PREVIEW – Cinequest Film & Creativity Festival – Princess Picks 2019

It’s here, it’s here (almost!) The countdown to CINEQUEST and no sleep has begun!  It’s nearly time (March 5 – 17, 2019) to see some fantastic films as part of some of the most enthusiastic audiences you’ll ever find. My film guide is highlighted, my screeners are queued up, my Cinequest app has populated various film viewing permutations into my mobile phone calendar; I’m primed and planned and I’ve picked as I do every year, a relatively arbitrary list of films that I’m excited about based entirely on my perusal of the festival guide. In no particular order, here are the Princess Picks!

Behind the Bullet

In reading the description for Behind the Bullet I was reminded how one’s own opinions and prejudices can be changed with thoughtfully produced and authentically informed art. I came across the podcast Ear Hustle last year and it had a profound effect on me. Recorded from inside San Quentin, the podcast covers incarcerated life in an honest, often surprisingly humorous, and deeply personal way and for me the result was a truly revolutionary perspective shift.  It was here that I first learned about reformative justice.  I’m expecting to be surprised, educated, moved, angered, motivated and probably a whole lot of other things with this film which deals with the aftermath of gun use in a myriad of situations. I think this really promises to be a fascinating film and one generating a lot of that engaging, post-film conversation that we love about Cinequest.  The kind of dialogue we overhear and can’t help but insert ourselves into.

The Family in Transition

What would I do in “their place” is a great question to ask yourself about any film’s topic. How would I react in this situation? How would I LIKE to THINK I would react, versus what I would struggle with and what would I be likely to actually do. Can you even fathom being in a certain situation? One of the most powerful tools of film (and any art) is letting you into someone’s life when it is quite literally a life you  can’t imagine. Supporting a spouse who is finally able to realize publicly they are transgender and make that transition with the full support of their partner is a riveting topic of which I honestly have no real perspective on. I’m enthralled by love that is so deep it transcends outdated, but certainly ingrained societal “norms”. I love that love exists this beautifully. I can’t envision feeling so trapped and then having the opportunity to be free. Every year it seems there is one film that just emotionally guts me and this one I think may take the prize for those happy as well as those tears of unnecessary struggle and injustice.

Lake Over Fire

I’ve said it many times; the Norwegian sensibility is something that really just speaks to me. I have no idea why and I’ve stopped trying to hide my bias. Some of my absolute favorites from Cinequests past have indeed been from this country and so at this point I don’t even really bother defining what other reasons I am looking forward to a film for if it’s from Norway. I will in the case of Lake Over Fire offer this image.

This still being used for the films promotion is as they say; everything. It kills me. I am dead.  All of the things you guys. It’s hilarious and perfect in all its ridiculous and meticulously detailed glory. This is probably the film I’m most looking forward to and I really hope it’s as good as this one frame.

The Extraordinary Journey of Celeste Garcia


Things Susannah likes. Comedies. Cuba. Aliens. It’s a bizarre trifecta, but they all happen to play a key role in this film, and sometimes that’s all it takes. Added bonus for female leads and the promise of a deeper message/meaning/purpose than laughter. This was an easy front runner and one of 6 possible films I selected for my Birthday Cinequest  screenings (in which I try to find films with a wide appeal for friends to come to in “honor” of my birthday which falls within the festival each year).  How can it possibly go wrong?

The Bra

While classified as a “post-modernist interpretation of Cinderella” (a phrase I love in and of itself and a concept I can totally get behind), I think what caught my eye about this film’s premise is that it declares upfront that it’s a slice of life film. That’s key going into a film as your adjust expectations about pace and the overall action arc. Expectations can help to make or break a film I think and I appreciate that I feel like I’m set up for a journey (train!), in a foreign land (Azerbaijan – gotta love the places film can take you physically as well as metaphysically) with heart and laughs (it’s a bra instead of a glass slipper, that’s funny, people) but also maybe not giant shifts or epic revelations. Simple is sometimes still layered and impactful and I feel like this is a trip I’m going to be charmed by. I’m looking for this one to be a thematic “unexpected” audience favorite.

Broken Places

I’m trying desperately to find a place for this film in my schedule. Any time a filmmaker commits to decades of filming a single project or topic, I have to back that up. It’s really the epitome of commitment to one’s art and the result is often times so unexpected (there’s that theme again) and engaging. It’s also a privilege and the ultimate education to get to “live” a generation and learn from its lengthy passage inside of two hours.  I’m optimistic this is going to be a lovely, uplifting film despite its topic (the effects of childhood trauma) and title. I think there are silver linings everywhere and that humans are more amazing, adaptable and hopeful than perhaps we get credit for sometimes. This could prove a redemptive and revealing look at how the hardest parts of life can be the most empowering and not always the most devastating.  Cause and effect with a psychologists look at metamorphosis through an artist’s lens is an intriguing lure.

The Chaperone

This film is one that I expect will have a larger distribution and opportunity to see on the small screen, but it’s also the kind of film that I think will be beautiful on the big screen. It’s the kind of film I always fancy  I’d like to make if I were a film actress. The fashion of the era and the willful young rural girl getting an education in a metropolitan city is an escapist cup of tea I like to drink from as often as I can. It’s a plot that’s not original, but it’s one that works well when individualized and paired with a clever, consistent vision and high-caliber talent across the board. I’m taking my 80 year old mom to this one for sure as it’s an equal generational pleaser I’m guessing.

The Fare

One of the biggest challenges for actors, filmmakers and audience alike is a film with very few or perhaps a single location. The focus becomes almost entirely on script content and nuanced acting. Double that difficulty when we add in a device like “repeating the same initial encounter.”Cabbie and fare meet over and over in a “Twilight Zone” kind of encounter that plays out in a fantasy/romance genre. Fair enough…I’ll bite, I’m interested to see how the filmmakers take this daunting task and frequently explored framework and make it unique.

The Silver Branch

Private and public struggles are a hot topics facing much of the globe. Who owns a coast line or beach? What are the pros and cons of privatizing open space?  How does the essential economy of tourism succeed without disrespecting the environment, inhabitants and history of a place? It’s black and white to some and a world of gray to others.  It’s an increasingly more problematic problem and a discussion that’s not nearly “done”.  I think there’s something ironic, meta and almost counter intuitive about sharing the beauty of a landscape on film when it’s one potentially at risk of being spoiled by outside awareness. This is the dilemma surrounding a lovely Irish landscape at the center of The Silver Branch. How to protect and nurture without over exposure is challenge so many face. I don’t expect to have concrete, specific feelings sorted or questions fully answered at the end of this film, but it’s an important discussion to play out relevant to life in our current world. This could nab one of the most teachable and unsettling/unresolved moments of the festival for me.

Travel Ban: Make America Laugh Again

I maintain that stand-up comedian along with ambulance driver in San Francisco and janitor at the Venice, Italy train station are the hardest jobs I’d never want. I’d greatly admire the craft of building jokes and this film promises an additional layer of complexity and intrigue by adding in a highly topical and polarizing political element.  Will lines be crossed? Will I feel uncomfortable or freed by the humor and topics? This may be a angering challenge or it may be a passport to a time when it was okay to laugh about a lot more things.  Maybe a much needed healing release in our divided, frustrating, embarrassing times. I will most certainly take the risk on this one.  I’ll get the perspective from the 80 year old mom on this one as well, because while humor can be a connector, I think generational perspective from someone with less of a filter these days will be additionally enlightening.

Bite Me

It’s been a while since there’s been a good Vampire Comedy, a niche genre that along with Zombie comedies I don’t think you can have too many of…IF they are done “well.” The only way you know if they are done well (enough) is to go see them when they’re made. Bite Me is maybe not the most original title, but it’s one of my favorite phrases at any volume, so I’m cautiously optimistic that this film will be just the right combination of camp, substance and good production values to avoid being relegated to cult status exclusively. And, one of the best things about Cinequest is if the film ends up being not so great, it’s made greater than it would be because you‘ve an audience that won’t let it get away with it. Plus there’s a pub crawl and a passionate filmmaking crew around this, and I love to support creative pride as much as I can, even if it ends up not being something I can really sink my teeth into.


Every year I make sure to see at least 3 of the shorts offerings. It’s always a treat to get to see so many stories told in so many ways in a single sitting. These films are short on time but long on lasting impression.  My picks I make a point of squeezing in typically include Animated, Comedy and Docs, and this year is no exception.

Silent Cinema – Buster Keaton

Every year I’m genuinely thrilled to experience the epic beginning of film, surrounded by the best accompanist your generous donations can buy and the gorgeousness that is the California Theatre.  It’s a culmination of all that is right. Preservation of talent, physical film, music, architecture. A perfect storm of awesome cinematic geekery and craft. This year, super excited to see some of Buster Keaton’s work. This one is also a bring your mom to Cinequest date for sure.  Aside from the weekly silent film offerings in Niles which are great but VERY intimate, you really don’t get this type of opportunity but once a year.

About Artsalot

Your personal Princess, spreading her love of the Silicon Valley Arts and Culture Kingdom! Your former Princess of Artsopolis, welcomes you to Artsalot!
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