Napa Valley Film Festival 2018 (11.7.18-11.11.18)
We block out our calendars one year in advance for two Napa-based events. The first is Bottlerock (which I posted about a few months ago), and the second, which is just a few weeks away, is The Napa Valley Film Festival (NVFF). This will be our fifth year attending, so I guess you could call us veterans. I had hoped to get this blog post out a little earlier to help people with planning and encourage people to attend. It might be a little late, but at the very least it will help some people who have already committed to this year, or perhaps it can serve to tempt you to plan ahead to next year to NVFF 2019! What is a film festival? It is ok not to know! You may have heard of a film festival (Sundance, Cannes etc) but never been to one, and you might have a vague idea of what goes on. That was me five years ago! So here is what happens at the NVFF (and I assume its similar to other festivals). All forms of films (documentaries, shorts, feature films, and award season previews) are playing from 10am to 10pm for 4 days straight over multiple venues in Napa, Yountville and St Helena. The NVFF catalog maps it all out so you can figure out which movie you want to see, when and where. Each movie has 2-3 showings, so if you have a conflict, chances are you can see it another time. You will most likely be racing back and forth from venue to venue, balancing your wine glass in one hand, and your NVFF catalog in the other. It is not humanly possible to see every single movie on offer.
Following each film presentation, there is usually a question and answer session with the filmmakers and actors. This is what makes it a film festival and not just a bunch of movies showing all day long! This is your chance to ask a question of a famous director or actor! At almost every venue there are free wine tastings, provided by a vintner partner. Each venue has its own special aspects (space, comfort, a wine vendor). Some even have sofas, like the one at Charles Krug. One of my favorite film venues, though tiny, is at Farmstead. If the timing is right you can snag a spot at the counter before or after the movie, and try my favorite eatery in the Valley!
At some point, usually the early evening, you rush back to your hotel room (or home in my case) to change into the attire required for the evening festivities...these include a special vintner dinner, a Meet The Artist Reception, award ceremonies and the big one, the gala! This is our chance to get dazzled up- we don't get that many chances to go super glam in Napa! A perfect opportunity for a Napanista to get dressed up.
What I love about NVFF: Actually what I love, is also what attracts the artists, directors, and creatives. Compared to some of the other festivals out there (Sundance etc) NVFF is small and accessible. That in itself is what makes it unique. Chances are excellent that you will a seat at a high profile film, and have access to ask questions to the filmmakers themselves...maybe even get that selfie! That just doesn't happen at Sundance... unless you are a high roller. Over the years, I have spoken with quite a few of the filmmakers that come, and have asked them how they like our festival. They all tell me they prefer the laid-back atmosphere and that interacting with a crowd of genuinely interested and curious fans is refreshing. Luckily for us, the filmmakers are more than happy to accept an invitation to Napa, where they will be wined and dined by the best food and wine purveyors in the country!
The Parties: Since we live in Napa Valley, the NVFF has the most spectacular venues and food. If you want to watch movies until 10pm you can certainly do that, but its actually a challenge to attend all the fun parties, cooking demonstrations, and wine events, while still finding time for the films! There is a party (or parties) every evening, starting on Tuesday with the Meet the Artists reception, and ending Saturday with the festival gala. This festival requires stamina and is not for the faint of heart. Don't even think about answering emails, or going to work. My advice, just take Thursday and Friday off, and you can thank me later.
Our favorite event and the one that keeps us signing on at the Patron level each year (well that, and that at the Patron level you don't have to wait in lines!) is the Vintner Circle dinner. This is a small private dinner party, with celebrity chefs, filmmakers, and actors, set in a stunning winery, a vintner's residence or another special venue. Our first year as patrons, we were at Miner Family in the cave, with library wines and the culinary creations of Ken Frank. Two years ago, our dinner was at Eleven Eleven, with the director and cast of "Love is All You Need?", Matt Ross (Director of Captain Fantastic, Gavin Bellson in Silicon Valley) and Viggo Mortensson (Captain Fantastic) ....the dinner was immediately followed by the winery's annual harvest party (it always occurs on 11.11) Last year we were at Charles Krug, with the Mondavis, and we sat with Zoey Deutsch, her mom Lea Thompson (Back to the Future), and her sister Maddy Deutsch. They were attending the festival for her mother's directorial debut of "The Year Of Spectacular Men".
The festival gala, directly following the celebrity tributes, is not to be missed. The organizers transform the vast Lincoln Theater into a fabulous nightclub with a speakeasy vibe, a wonderland that that can be wandered and discovered, complete with entertainment, secret bars, and food stations. The VIP access really comes in handy, as it allows you to get away from the crowds when you get overwhelmed, and not have to fight the lines.
What kind of pass to buy? It can be confusing and daunting. The varying pass levels have different perks, and you may be wondering which level is the best value for your money! The first year, we bought the Pass Plus. This gets you to the front of a line, ahead of the day pass and flex pass, but you still have to wait in line and you might not get a seat if it's a popular movie in a small venue, since Patrons and A-listers will always have priority. The Pass Plus gets you into some other basic wine tasting experiences and a few parties. The next two years, we joined at the Patron level-no waiting in line, reserved/guaranteed seats at all movies, and lots of parties with VIP access, especially the Vinter Circle Dinner and Friday night after party. This year, rumor has it that the Friday night after party is in a new cool location in Napa-the Richard Von Saal design studios. I know Richard, and I know he puts on a good party!
Last year we made the step up, committed to the charitable mission of the festival, and signed up as A-Listers, (justifying the cost by reasoning that 70% of the cost of the pass is a charitable donation). We re-signed up as A-Listers this year. The Friday night A-Lister party is definitely a perk that we enjoyed last year (hosted by Eleven Eleven winery) and we look forward to this year's A-Lister party at Black Stallion. As A-Listers, we also get to "sponsor" one of the films, which basically means our name is on the program,...but this is kind of fun because when you do meet the creators of the film you sponsor, you have a connection that you wouldn't otherwise have.
More fun with friends! NVFF is great for meeting new friends, but it is even better to have your squad there, as its nice to have a friend by your side. Every year we have a few group texts circulating about the movies, celebrity sightings, and what to wear. One brilliant friend came up with the idea that if we see a movie, we should send a text to the group with a rating of stars from 1 star to 5. This proved to be very helpful and saved a lot of wasted time that we might have otherwise wasted on a dud (there are a few of those, though not many!)
Hope to see you at NVFF 2018! Let me know what movies you give 5 stars to! (I am @napanista on IG!)