The city of Sonoma, with its charming downtown plaza, maintains a hometown atmosphere year-round. But once a year, Sonoma goes global.
The 18th annual Sonoma International Film Festival, running Wednesday through Sunday, March 25-29, will screen 104 films — more than half of them full-length features — from 25 countries at seven downtown venues.
“We’re expecting 200 filmmakers to attend from 14 countries,” said Kevin McNeely, executive director of the festival.
Don’t look for movie stars in the crowd this year, although a few have shown up at the festival in past years, including actor Christopher Lloyd and director John Waters.
“We’ve never hung our hat on being a celebrity festival,” McNeely said.
But you will see some famous actors on screen. The festival opens Wednesday, March 25, with “A Little Chaos,” starring Alan Rickman and Kate Winslet, and closes Sunday, March 29, with “The Search,” starring Annette Bening.
“We feel like we are a launchpad for a lot of indie filmmakers, so we certainly are not a market festival like Cannes or Toronto or Sundance. But we’ve had a fair share of films that have gone on to wider distribution, including ‘Food Inc.,’ ‘Siddarth’ and last year, ‘Born in Chicago,’” McNeely said.
Set in Sonoma, the festival naturally emphasizes fine wine and food, and prides itself on being a friendly, accessible event.
“What really distinguishes it from the other 1,200 film festivals around the country is that we are a walkable film festival,” he added. “Once you get to Sonoma Plaza and park your car, all of the screening venues are within minutes of our main hospitality tent that we built in the middle of the plaza, which we call ‘The Backlot Tent,’ which has food, wine and entertainment all day long.”
The premier screening venue is the ornate and historic Sebastiani Theatre, a reminder of the bygone glory days of movie palaces, where major films will be shown. The Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, a block away, will show art films.
Here are some highlights:
“A Little Chaos” is British actor Alan Rickman’s directorial debut. Rickman also plays King Louis XIV in the film, with Kate Winslet as a revolutionary hired to help build the lavish gardens at the Palace of Versailles. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 25. Sebastiani Theatre,
“The Week” follows a washed-up TV host whose wife leaves him the day before their week-long 10th anniversary celebration in wine country. 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 25. Sonoma Community Center.
Lunafest, founded in 2000 to showcase the work of women filmmakers, will be featured as a festival within the Sonoma International Film Festival, with eight short films showing at 5 p.m. Thursday, March 26, at Sonoma Valley Museum of Art.
“Sold,” a documentary about a year-old Nepali girl sold into prostitution after a monsoon destroys her family’s rice paddy. 5:30 p.m. Friday, March 27. Sebastiani Theatre.
“Queens at Court” follows four LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) tennis players over eight months and two tournaments. 8:30 p.m. Saturday, March 28. Sonoma Valley Women’s Club.
“Dior and I” gives viewers a look inside the world of the Christian Dior fashion house. 8:30 p.m. Saturday, March 28. Sonoma Valley Museum of Art.