Cinequest Film Festival: Celebrating filmmakers for 25 years

Since Cinequest Film Festival barged its way into San Jose 25 years ago, it has steadily grown and built prestige. From bringing in 3,000 people in its first year back in 1990, 100,000 people are now cramming themselves into the city every year to see some of the world's most talented up and coming filmmakers showcase their work. Spanning from February 24-March 8 it premiered over 90 films, from a menagerie of both amateur and established filmmakers. Along with the films, there were workshops for aspiring screenwriters, the unveiling of new film technology, high school and college film competitions and conversations with Maverick Award recipients Rosario Dawson (Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Gimme Shelter), Lawrence Kasdan (Darling Companion, Dreamcatcher) as well as other established names in the film industry.

Cinequest has earned a reputation as purveyors of innovation. Their Maverick Award ceremonies recognize boldness and innovation in the field of film with past winners including names like Harrison Ford, J.J. Abrams and Sir Ian Mckellen.

When asked what he found unique about Cinequest, writer/director Tim Bartell, who was premiering his moving "Dirty Beautiful" said, "They have a reputation for selecting films that are a little off the beaten path, sometimes interesting, a little diverse, a little eclectic and they're not afraid to show something thats even a little out there." And that's one of the goals of Cinequest, to continue pushing the envelope as far "out there" as possible.

Another goal is to be a launching pad for filmmakers to show their work and network with other filmmakers. Wendy Griak, producer of "The Center," spoke about her experience, "Cinequest was the world premiere for our film, and our team arrived to San Jose feeling excited, maybe a bit anxious, but mostly hopeful that we would find interested audiences to share our film with. We were absolutely blown away by the support that we felt and the number of connections made." This is where the true spirit of the event can be felt—in the abundance of networking opportunities and the concerted effort of the staff to create these opportunities.

A sense of camaraderie began to pervade the festival from the start. Filmmakers showed up to as many films as they could in support of other filmmakers who returned the favor, ensuring that no film would be left without an audience. Griak went on to add, "Often, within minutes of meeting one of the other filmmakers in attendance, I felt an overwhelming sense of respect and genuine support. We watched each other’s films, we heard each other’s production stories, and we celebrated each other’s success. We found our people! The people who love film and story telling as much as we do!"

Red carpets were held before certain premieres where both rookies and veterans alike had their chance to be interviewed by the various media outlets and have their corneas tested by the endless line of flash bulbs.

Inside the theaters (duties were split between the Camera 12 Theater and the California Theater), actors cringed and smiled and looked away as their faces first popped up on the 30-foot screens, while writers and directors took to their perches in the back corners in order to better be able to survey the audiences reactions to their big scares, jokes or tearjerkers.

Each movie concluded with a Q&A with the casts and crews where the audience was free to satiate any curiosity that the films may have piqued. These were followed by more meet and greets as the Q&As spilled out into the lobbies. Here, audience members filled out surveys about the movies while cast members interspersed themselves throughout the crowd, shaking hands and answering any residual questions that viewers might have had. This made audience members feel as much a part of the films as the filmmakers themselves.

Emily Goss, lead actress in "The House on Pine Street," said, "Audiences at Cinequest were very engaged. We were so excited that people here didn't just show up for the screenings, but they also stayed for the Q&As and wanted to get into discussions about 'The House on Pine Street.' That was an amazing part of the festival."

Films were as diverse as the filmmakers, who came from over 50 countries.

"Aden," an 11 minute film from Taiwan, is about a man trying to stop a giant creature created by a child’s imagination. Creator Gary Lee spent 2 years in post-production to finish it.

"Miss India America," created by the husband and wife team of Meera Simhan and Ravi Kapoor, is a comedy focusing on an Indian beauty pageant that co-starred Hannah Simone (New Girl).

"How to Lose Jobs and Alienate Girlfriends" is an Australian documentary by Tom Meadmore about chasing your passions while simultaneously chasing off everyone around you.

Finally, "The House on Pine Street," is a psychological thriller shot in Kansas by twins Austin and Aaron Keeling, who co-wrote and directed this film about a pregnant woman unsure whether her new house is haunted or if she’s just losing her mind.

Big names also had a strong presence with well known actors like Michael Fassbender (Slow West), Simon Pegg (Kill Me Three Times) and Kristen Stewart (Clouds of Sils Maria) all starring in films shown at the festival.

For all the filmmakers who decided to pay the entry fee and make the trek up to San Jose, Cinequest held up its end of the bargain. It was a diverse, enlightening and eye opening experience that allowed them to show their films and build their networks. Film lovers were left eagerly awaiting next year's batch of entries and attendees were able to leave proclaiming, as Wendy Griak did, "We found our people!"

CultureNik LucajComment