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Napa Valley Film Festival
5 DAYS • 125 FILMS • 150 WINERIES • 30 CHEFS

Now in it’s 5th year, the Napa Valley Film Festival drew thousands to wine country for 5 days of film screenings, sightseeing, wine tasting, and culinary adventures.  The general consensus among filmmakers and actors was that this festival feels different.  Abigail Spencer, who attended with her boyfriend Josh Pence, told me, “We came two years ago to the Napa Film Festival, and it’s grown so much since then.  It’s so well organized, the whole vibe is friendly and not hectic like festivals can be.”  Keegan Michael-Key, recipient of the Trailblazer Tribute Award, said his agent immediately made himself available for the trip to Napa knowing it would be a great event.

Lydia Hearst and Finn Wittrock at the Celebrity Tribute event at the 2015 Napa Valley Film Festival (Photo by Frank Micelotta/PictureGroup)
Lydia Hearst and Finn Wittrock at the Celebrity Tribute event at the 2015 Napa Valley Film Festival (Photo by Frank Micelotta/PictureGroup)

The whole vibe of the festival has been carefully cultivated and nurtured by Sonoma residents and founders Brenda and Marc Lhormer, who have a team of 12 dedicated year-round to putting together the festival.  I spoke with Brenda to get her reaction to this year’s festival, “People are paying attention to what we are doing and why we are different from other film festivals.  It’s very fresh to have the food and wine integration, what other film festival brings their

NVFF Founder Brenda Lhormer & Me
NVFF Founder Brenda Lhormer & Me

own local chefs in?”  Brenda and Marc personally screen all the submissions and she told me that studio executives have taken notice and offered them their award season submissions like the screening of this year’s Spotlight with an all-star cast including Mark Ruffalo, Liev Shreiber, Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, and Stanley Tucci.  Screening in 12 theaters across Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga, 125 independent films are shown each year at the Napa Valley Film Festival enticing many Bay Area residents to drive up.

“In Sundance you are running around in the show trying to get to a screening venue that is usually sold out.  It’s a market festival so there is a lot of wheeling and dealing, but that’s not us.  Sundance feels chaotic.  Marc and my vision was to make a festival that would remain intimate and won’t be cannibalized by corporate demands, we want it to be reflective of what Napa Valley is known for and that is hospitality and being taken care of.”

In addition to all the daily film festivals, it’s nice to have time to explore the area.  Some spots I would recommend for food and wine include: Silver Oak Winery (specialize in reds), Cakebread Winery (specialize in whites), Benziger Winery for a vineyard tour,  Oxbow Public Market to buy local cheese and fresh goods, Morimoto for inventive Japanese cuisine, and Napa General Store for breakfast & shopping.

If you aren’t sure what ticks to buy for the festival, I would HIGHLY recommend buying a ticket that includes access to the Festival Gala or purchasing a gala ticket by itself.  After the screening of Spotlight, guests stayed for a lively gala at the Lincoln Theatre.  Hundreds of guests wandered throughout the space trying decadent bites from local eateries and more wine than you can imagine.  There were outdoor tents, patios, and guests could jump on the theatre stage itself where one of the live bands performed.  Perfectly done.

Somm: Into the Bottle World Premiere
Variety Ten to Taste Event Featuring Bobby Flay
Spotlight Screening & Festival Gala
Celebrity Tribute Honoring John Travolta, Keegan-Michael Key, Evan Peters, Finn Wittrock, Lydia Hearst, and  Zoe Kazan
World Premiere of John Travolta’s film Life on the Line
Lexus & Weinstein Company Short Film Series- Four filmmakers from around the world were awarded the change to produce their short films as part of this film series.  The chosen filmmakers were announced at the Festival Awards. One of the winners, Byoung-Gon Moon of South Korea, told The Brite Stuff being involved with the Short Film Series was the first time he has worked on a project in the United States and his first time setting foot on American ground.  Humbled by his trip to “peaceful” Napa, Moon told me he hopes one day to live here.


  • Lexus & Weinstein Company  Short Film Series: Alexis Michalik, Byoung-Gon Moon, Damian Walshe-Howling and Pippa Bianco
  • Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature presented by Taken Wine Company, and with a $10,000 cash prize courtesy of Meadowood Napa Valley, goes to The King of New Orleans.
  • Jury Award for Best Screenplay presented by Italics Winegrowers goes to Tumbledown.
  • Jury Award for Best Ensemble Cast presented by Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley goes to Jane Wants a Boyfriend.
  • Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature presented by Trinchero Napa Valley, and with a $10,000 cash prize courtesy of Meadowood Napa Valley, goes to Romeo is Bleeding.
  • Jury Award for Best Narrative Short presented by Wolf Family Vineyards goes to It’s Perfect Here.
    • Honorable Mention goes to Birthday.
  • Jury Award for Best Documentary Short presented by Priest Ranch goes to Elder.
    • Honorable Mentions go to: Code Oakland, Une Passion d’or et de feu (A Passion of Gold and Fire), and Riding the Highline.
  • Jury Award for Best Lounge Feature presented by Ca’ Momi Winery goes to Night Owls.
  • Jury Award for Best Lounge Short presented by Modus Operandi Cellars goes to A Man Wakes Up.
    • Honorable Mention goes to CI: A Tedd Talkumentary.
  • Special Jury Award – Courage in Documentary Feature Filmmaking presented by Rombauer Vineyards goes to Life Under Siege: Exploring Gaza’s Secret Tunnels.
  • Special Jury Award – Authenticity in Narrative Feature Story-Telling presented by The Hess Collection Winery goes to Life in Color.
  • Special Jury Award – Acting in a Lounge Feature Film goes to sisters Aly Michalka and AJ Michalka for their work in the film Weepah Way For Now.

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