Under blue skies on Sonoma's historic plaza, corridors of trees bristling with springtime greenery lead to a large white tent directly behind the stone City Hall.
A sign announces the tent is "The Backlot."
If that isn't enough to establish the setting, in front of City Hall is a sign of cut-out letters about 12 feet tall that spell "SONOMAWOOD." It's a nod, of course, to Hollywood, the dream factory that independent film festivals like the Sonoma International Film Festival both veer from and aspire toward.
Cut to the front of the landmark Sebastiani Theatre on The Plaza's east side, the festival's premiere venue. Festival executive director Kevin McNeely stands outside; the theatre's restored Italianate facade rises above him.
"Less than 20 percent of films that go to film festivals, it doesn't matter if it's Cannes, Sundance or Sonoma, get distribution," says an animated McNeely, cutting to the heart of the film festival's reason for being.
Cut to the foyer of The Backlot tent, where festival Director of Operations Mary Catherine Cutcliffe is fielding reports from venues around town over her radio headset.
Sunday was the event's closing act. More than 100 films were shown through its five-day run, including selections from 22 countries. Some 200 volunteers helped out. At least 3,500 people came last year and more did this year, Cutcliffe says.
"We've had amazing attendance," she says, sitting in The Backlot tent. "We have people from out of town, from out of state... A lot of turnout from the larger Bay Area."
And, oh, the parties. A Saturday night dance party celebrated the screening of the documentary "Queens & Cowboys," about a season with the International Gay Rodeo Association.
Cutcliffe leans forward: "We went through 1,000 pieces of glassware in an hour," she says. "I shouldn't say that, probably, but it's true."
Cut to the front of the The Backlot tent, where filmmaking partners Thom Canalichio and Giorgio Litt are finishing each other's sentences.
It's a fantastically run and organized festival," says Litt of Los Angeles.
"The hospitality of the town is fantastic..." says Canalichio, of Charlottesville, Va.
"...It's unparalleled," says Litt.
The pair are hustling to arrange an extra screening of their film, "Waking Marshall Walker," a 15-minute narrative short involving a vintner whose wife dies and the family's struggle "to reconnect in the afterlife," Litt says.
"We thought it would resonate with the audience here," says Canalichio.
Cut to McNeely, still in the front of the Sebastiani Theatre. He wears canvas tennis shoes and yellow pants and talks fast.
"He came a day early, he was so excited," McNeely says of Litt, whose film is premiering in Sonoma at Murphy's Pub, one of seven festival venues.
"It's great when you can feel that excitement," says McNeely.
Fade to a few minutes later when, at the same location, filmmakers Noah Wagner of New York and Bryant Boesen gather.
A passing mother and daughter stop to talk to Wagner, whose short film, "Fortissimo," is "about an old, washed-up vaudeville mime who's struggling for inspiration and attention until he meets this little girl who has the ability to produce music with her every touch."
"I'm still blown away," says Wagner. "I made a film in New York and it landed here and everybody loves it."