Photo by John Birchard

It's a Wrap: Film Festival Highlights

This year’s Mendocino Film Festival successfully celebrated its most inclusive slate in 14 years with avid moviegoers and enthusiastic filmmakers convening for a historic festival in which half of the films were made by women…

This year’s Mendocino Film Festival successfully celebrated its most inclusive slate in 14 years with avid moviegoers and enthusiastic filmmakers convening for a historic festival in which half of the films were made by women or people of color.

More than 5,600 people attended the festival, which ran from May 31-June 2 and included 54 films, 30 attending filmmakers, 4 convivial parties, 3 musical evenings, and 2 thought-provoking industry panels. Membership and yearly attendance continues to steadily rise.

Attending filmmakers spoke of being mesmerized by the area’s striking scenery and the friendliness of the local denizens. Filmgoers called it the best festival in Mendocino’s 14-year run.

Special winners emerged among the well-received slate of films from 16 countries, chosen by festival audiences and juries of industry professionals. The Audience Choice Award was a three-way tie. The award goes to the highest-rated feature-length documentaries or narrative films and is tabulated from audience ballots turned in following each screening. The winners were 3 inspiring documentaries: Gay Chorus Deep South, Maiden and Pavarotti, which all received scores of 97%. Gay Chorus Deep South focused on the famed San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus recent tour of the American South confronting intolerance with a message of love and acceptance. Maiden w as a riveting feminist adventure saga about the first-ever all-female crew to win the Whitbread Round the World Race. Pavarotti takes a probing look at the iconic Italian-born tenor whose goal was to bring opera to the people.

A jury of industry professionals chose four Jury Award winners from the incredible line-up of Mendocino Film Festival Official Selections. Best documentary went to Midnight Traveler, a harrowing, autobiographical account of an Afghani family forced to flee their home country. A special jury award was given for cinematography in Kifaru, about the last remaining male northern white rhino in the world and his Kenyan caretakers. The Farewell, a poignant multi-generational tale of a Chinese-American family, won best narrative film, with a special jury award for acting going to Regina Williams, who starred in Life & Nothing More, a nuanced look at race, class and familial bonds in contemporary America. In addition to directors, producers, writers, editors and other film personnel, acclaimed Hollywood actors attended the festival. Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who starred in the Norwegian action thriller The 12th Man and Julie Carmen, star of the 9/11 drama Windows on the World, made the trip to Mendocino, participated in Q&As and joined in the festive celebrations.

For the first time, the festival featured two industry panels: “Women Filmmakers: Where Are We Post #TimesUp?” which featured filmmakers Jacqueline Olive (Always in Season) , Veslemoey Zwart (The 12t h Man) , Angie Wang (MDMA), Gina Leibrecht (Ai Wei Wei Yours Truly), Christy McGill (Ai Wei Wei Yours Truly), Courtney Quirin (Guardian), Gennie Rim (Age of Sail), Liz Miller (The Shore Line) and Julie Carmen (Windows on the World). The second panel “Diversity in Film: Life after Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians” featured Patrick Wang (The Bread Factory) Jacqueline Olive (Always in Season) Christopher Guerrero (White Guys Solve Sexism), Angie Wang (MDMA), David Charles Rodrigues (Gay Chorus Deep South) and journalists Vanessa Erazo and Greg Braxton.

The film program this year included several California premieres, selections from the Sundance Film Festival, South by Southwest and Toronto Film Festival. Seven films sold out in advance of the festival, including music-themed documentaries, Amazing Grace, David Crosby: Remember My Name, Pavarotti, A Tuba to Cuba and Satan and Adam, as well as Toni Morrison: Pieces I Am and Italian narrative Dogman. The festival’s ultra-popular shorts program screenings drew its largest crowds ever, and musical evenings following the screenings of Amazing Grace and A Tuba to Cuba and accompanying Friday Night Silents were huge hits with the audience.

The festival wishes to express its hearty appreciation to all the festival sponsors, and a special thank you to Presenting Sponsors Mike & Mary Schuh.

Plans are already underway for the 15t h annual Mendocino Film Festival, which will run from May 28-31, 2020.