Food And Film To Collide At Napa Valley Film Festival

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The line outside the Uptown Theater in downtown Napa
The line outside the Uptown Theater in downtown Napa

There is no film festival quite like the Napa Valley Film Festival (NVFF). Sure, Toronto and Cannes attract big celebrities and Sundance is the place to be for independent films, but none of these festivals have the Napa Valley as a backdrop. Northern California’s most esteemed wine country is known for its world-class wines, incredible restaurants, and unparalleled hospitality. These elements are incorporated into the NVFF making it the only film-centric five-day event—specifically November 7 to 11, 2018—that also happens to be a food and wine festival. Come for the films and stay for the food, or come for the food and stay for the films. “A lot of people don’t realize how much of the festival is revolving around the cooking demos, the food, and the wine,” Brenda Lhormer, NVFF’s co-founder and the director told Haute Living. “The food and wine attract a different audience, who might not think, ‘Oh yeah, I’m just going to go to a film festival.’ With the NVFF, we are going to show off every element of Napa. You’re going to taste it all, which is fun.”

A culinary event at last year's festival
A culinary event at last year’s festival

The event, which is now in its eighth year, has a new culinary epicenter. “It’s a new business, slash, building called The Studio by Feast it Forward, and it’s a cool interactive culinary space. It’s a retail space combined with a wine lounge,” Lhormer explains. “We’re going to build our culinary demonstration kitchen there.” NVFF will also host intermissions at this lively festival hub—an afternoon break in between film screenings where various wineries will pour tastes, Glenfiddich Whiskey will host a lounge, and there will be live music and snacks. It’s also the home for many of the chef demonstrations and culinary-centric seminars. Chef Rick Moonen will share his expertise in responsibly sourced seafood alongside the filmmakers of Hiro’s Table, a documentary about master sushi chef Hiroji Obayashi. Chef Kyle Connaughton will teach how to create the perfect dashi, chef Tim Hollingsworth discusses the critical relationship between a chef and his butcher, and chef Brian Malarkey will prepare Mexican cuisine inspired by the film Agave: Spirit of a Nation. The cool thing about the culinary demos? All guests get to taste each of the dishes, and most are paired with alcohol.

Last year's vintner's dinner at Charles Krug
A dinner at Charles Krug

Besides its culinary components, another thing that makes NVFF unique is that most of the screenings aren’t in traditional movie theaters. Instead, the films are shown at wineries like the historic Charles Krug estate and restaurants such as the Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch. NVFF’s team is transforming the ballroom at the Archer Hotel into a theater, and the barn at Los Alcobas Hotel will also become a luxe screening room. However, the venue that Lhormer is most excited about is a pop-up drive-in. “The newest thing that seems to be getting all the buzz is our pop-up drive-in theater that we are building in Calistoga. It’s going to be a thing,” she says. “Think about how nostalgic it feels to watch a movie in your car and be out in the middle of a beautiful field overlooking the hills in Calistoga. It should be quite the movie-going experience. We’ve got room for 50 cars and bleacher seating for 100 for anyone who wants to bring a blanket and hang outside.” NVFF is partnering with Fun-Flicks, a company that has giant outdoor screens, to host the pop-up.

Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele at the 2017 NVFF
Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele at the 2017 NVFF

New venues aren’t the only surprise in store for festival goers. Saturday Night Live fans will be delighted to attend a new tribute event in honor of the Groundlings Theatre & School. “It is an LA institution. It’s been around for 44 years. It’s an improv theater that almost all of the comedians of note that go on to SNL, they all started there, so Will Ferrell, Lisa Kudrow, Maya Rudolph, Melissa McCarthy,” Lhormer says. “Everybody’s who anybody, basically, in that world starts at Groundlings. It’s like trying to get a master sommelier certification. It’s years of training, classes, instruction, and performances. The people that stand out then get into the troupe. The troupe does shows.” Five Groundlings alumnae—Cheri Oteri, Julia Sweeney, Laraine Newman, Stephanie Courtney, and Taran Killam—will come together in what is sure to be a hysterical and perhaps rowdy conversation at Lincoln Theater.

Natalie Morales, Nikki Reed, and Ian Somerhalder at a tribute in 2017
Natalie Morales, Nikki Reed, and Ian Somerhalder at a tribute in 2017

“We had this opportunity to do a tribute to the Groundlings Theatre. Let’s reach out to some of the alums who’ve gone through it. Invite them up, honor them, and let them talk about how the Groundlings shaped their career, and what they’ve done since,” Lhormer says of the event which takes place on Friday, November 9 from 1:30 to 3 p.m. “What do they miss about improv if they’re not doing it anymore? It will be amusing because all these people are hilarious. Even if you never heard their names, the event will be something that anybody who wants to have a little pick-me-up—come to this because they will be laughing non-stop.”

The 2017 Rising Star Showcase
The 2017 Rising Star Showcase

NVFF’s other confirmed tributes include Geena Davis, Laurence Fishburne, and Billy Bob Thornton. Davis is the subject in the new documentary This Changes Everything a film that looks at gender disparity in Hollywood. She will accept her tribute after the screening on November 9. Fishburne and Thornton are being honored on November 8 for their impressive bodies of work over years in the film industry. At the Rising Stars Showcase, six young up-and-comers participate in a discussion. “This is the second year of the Rising Star Showcase. It was a success last year,” Lhormer says. “It was a total trial for us, and it went over really well, so we are going to do that again on Saturday afternoon tributing six different young actors to watch.”  Ready Player One’s Tye Sheridan, The Long Dumb Road’s Taissa Farmiga, Maze Runner’s Rosa Salazar, X-Men’s Alexandra Shipp, Game Night’s Billy Magnussen, and Riverdale’s Camila Mendes will sit down among the vines at Materra | Cunat Family Vineyards to talk shop. More tributes will be announced closer to the festival’s opening.

Melissa King, David Arquette, Jules Leyhe, Jaymee Sire, Austin Stowell
Melissa King, David Arquette, Jules Leyhe, Jaymee Sire, Austin Stowell

Aside from the thrilling celebrity appearances, Lhormer is excited about two new film initiatives. The first is a tech-centric collection of films to debut on Saturday, November 10 at the Lincoln Theater. “We have back-to-back films that are about the tech industry. Including, this is cool, we’re premiering the first two episodes of a new television series called Valley of the Boom.” Directed by Matthew Carnahan, produced by Arianna Huffington and starring Bradley Whitford, Steve Zahn, and Lamorne Morris, Valley of Boom is about the early days of the Silicon Valley in the ‘90s. Do You Trust This Computer? is another film that will be a part of the tech series. It explores the perils of artificial intelligence.

The A-List dinner party at the 2017 Napa Valley Film Festival
The A-List dinner party at the 2017 Napa Valley Film Festival

The second initiative is Art Inspiring Action, a collection of 12 inspirational and hard-hitting documentaries that will let viewers know how they can directly support the causes highlighted in the films. “Each one of these films has some call to action that we share with the audience, who after seeing the movie, is going to be super motivated to get involved in some way,” Lhormer says. “When you watch these movies, you’re like, ‘Oh my god, I had no idea. How can I help? This is incredible. These girls in Afghanistan should be given a chance to ride bikes, and not be pinpointed by the Taliban for death because they’re riding the bikes! What can I do to help?’ What we’re trying to do is inspire people to take action after they’ve been moved by something they’ve seen on screen.”

Morales pays tribute to Nancy Meyers at NVFF last year
Morales pays tribute to Nancy Meyers at NVFF last year

Each film has a different way of taking action. At the screening of Pick of the Litter, one of the Art Inspiring Action films which tells the story of what it takes for a dog to become a guide for the blind, viewers will be able to meet dogs that have gone through the program. “People are going to be able to walk into the Lincoln lobby, and they are going to meet eight guide dogs. You can get your picture taken with them. You can pet them,” Lhormer says. “People will be able to learn and ask questions to the guide dog trainers. It’s an education. It’s an opportunity for someone to donate, take a flyer, and realize there are lots of different ways to get involved.”

Peter Mondavi Jr., Zoey Deutch, and Lea Thompson
Peter Mondavi Jr., Zoey Deutch, and Lea Thompson

The initiative is another distinction of NVFF. What other festivals inspire movie lovers to give back and take action? It’s all a part of the magic of Napa Valley. “The bottom line is that people who do come, they come back year after year, and the loyalty is just so great,” Lhormer says passionately. “New people will come this year. Old former attendees will come. They’ll see a bunch of movies. They’ll go to some parties. They’ll do the wine tasting intermissions. They’ll catch a culinary demo. They’ll taste some whisky. They’ll listen to some music. They’ll understand what happens when you show a movie, and then the director or the actor gets up and talks about what it took, and interacts with the audience. Then that actor and director go to a party with the attendees, and they’re all interacting together, and the conversation continues. It’s just like, ‘Oh my god. This is the coolest camp I’ve ever been to.’ “

Tickets for the Napa Valley Film Festival are now on sale.

Photos courtesy of Bob Mcclenahan and Xsight Photography & Video for the Napa Valley Film Festival

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