SAN JOSE — San Francisco casts a formidible shadow, one long enough to make South Bay residents feel themselves cast into the cultural shade. So it struck many as naive — even a tad silly — when executive director Halfdan Hussey first mounted Cinequest, the San Jose Film Festival.
Given that other, bigger-better City by the Bay’s surfeit of high-profile annual film events — S.F. Intl., Lesbian & Gay, Jewish, Asian-American, et al — who needed another? And in San Jose? A collective puh-leeze was heard.
No such shrug-offs greet that notion these days, as the fest marks its 10th anniversary with a newly expanded schedule (from seven to 10 days) and venue sprawl now including the AMC multiplex in nearby Saratoga in addition to downtown San Jose’s Camera and Towne three-screeners.
This year’s Cinequest opens Feb. 24 with a gala presentation of Sundance-bowed “The Big Kahuna” — starring last year’s “Maverick” honoree Kevin Spacey — then wraps March 5 with world preem of Brent Florence’s digital feature “The Solid Ones,” as well as German helmer Andreas Kleinert’s recent Karlovy Vary Fest prize-winner “Paths in the Night.”
Seeking out program niches unmined by other local fests, Cinequest has proved resourceful — in fact, magnetizing a starrier guest list than usually found at points north. Its loosely defined “Mavericks” honor has drawn personal appearances by an eclectic roster including Werner Herzog, Vilmos Zsigmond, Robert Wise, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jackie Chan and Luis Valdez.
Traipsing up to San Jose this year are another mix of mainstream and off-the-beaten-track talents: thesps Alec Baldwin and Peter Fonda; veteran U.S. director Robert M. Young (“Nothing But a Man,” “Triumph of the Spirit”); two horror legends, Wes Craven (“Scream”) and Dario Argento (“Suspiria”); plus idiosyncratic Amerindie-turned-Eurohelmer Jon Jost, presenting his latest feature “London Brief.”
Remainder of sked runs a typically diverse gamut of archival nuggets (“Andy Warhol’s Trash”), docus, indie features, and international titles from auteurs such as Switzerland’s Daniel Schmidt (“Beresina”) and Sweden’s Colin Nutley (“Under the Sun”).
Fest has long stoked a symbiotic relationship with surrounding Silicon Valley technophiles — seeking out not only funding support but also creative overlaps, with a special emphasis this annum on evolving “post-film” digital cinema. Sony Acquisitions VP Laurence J. Thorpe and producer Lloyd A. Silverman will participate in a March 4 seminar on that topic.
The following day Industrial Light & Magic’s Alex Laurant will take viewers step-by-step through creation of creature F/X for last summer’s hit “The Mummy.” A “digimation” program and several digital features (including Christopher Coppola’s “Sunset Boulevard” update “Bel Air”) will also unspool during fest.
Other sidebars include a Latino Showcase tuned toward the South Bay’s bourgeoning Hispanic populace. For the fourth year, industry panelists will attend fest screenings to determine jury awards in various narrative, docu, feature and short categories.