John Travolta & Other Stars Eat Up The Napa Valley Film Festival

Jean-Charles Boisset, Gina Gallo, Kelly Preston, and John Travolta at the Celebrity Tribute event at the 2015 Napa Valley Film Festival at the Lincoln Theatre.
Jean-Charles Boisset, Gina Gallo, Kelly Preston, and John Travolta at the Celebrity Tribute event at the 2015 Napa Valley Film Festival at the Lincoln Theatre.

Photo Credit: Frank Micelotta/PictureGroup

Really, there were films shown at the 5th anniversary of the Napa Valley Film Festival, which took place Nov. 11-15 in Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga. If you were in the Valley for the festivities like we were, we understand if you got sidetracked from the main purpose of this event which has grown exponentially in its five years. Heck, there was a lot going on—and the celebs loved every minute of it! Two-time Academy Award nominee John Travolta summed up his visit quite well at the world premiere of his new movie “Life On the Line” when he said the Napa Valley is “beautiful and delicious.”

“Stunningly beautiful,” added Kelly Preston, Travolta’s wife. Outside of a trip to Napa last February to attend the wedding of Lisa Marie Presley‘s daughter Riley Keough, who got married in a wine cave at Calistoga Ranch, the celebrity couple hadn’t spent much time in Napa recently. During the Festival, where Travolta was also honored with a Career Achievement award, they also received a lesson from Jean-Charles Boisset in the art of blending as they experienced Raymond Vineyards’ Winemaker for a Day program.

“We went to Alpha Omega. The lunch was outstanding,” Travolta said, as Preston raved about Alpha Omega’s proprietor Michelle Baggett, a founding board member of the NVFF. “She’s just lovely,” Preston cooed.

For Devon Sawa, Travolta’s “Life on the Line” co-star, and his pregnant wife Dawni Sawa, who is expecting the couple’s first  girl in March (they already have a boy), it was their first time in Napa. “We’ve been doing the circuit—going to the wineries, eating a lot of food,” he said.

In addition to the extravagant vintner dinners and exclusive lunches at wineries, a wine-fueled opening gala, the late-night after parties in the decadent Red Room at Raymond Vineyards and other venues throughout the Valley, the culinary demonstrations, and so much more, there were 120 films shown in 12 unique venues. The award ceremony took place Sunday at the Uptown Theatre when the juried and audience award winners were announced.

During the Awards Ceremony, Lexus and The Weinstein Company also announced the four winners of the third annual Lexus Short Film Series. Selected from thousands of submissions, Alexis Michalik, Byoung-Gon Moon, Damian Walshe-Howling and Pippa Bianco received their honors. The four finalists will create new short films around the theme of “anticipation,” receive promotional distribution support, participate in a tour of top film festivals around the world and receive an at-home filmmaking and editing suite to further bring their imagination and passion to life.

Festival Co-Founders and Directors Marc and Brenda Lhormer said, “It’s been an absolutely amazing 5th anniversary for our festival, with an outstanding lineup of films paired with fantastic and unique culinary and wine events. It has been our pleasure to share such compelling stories with our audiences and host such creative storytellers for another year here in Napa Valley. The addition of this year’s Lexus Short Film Series makes it even more special as we will welcome these filmmakers back again next year to showcase their completed projects, shown together for the first time.”

“The festival has a lot of diversity which I cherish and still the program is not overly big,” said Jury Member, journalist and HFPA member, Dierk Sindermann. “Here it’s condensed and accessible, with the most beautiful venues. The whole community seems to be a part of it, which is really impressive. Even the smallest movies are always packed. And, I really enjoy that there are Q&As after the screenings. They are always so interesting. I go to a lot of festivals and the whole concept of this festival works, and a little Hollywood impact doesn’t hurt either.”

Marc Lhormer
Marc Lhormer

Photo Credit: Courtesy Napa Valley Film Festival

The end of the NVFF is never a happy time for Marc Lhormer. “I don’t want it to be over,” he told us. “It’s so depressing when it’s over. It’s so exciting. I love when Napa Valley is like this. It’s buzzing. It’s awesome.”

You’ll want to mark your calendar for next year’s festival, slated for Nov. 9-13, 2016. For more information or to buy passes, visit NVFF.ORG or call 707-226-7500. Expect the NVFF to continue growing.

“We’re trying to really add to the cultural climate here in Napa Valley,” Marc Lhormer continued. “The festival does that. With more support we will do more and more programs year round. We do a lot with the kids in the schools. We do an amazing program all week of the festival. We send the filmmakers into the schools to talk to the kids, take their films in, mostly documentaries with really interesting subjects. We will do more of that as our support grows. The festival actually has a long ways to grow. It’s a very big valley.  There’s a lot of venues and hotel rooms that we can still be filling up. We’re at about one-fifth the size of a Sundance. We can be five times bigger and there’s no reason we couldn’t be. It’s easy to get here. It’s very pleasant. It’s not cold and miserable. There’s great food and wine.”

The winners and highlights are as follows:

Juried Awards:

Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature presented by Taken Wine Company, and with a $10,000 cash prize courtesy of Meadowood Napa Valley goes to The King of New Orleans.
Jury Award for Best Screenplay presented by Italics Winegrowers goes to Tumbledown.
Jury Award for Best Ensemble Cast presented by Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley goes to Jane Wants a Boyfriend.
Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature presented by Trinchero Napa Valley, and with a $10,000 cash prize courtesy of Meadowood Napa Valley, goes to Romeo is Bleeding.
Jury Award for Best Narrative Short presented by Wolf Family Vineyards goes to It’s Perfect Here.
Honorable Mention goes to Birthday.
Jury Award for Best Documentary Short presented by Priest Ranch goes to Elder.
Honorable Mentions go to: Code Oakland, Une Passion d’or et de feu (A Passion of Gold and Fire), and Riding the Highline.
Jury Award for Best Lounge Feature presented by Ca’ Momi Winery goes to Night Owls.
Jury Award for Best Lounge Short presented by Modus Operandi Cellars goes to A Man Wakes Up.
Honorable Mention goes to CI: A Tedd Talkumentary.
Special Jury Award – Courage in Documentary Feature Filmmaking presented by Rombauer Vineyards goes to Life Under Siege: Exploring Gaza’s Secret Tunnels.
Special Jury Award – Authenticity in Narrative Feature Story-Telling presented by The Hess Collection Winery goes to Life in Color.
Special Jury Award – Acting in a Lounge Feature Film goes to sisters Aly Michalka and AJ Michalka for their work in the film Weepah Way For Now.

Audience Awards:

Audience Award for Favorite Actor presented by Caldwell Vineyard goes to David Jensen for his work in the film The King of New Orleans.
Audience Award for Favorite Actress presented by Eleven Eleven Wines goes to Louisa Krause for her work in the film Jane Wants a Boyfriend.
Audience Award for Favorite Documentary Feature presented by Grgich Hills Estate goes to Landfillharmonic.
Audience Award for Favorite Documentary Short presented by Kelham Vineyards and Winery goes to Ron Taylor: Dr. Baseball.
Audience Award for Favorite Narrative Feature presented by Markham Vineyards goes to Friends and Romans.
Audience Award for Favorite Narrative Short presented by Favia Erickson Winegrowers goes to Sin Frontera.
The runner-ups for Narrative Shorts presented by Matthiasson Wines are Playdate and Birthday.
Audience Award for Favorite Short Feature presented by Beaulieu Vineyard goes to Sketch.

Festival Gala
Festival Gala

Photo Credit: Courtesy Napa Valley Film Festival

Kicking off the festival one night early, the festival held a sneak preview screening of Patricia Riggen’s film The 33 about the 2010 mining disaster in Chile. On Wednesday, November 12, opening night festival goers enjoyed the highly-anticipated sequel to Somm with the world premiere of Somm: Into the Bottle from writer/director Jason Wise. Many of the film’s master sommelier subjects attended the red carpet event, held at the Uptown Theatre in downtown Napa.

The week’s highlight festivities included the Variety 10 to Taste event, sponsored by the Food Network and Cooking Channel, celebrating 10 local chefs and their recreation of iconic food scenes in movies, such as Julie and Julia and Pulp Fiction. Chef Bobby Flay, actress Emilie de Ravin, film director and food writer Kevin Pang and Southern Wine & Spirits’ Lee Schrager participated on a panel at the event discussing culinary trends, and the role of food in film. The Lincoln Theater in Yountville played host to the star-studded Festival Gala on Thursday evening attended by Evan Peters, Emilie de Ravin, Aly and AJ Michalka, Abigail Spencer and 1,500 festival goers.

On Friday, the Lincoln Theater again hosted the Celebrity Tributes, honoring Travolta with the Legendary Actor Tribute, presented by Freemark Abbey, Keegan-Michael Key with the Trailblazer Tribute, and Lydia Hearst, Evan Peters and Finn Wittrock each received the Rising Star Tribute presented by Domaine Chandon. Bruce Dern (Legendary Actor Tribute) and Zoe Kazan (Rising Star Tribute) sent in video messages to accept their honors. Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush took the stage with the honorees for intimate conversations about their careers, achievements, and plans for the future. Raymond Vineyards celebrated the honorees by hosting the VIP After-Party.

Festival-goers headed back to the Lincoln Theater on Saturday for the red carpet and world premiere screening of Life on the Line. Cast members Travolta an Sawa walked the red carpet along with producers Phillip Glasser and Marvin Peart, and Preston. Local Napa area PG&E linemen, who were the first heroic responders during the 2014 Napa earthquake and recent Lake County wildfire, joined the red carpet welcome and screening.

Travolta told Haute Living that he is most proud of “the authenticity of the subject matter in the same way I was proud of Ladder 49 in our authenticity toward the firefighters. I find any specific subject matter in film, if it’s not fully realized, the film has kind of a falsehood to it. Both in Ladder 49 and this film we fully realize the profession and told a good story at the same time.”

On the final day of the festival, San Francisco-based filmmaker Ken Schneider won the annual Pitch Competition for his new documentary feature concept, The Factory. The Festival closed its curtains with Budreau’s new film, Born to Be Blue, starring Ethan Hawke, at the Lincoln Theater, followed by the Awards Ceremony at the Uptown Theatre.

Images courtesy the Napa Valley Film Festival