political Animals” tells the story of the gay rights movement through the eyes of four state legislators, including Sheila Kuehl and Carole Migden. It will be screened at the Sacramento Film and Music Festival.
The documentary “Political Animals” tells the story of the gay rights movement through the eyes of four state legislators, including Sheila Kuehl and Carole Migden. It will be screened at the Sacramento Film and Music Festival. Idiot Savant Pictures

The Sacramento Film & Music and Nevada City film festivals, two of Northern California’s longest-running film events, kick off their 17th and 16th editions, respectively, next week.

Both festivals offer international film lineups while spotlighting topics and people of local interest. Here are some highlights:

Sacramento Film & Music Festival

Profound advances in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights movements over the past few years have made it easy to forget that ideas such as same-sex marriage seemed unimaginable even 20 years ago.

“Political Animals” (9 p.m. Sept. 7, Jean Runyon Little Theater), a documentary profiling the first openly gay state legislators – all women – returns us to those not-so-far-away days, in the mid-to-late 1990s, when foes of LGBT rights legislation would take to the Assembly floor to compare homosexuality with bestiality and necrophilia.

In response, Assembly members – and later state senators – Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, and Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, calmly proceeded with their (eventually successful) bids to prevent discrimination against LGBT students and establish domestic partnerships in California, moves that paved the way for widespread rights gains in California and across the country.

Directors Jonah Markowitz and Tracy Wares intersperse ample archival television footage from legislative sessions with new interviews with Kuehl, Migden, Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, and Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, the latter two of whom followed Kuehl and Migden into the Assembly in 2000.

Former sitcom actress Kuehl (“The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis”) became the Legislature’s first out member when she entered the Assembly in 1994. She served three terms there, two in the state Senate and now is a Los Angeles County supervisor. She comes off as especially prescient in the archival footage, telling her fellow legislators, years before “bullying” became a buzz word, that those who vote for protecting children will be on the right side of history.

“Political Animals” also will open the Sacramento International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, on Oct. 13. The repetition was inadvertent, Sacramento Film & Music Festival co-director Tony Sheppard said. But “the upside is, the film is so good it got picked twice,” Sheppard said.

Sacramento Film & Music Festival has co-presented films with SIGLFF in the past, and has honored other members of the local festival community with its Film Arts Service Award, previous winners of which include Sacramento French Film Festival executive director Cécile Mouette Downs and Sacramento Horror Film Festival founder Tim Meunier.

This year’s Film Arts Service Award will honor the team behind Trash Film Orgy, the exploitation and horror midnight-movie festival that ran from 2001 to 2014 at the Crest Theatre. The TFO team, led by Darin Wood and Christy Savage, also puts on the annual Zombie Walk and produces feature-length films.

“They have been massively influential in terms of bringing in audiences, making films and just raising the level of enthusiasm in town,” Sheppard said of TFO organizers.

Nevada City Film Festival

Festival attendees can see for themselves whether Steven Spielberg was correct in calling virtual reality technology “dangerous” earlier this year. On Sept. 9 and 10, the festival is offering two days of virtual-reality programming, complete with viewmasters, headphones and 11 short films produced by Oakland’s Kaleidoscope.

Spielberg told an audience at May’s Cannes Film Festival that the potential danger of virtual reality – seen by some as the film industry’s future – was creative in nature. The immersive viewing experience, he said, can change the nature of a story by giving “the viewer a lot of latitude not to take directions from storytellers,” he said. Viewers now “can make their own choices of where to look.”

Nevada City attendees can look where they want while watching virtual-reality clips from 5 to 9 p.m. Sept. 9 and 3:30 to 10:30 p.m. Sept. 10 at Miners Foundry. Swivel chairs will allow for a bit of viewer movement as well, if the visual content inspires it. But the 11 shorts available for viewing aren’t particularly action-oriented or video-game-esque, said Jesse Locks, Nevada City Film Festival director.

“It’s not about you walking down the street trying to fight off zombies,” she said. “There is one short film that talks about anxiety and depression. Another is where you meet these two women expressing their love for each other in the absence of each other.”

The Sept. 9 virtual-reality showcase offers all 11 films for $45. The Sept. 9 program offers two films for $10. Patrons who want to see more films on Sept. 10 can get in line again, amusement park-style, for another $10, two-film ride.

Film fans seeking a (slightly) more traditional trip can pile back into the VW van for a special 10th anniversary screening of “Little Miss Sunshine” (7:30 p.m. Sept. 9, Nevada Theatre) attended by the film’s married directors, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. Dayton grew up in nearby Grass Valley.

“We’ve been trying to get them here for the past seven years,” Locks said. The directors’ and festival’s schedules finally aligned this year, she said.

Alan Arkin won a best supporting actor Oscar for his performance in “Sunshine” as a foul-mouthed grandpa/child-beauty-pageant-routine choreographer. Michael Arndt’s screenplay won as well.

Veteran music-video and commercial directors Dayton and Faris made their feature-film directing debuts with “Sunshine,” a modestly budgeted independent film that grossed $60 million at the U.S. box office.

The couple’s 2012 follow-up, “Ruby Sparks,” did not catch similar fire at the box office but earned critical respect, and Dayton and Faris remain in-demand commercial directors.

Dayton’s story, as a local product, appeals to the Nevada City audience, which skews young and artistic, Locks said.

“You hear this insane success story, and it (shows) you don’t have to be a Hollywood insider, she said.

Sacramento Film and Music Festival

When: Sept. 6-11

Where: Jean Runyon Little Theater, Memorial Auditorium, 1515 J St., and Esquire Imax, 1211 K St., Sacramento

Cost: $10-$15



Nevada City Film Festival

When: Sept. 8-11

Where: Various Nevada City venues

Cost: $8-$10 individual screenings;$79-$89 festival passes

Information:, 530-362-8601