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Cinequest Fest Blends High Tech With Cinematic Arts

San Jose event draw heavily on Silicon Valley innovations

The Silicon Valley-based Cinequest draws more than 100,000 people and throws a spotlight — appropriately, given its location — on the crossroads of new film technology and new films themselves. This year marks the 24th year for the fest, one that includes 84 world premieres from 43 countries. Yet the San Jose festival is not high on the radar for industryites just a few hours south in L.A.

“People have said to me, ‘It’s really the best-kept secret in the film industry,’” says co-founder/director Halfdan Hussey. “We’re a big festival with a personal feel.”

Being based in the home of bits and bytes makes Cinequest, which runs March 4-16, a natural location for its very particular tech-meets-film niche. In the past, Hussey says the festival has put early spotlights on up-and-coming innovations such as QuickTime, feature film distribution on the Internet and digital exhibition.

To that end, this year’s premieres include a movie filmed entirely on an iPhone (“Uneasy Lies the Mind”) and a special talk with Matthew Modine about his “Full Metal Jacket Diary” “appumentary,” an iPad-only app full of his photos and memories from making the Stanley Kubrick war classic, designed to be watched alongside the film. Modine, along with the man the fest calls the father of the cell phone, Martin Cooper, will be the recipients of the inaugural Maverick Innovator Awards.

Yet Cinequest has a different, almost opposite face: Its other specific focus is on the human side of creativity and filmmaking. Each year it helps young minds from around the world learn how to channel their ideas into filmmaking with its Picture the Possibilities programs, and at the festival many of those young minds arrive for special meetings with industry reps (this year, it’s Electronic Arts). Additionally, several of the premiere films feature a strong social agenda, including two this year about human trafficking: “Sold” (executive produced by Emma Thompson and featuring David Arquette and Gillian Anderson) and the documentary “Life Is Love” (produced by Cinequest’s own Maverick Studios).

Not that there isn’t room for more conventional screenings, particularly if stars are involved: the father-son used car lot story “Small Time,” directed by Joel Surnow and starring Christopher Meloni, gets its festival debut on closing night. In addition, Cinequest will hand out the Maverick Spirit Award to author Neil Gaiman, and give special Media Legacy Awards to select journalists.

“We look for the components of innovation and originality, as well as impact,” says Hussey. “We’re looking for something that will make a positive impact on people’s lives.”

That was the draw for Juan Carlos Pineiro Escoriaza, director of “Know How,” above, a gritty musical co-written with and performed by foster kids that will world premiere at the fest.

“Film festivals have to look at the bottom line, and it’s becoming a difficult landscape to find brave new voices,” he says. “You need to be able to take a leap of faith and understand that audiences will find and love a movie about these kids, and that’s what Cinequest has told us from the beginning: ‘We get this, from the start.’ ”

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