Fest's 23rd edition includes heavy-hitting 'Mavericks' and bold, innovative motion pics

Northern California’s Cinequest has long been known for its tech and cinema experiments, but this year, the San Jose fest’s toppers are planning on taking innovation one significant step farther. Fittingly, this year’s theme is Unleash.

“We’re really, really working on that energy,” director and co-founder Halfdan Hussey told Variety. “We pick these themes very carefully, and this is one that we really felt was an expansive theme; it felt like big creativity.”

For its 23rd installment, Cinequest will showcase more than 190 pics during its Feb. 26-March 10 run, along with career achievement kudos for Harrison Ford, Salman Rushdie, Chuck Palahniuk and Sony’s Electronics prexy Phil Molyneux and Sony Pictures Technologies prexy Chris Cookson. Quintet of honorees will receive the Maverick Spirit Award, Cinequest’s highest honor that fetes daring industryites. Fest kicks off with “Ginger & Rosa,” and will culminate with “Midnight’s Children,” helmed by Deepa Mehta and penned by Rushdie.

In line with Hussey and Co.’s risk-taking campaign is a push for new endeavors, which, this year, includes a venture into book publishing. Internally produced, “7 Powers of Creating” highlights tools for student creativity in art, science and business, and will precede Cinequest’s global youth and leadership movement, Picture the Possibilities, which bows its second season with work from Silicon Valley; New York; Mexico City; Jakarta, Indonesia; and Beijing.

Other insider projects include a film about Cambodian author Somaly Mam, a human-rights advocate who signs her books “Life is love” — also the doc’s title. Hussey said the pic is an important undertaking for the fest because of its significant societal statement about human trafficking, and also that Mavericks Studio, the fest’s sister company behind the film, in conjunction with PTP, has invested a lot of time and energy into the work — a rare inhouse project for a film festival.

Techies behind Cinequest have been developing a smart-tablet app, which will be available to Apple and Android users between today and Feb. 20. By way of changing how auds socialize and discover content, Cinequest is looking to create a richer, more immersive experience, per Hussey.

Fest has debuted a glut of cutting-edge technologies since its beginnings, including the unveiling of QuickTime Player, 3D technologies and Internet distribution. Tech innovation is a big selling point for Cinequest, which will be heavily tapping this year into Sony 4K and Barco projection for many of its screenings. Only a handful of the 85-plus features will be unspooled in 35mm format, and Sony 4K tech will be further highlighted with restorations of “Taxi Driver,” “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Dr. Strangelove.”

Professional-led events pepper Cinequest’s slate as well as panel forums and competitions. Kurt Kuenne, who has had much of his work showcased at Cinequest (“Dear Zachary,” “Shuffle”) and has participated as a judge in the past, said he’s excited to return this year because of the fest’s “unique jewels”: The California Theater, a 1920s movie palace that presents silent films with live accompaniments, and the annual swath of foreign films.

Featuring nearly 100 preems, fest has culled pics from 48 countries, and is to present more than 700 artists and innovators via screenings, events and awards showcases — though this year Hussey said Cinequest is changing how it doles out cash prizes. Knight Foundation has donated $50,000, which will be allocated between the top dramatic feature and docu — winners of which will be chosen by auds.

“Each festival has its own personality,” Kuenne said. “Cinequest has a very specific one that’s very welcoming to filmmakers and moviegoers, and is always looking for films that have that outside-of-the-box quality.”

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