When the Cinequest Film Festival sprouted in San Jose 25 years ago, the South Bay economy boomed (and occasionally busted) on silicon chips, not consumer electronics. Diverse, highly educated worker bees endured constant deadline pressure to innovate in Prisoner-like industrial parks. OK, that last part may still hold true -- but today’s computer, math and engineering brainiacs are far more socially skilled than the original geeks, and have even been turned into mainstream icons by commercials and TV shows.
If CQFF ever sought (among its unspoken aims) to fill the hole in the soul of its career-driven audience and to turn San Jose into a cultural hotspot, those goals have been superseded by the festival’s skill and focus in finding its sweet spots: honoring and celebrating iconoclastic filmmakers and directors, and spotlighting the intersection of film and technology. Here’s how the 25th festival, running Feb. 24–Mar. 8, hits its niche:
It’s a Maverick, Maverick World: An enticing array of artists from L.A. and elsewhere confide the secrets of their success via tribute nights and onstage interviews. Writer-directors John Boorman (with his latest, Queen and Country, Feb. 26) and Lawrence Kasdan (Feb. 28), who will no doubt be peppered with questions about his new Star Wars screenplays, head the parade, followed by crime novelist Dennis Lehane (Feb. 28) and actress Rosario Dawson (Feb. 28). Producer and one-time studio head Mike Medavoy (Mar. 8) can be expected to diplomatically slag the current state of Hollywood affairs while inspiring attendees to pursue their individual voices and visions.
(Over)achievers of the World Unite: The Valley is full of single-minded, highly motivated immigrants and expatriates from India, China and elsewhere. They are sure to see themselves—or their children—in Miss India America (one of an incredible 91 world, North American or U.S. premieres, screening Feb. 27, Mar. 1 and 5), a colorful comedy about a too-perfect high school valedictorian whose planned-within-a-millimeter future starts to crumble the instant she sheds her cap and gown. This less-than-likable lass (played by Tiya Sircar) enters a beauty contest (don’t ask why) where comic antics ensue and she learns humanizing life lessons. L.A.-based, British-born director and co-writer Ravi Kapoor affectionately skewers the lifestyles of well-off Indian-Americans, who seem to have assimilated quite nicely into another valley (San Fernando).
Corporate Retreat: Another world premiere, Thomas Miller’s feature-length sports documentary, One Day in April (Feb. 28, Mar. 2 and 4), relies on style over substance in tracing the paths of four favored relay teams (two men and two women’s) to the annual Little 500 bicycle race in Bloomington, Indiana. Miller ignores the class dynamics that propelled Breaking Away, the 1979 Best Picture winner set against the backdrop of the race, or any context other than individual determination in the service of team success. An excellent choice for middle managers or above seeking an activity to launch this year’s team-building campaign.
Poetry in Motion: My gifted and dear colleague in the field of film criticism, Richard von Busack of Metro Newspapers, will be deservingly honored with the Media Legacy Award on Mar 3. He’s chosen to screen French poet-filmmaker Jean Vigo’s gorgeous and elemental L’Atalante, the immortal tale of a barge captain who brings his new bride into the world of monotonous men’s work. If you’ve never seen the 1934 masterpiece, or know nothing of Vigo’s short life and precious few films, this is the ideal setting.