This year’s narrative and documentary feature competitions include 20 projects vying for grand prizes of $10,000 and bottles of wine, awarded to one narrative film and one doc. While all would love to walk away with the top prize, directors are already winners as they’re invited to participate in the festival’s Artists-in-Residence Program.
When people are submitting their films to us, it’s also kind of like applying to college — the film is their essay,” says Marc Lhormer, NVFF co-founder, executive and artistic director.
Those selected enjoy a six-night stay and decadent lunch and dinner receptions at luxury resort Meadowood Napa Valley during a residency that includes master classes with the likes of director Stephen Gyllenhaal (who also has the drama “So B. It” screening at the festival), producer Lynette Howell Taylor, and WME’s Graham Taylor.
“The idea was, ‘How cool would it be for us to bring independent filmmakers who could never afford to stay here, pamper them like crazy, and let them use our facilities for learning and development?’ ” says Lhormer. “They have the most incredible time bonding with each other.”
This year’s narrative lineup includes a mix of dark and light-hearted fare including a film about a Marine who returns home after being honorably discharged; a thriller set in 1980s middle America; the story of an architect who befriends a homeless girl after his wife passes away; and a comedy about twin siblings in their late 20s who fall for the same guy.
Narrative filmmakers include Ari Issler and Ben Snyder (“11:55”), Anne Hamilton (“American Fable”), Bill Purple (“The Book of Love”), Jeff Grace (“Folk Hero & Funny Guy”), Lori Stoll (“Heaven’s Floor”), Doug Archibald (“I Love You Both”), Rob Meyer (“Little Boxes”), Kim Rocco Shields (“Love Is All You Need?”), Jon Abrahams (“Two for One”), and Amanda Sharp (“Sticky Notes”).
“I was pregnant when I found out I got in and my due date is three days before the festival begins,” says Sharp, whose Ray Liotta-fronted film was inspired by her own journey with losing her father to cancer. “The festival’s organizers were really supportive and put the feature in the program regardless because they felt like it was right for the competition. I’m eternally grateful.” Sharp is holding on to hopes of attending. “The baby probably wants to be at the Napa Valley Film Festival,” she jokes.
Napa Valley Film Festival Honorees
Caldwell Vineyard Maverick Actor
The award’s name is good fit for McConaughey, who is not only appreciated in a good romantic comedy, but also in dramatic roles in such films as “Mud,” “Interstellar,” “Free State of Jones,” and, of course, his Oscar-winning performance in 2013’s “Dallas Buyers Club,” not to mention the powerhouse “True Detective” limited series for HBO. The actor-producer’s ads for Lincoln cars were instantly iconic and whether people love ’em or hate ’em, they’re effective. This year, McConaughey voices two animated characters, in “Kubo and the Two Strings” and “Sing,” respectively, and will be seen in Stephen Gaghan’s “Gold,” which is screening at the Napa Valley Film Festival. For “Gold,” which is based on true events, the Oscar-winner once again transforms himself, gaining weight to play a prospector desperate to find gold in the jungles of Indonesia. Edgar Ramirez and Bryce Dallas Howard also star. For 2017, he’s got the anticipated Stephen King adaptation “The Dark Tower.”
Charles Krug Winery Legendary Filmmaker Award
With special guest Cuba Gooding Jr.
Daniels’ directorial debut, 2005’s “Shadowboxer,” established him as a helming talent to watch, on top of already being a top indie producer on films such as “Monster’s Ball,” for which Halle Berry won an Oscar. But it was his 2009 hit “Precious” that established him as a top player. That film earned six Oscar nominations, including picture, and won two. It also nabbed him a DGA nomination — the first African-American to earn one. His 2013 pic “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” proved a hit with audiences and critics. He created the Fox TV blockbuster “Empire,” and next up for him is “Star,” a gritty series developed under his Fox TV deal.
Charles Krug Winery Legendary Actor
Comic-Con went wild this year when the “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” trailer revealed Russell as the Star Lord’s dad — who else to play the interstellar father of Chris Pratt? Russell’s six-decade and going strong career includes iconic roles for John Carpenter, especially Snake Plissken in “Escape From New York” and sequel, “Escape From L.A.” But while great in action and comedy, Russell’s earned kudos for dramatic roles in such pics as “Silkwood,” “Deepwater Horizon,” and “The Hateful Eight,” another in his collaborations with Quentin Tarantino.
“Captain Fantastic,” which is screening at NVFF, emerged from Cannes on a wave of well-earned praise, and Mortensen’s performance as a counterculture dad who agonizes over doing what he thinks is best and right for his kids, electrified critics and audiences. The Matt Ross film unspools at the Napa Valley Festival. The veteran actor has always chosen the path more eclectic, sometimes eschewing his dreamy good looks in service of a stage and screen role (“The Road”) , sometimes embracing them as necessary to paint a portrait of a reluctant hero (“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy). Mortensen also has a rich life away from the screen: he’s a poet, painter, photographer, musician, and founder of Perceval Press.
Chloe Grace Moretz
Raymond Vineyards Trailblazer
The sweet-looking girl with the potty mouth that so energized 2010’s “Kick-Ass” has been a working actress almost her whole life. And that professionalism infuses her work, as she brings a maturity and depth to roles including Hit-Girl of “Kick-Ass,” Abby the ancient vampire in “Let Me In,” and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s younger sister in “(500) Days of Summer.” She brings a bright spot to “Dark Shadows,” and critical hits like “Laggies,” and “Clouds of Sils Maria,” not to mention having an awesome character arc on “30 Rock,” going head-to-head with Alec Baldwin, and as a randy co-ed in raunchy comedy “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.”
Raymond Vineyards Trailblazer
Patel captured hearts all over the world in the Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire” in 2008, but he was pretty well-known to British audiences from the hit series “Skins.” The British-born actor was back in India in 2011, running “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” which was another massive worldwide hit. Patel then spent time in HBO’s “The Newsroom,” and checked back into the “Marigold Hotel.” The young actor is riding a wave of acclaim into the Napa fest on “Lion,” a hit at the recent Toronto festival. Next up is “Hotel Mumbai,” based on the documentary “Surviving Mumbai,” about the 2008 terrorist attacks on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in India.
Chandon Rising Star
Like fellow Napa honoree Zoey Deutch, Powell co-starred in Richard Linklater’s “Everybody Wants Some!!,”, delivering a memorable character in Finnegan. The co-star of TV’s “Scream Queens” worked in small roles, but 2016 is his breakout year, with “Everybody,” “Ride Along 2,” “Misconduct,” and the upcoming “Sand Castle,” “Set It Up,” and “Hidden Figures.”
Chandon Rising Star
After honing her acting chops on TV series including “The Suite Life on Deck,” the busy actress’ turn in Richard Linklater’s “Everybody Wants Some!!” this year showed that she can transcend juvenile roles. Casting directors responded, and she’s got a handful of films coming up, including “Why Him?” with Bryan Cranston, James Franco’s “The Masterpiece,” Max Winkler’s “Flower,” and the Salinger biopic “Rebel in the Rye.” — Carole Horst