Food, Wine & Films at the Sonoma International Film Festival

The 21st annual Sonoma International Film Festival is officially in the books. Held in the center of California’s Wine Country, the Sonoma International Film Festival kicked off last week for five days of independent feature-lengths, animated shorts, foreign films and documentaries.

While respected for its top-notch array of films from around the world, what would the Sonoma International Film Festival be without some of the best food and wine in attendance? I was thrilled to cover the Sonoma International Film Festival for my first time and seek out some of the best light bites and vino to accompany me as we hopped in and out of theaters.

Sonoma International Film Festival Opening Night

After a stormy (but gorgeous) ride up, Mike and I arrived ready to hit the the opening night gala. Held at their back lot hospitality tent, the reception set the mood for what would be the central “hub” for the festival. Open daily for select pass holders, the back lot tent was the place to regroup, grab a snack, some wine and mingle in between your screenings. With evening Happy Hour’s happening daily, it was hard to decline some of the best wines from the region and even cocktails courtesy of Tito’s Vodka!

Food, Glorious Food

A feast of delectable foods and fresh veggies were on hand courtesy of the Sonoma Cheese Factory. From sandwiches to comforting soups (perfect for the rainy weather), the local favorite pulled out all of the stops with their delicious array. When I say ‘fresh’, I truly mean it. Their variety of veggies to pair with locally made hummus made for perfect munching as I cruised the wine booths.

If you happen to frequent Sprouts, you might be familiar with the Sonoma Creamery. I was so excited to try out their entire line of cheese crisps paired with fresh cheese. While their soft cheese was just not my cup of tea, their crisps indeed were. I may or may not have stocked up at the store when we got home!

Photo: Michael Farah.
Photo: Michael Farah.

Another find thanks to Michael, Hare and Hatter’s Sausage Emporium. We all know I am a reluctant meat-eater for about a year now. The Sausage Emporium was on hand with bite-size samples of some of their award-winning hot dogs and sausages. I gave their chicken, hot dog and bratwurst a whirl. Each were full of flavor and savory. I just could have done without the mustard topping as it over-powered the meat for me. Their chicken was my favorite–even on a gluten free cracker!

With so many decadent dairy farmers in the area, it was only fitting that Sonoma favorites Sweet Scoops were also on hand. All sample flavors were gluten-free, and my favorite had to be their chocolate cherry. As a Cherry Garcia lover from Ben ‘n Jerry’s, this scoop put my reliable guys to shame. The cherries bursted through while the chocolate supported the tart-ness.

The Wine

The opening night gala was filled with some of the top wines from the San Francisco Bay Area. I was especially excited to try Imagery Winery, one of the festival’s main sponsors. Their 2016 Muscat Canelli had gorgeous notes of honeysuckle and citrus on the first nose. My first taste revealed pear and apricot flavors, just like the notes implied. Imagery’s Pallas Estate Merlot took me in a much bolder direction. A spice-y Merlot with faint notes of tobacco (which I love) and strong scents of cherry made this an incredible glass to savor.

My favorite part about a food and wine event are those discoveries. Often, I find I go in with a plan of all the ‘must-try’s’ and wines I know are going to blow me away. That wine for the opening night? One I had never heard of. I noticed Mike enjoying himself over at Deerfield’s table. Apparently, he’d fallen in-love with their 2014 white blend, White Rex. Being more accustom to a great red blend, I was intrigued and gave it a whirl. Wow.

A blend that begins with Pinot Grigio to bring out a bouquet of fruit notes like white peaches to focus on its mid-palate. It’s followed by Riesling that focuses on the back palette and brings forth moments of Granny Smith apples. Sauvignon Blanc then is welcomed to the party with its tropical notes like pineapple and mango. Last but not least, a touch of Chardonnay adds its depth and complexity. Making it at the center yet not steering away from those side palettes. It was an absolutely beautiful, smooth white wine. I can imagine anyone who may feel they’re not a white wine person might re-consider this after a glass of White Rex. Bravo!

Other favorites were Gloria Ferrer, Lake Sonoma and Meadowcraft Wines. So many wineries, so little time!

Photo: Michael Farah.

The Films: Back to Burgundy

The entire downtown district of Sonoma was over-taken with films, documentaries and shorts to see. Feeling a little bit in a food and wine coma, we made our way to the Sebastiani Theater to catch the festivals’ opening film, Back to Burgundy.

From acclaimed French director, C├ędric Klapisch, Back to Burgundy tells the story of 3 siblings who are reunited upon the death of their father. Each with their own lives and obstacles they’re facing, they must come together and decide if they want to stick it out as a team and save the family’s vineyard. While Back to Burgundy did not stand out for me personally, it was an extremely appropriate opening night film (hello, wine!). It also had family-dynamics a la Wes Anderson, which I appreciated.

Funny Story

Selected as The Stolman Audience Award for Best American Indie, Funny Story was one of the stand-out’s for me. The kind of film that if I say too much I will spoil the surprises. Let’s just say Funny Story tells the story of Walter. Walter is a C-list actor who has the Hollywood reputation of being a ladies man. In his 50’s with a young fiancee and baby on the way, Walter decides it’s time he visits Nic, his daughter whom he has not been too close with since he divorced her mom. Driving up to Big Sur from LA, Walter offers to give Nic’s friend, Kim, a ride. And, things start to go awry.

A story about family dynamics and mistakes made, Funny Story is not your predictable story. And at times, was definitely not a laughing matter. Director Michael J. Gallagher, who was in attendance of his screening, explained his reasoning for the film’s title. “Usually, when someone starts out saying, ‘funny story’, it’s anything but funny”. Thus, that was the inspiration for naming the film just that. Funny Story has it’s humorous moments. But, takes a much deeper look at real people and the screw up’s we often find ourselves in.

Negative Space

Thursday evening found us headed to the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art. One of the screening venues for the festival, we were in for a treat as 12 animated short films were to be shown. While I admit that some left me cold, many were outstanding. Witty, clever, creative. One of the highlights was Negative Space. A hilarious homage from a son to his father, who taught him how to pack perfectly for any kind of a trip. Coming in at a mere 5 minutes, German director,Tomer Eshed, had the audience in stitches at it’s ending!

Roadside Assistance

Another favorite from the animated lineup, Roadside Assistance tells the tale of a driver in a horrific car accident. It’s up to her trusty bobble head at her dashboard to save the day. Bringing to mind a bit of a PIxar vibe (as did Nicholas Arioli’s Coin Operated), Director Kathy McNeal has made a sweet and poignant short about the power of friendship and imagination.

The Driver is Red

Recipient of the Audience Choice Award for Best Animated Short, the Driver is Red once again proves that ‘animation’ does not always imply light-hearted. Thrilling and tragic, and just under 15 minutes. The Driver is Red chronicles the true crime story about the hunt for one of the highest-ranking Nazi war criminals in 1960 Argentina. The Driver is Red would be a fantastic choice for educators to teach their students about the aftermath of the Holocaust and the attempted missions to bring those involved to justice.

The festival may have played its end credits for 2018, but rest assured they will be back next year! In the meantime, make sure to visit their several iconic landmarks like the Sebastiani Theater and the art museum. Oh, and the wines. I hear they have afew wineries. xo

(*Disclosure: I was a guest of the Sonoma International Film Festival on behalf of this feature. All opinions are my own.)