Now Playing! Nicolas Cage Leads the Parade at Cinequest

Nicolas Cage receives the Maverick Spirit Award at this year's Cinequest Film & VR Festival. (Courtesy of Cinequest)

From the beginning, the Cinequest Film Festival took a contrarian approach to the necessary ritual of honoring stars and directors. Casting its net for genre pioneers, artsy independents and dogged iconoclasts, the festival chose "Mavericks" as its trademark moniker for moviemakers who hacked a singular path to cult fandom.

Heading this year’s class is that unpredictable rebel and, lest we forget, Academy Award winner (Leaving Las Vegas) Nicolas Cage, who takes the California Theatre stage in San Jose on Feb. 28, followed by Tatiana Maslany and Tom Cullen (Mar. 8) and Andie MacDowell (Mar. 10). (We are aware that Ms. MacDowell got her start as a non-mavericky model. Her perfectly pitched work in The Player and Short Cuts, both directed by the ultimate maverick Robert Altman, gives her all the street cred she’ll ever need.)

Still from 'Ismael's Ghosts.'
Still from 'Ismael's Ghosts.' (Courtesy of Cinequest)

The South Bay’s major movie blowout now calls itself the Cinequest Film & VR Festival (Feb. 27–Mar. 11), reflecting its incorporation of virtual-reality storytelling. The raft of VR programming on view this year includes The Humanity Bureau VRevolution, which stars Mr. Cage and shares DNA with his forthcoming feature film The Humanity Bureau.

The film offerings, as is always the case at Cinequest, are eclectic—or should we say iconoclastic. The irresistibly emotional documentary Birth of a Family (Feb. 28, Mar. 1 and 7) reunites four middle-aged siblings more than four decades after the Canadian government took them, one by one, from their indigenous single mother.

The veteran French writer-director Arnaud Desplechin examines the bonds of loyalty and trust between husband and wife—and references Vertigo along the way—in Ismael's Ghosts (Mar. 10), starring the dream cast of Charlotte Gainsbourg, Mathieu Amalric and Marion Cotillard.

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Empathy, and persistence, are the underlying themes of Risking Light (Mar. 3, 5 and 9), which receives its world premiere at Cinequest. The documentary treks from Cambodia to Tasmania to Minneapolis to impart the inspiring stories of people who transcended profound loss and persecution to forge healthy, productive lives. Make no mistake, they are mavericks, too.

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