Recently I had the opportunity to get a sneak preview from some of the people responsible for turning Downtown San Jose, and now some of Redwood City, into a popular and down to earth film mecca for about two weeks in March.
Along with the ever expanding category of creativity, which brings live performances to spaces in San Jose and the satellite site in Redwood City, the Cinequest Film and Creativity Festival has added one very important aspect to it this year, one that applies to anyone that lives and works in the Bay Area.
Before we get into that, this year’s Cinequest Film and Creativity Festival theme is of “Elation”. As previous years, the choosing of the theme came from the community and fans of the festival.
Cinequest co-founder Halfdan Hussey says, “It’s our 30th year but the last thing we wanted to do was a look back, because we’ve always been about the future. So, we decided on the theme of elation…because people have told us so many times that’s why they love Cinequest. It gives them so much joy, and people from around the world so much joy”.
What a proper word and theme for a festival that does indeed bring people joy along with a slew of other emotions when watching films. With 50+ countries represented this year, and 154 United States and world premieres, it’s a large festival but a scaled down and tight knit community which gathers to share in that love for movie watching.
New to Cinequest this year is the addition of a program dedicated to uplifting the voices of homelessness and those local leaders and media members who are trying to alleviate it and speak out on it.
“We are utilizing Cinequest as a leader in telling the narrative of homelessness and the people who are alleviating and solving it, so we are showcasing media and leaders who are doing something about homelessness,” says Hussey.
With this new segment, Cinequest seems to be venturing just outside of the world of elation and entertainment, down the street to those that are suffering in our community. Hopefully this segment is successful and receptive for attendees and continues to amplify the voices of our local marginalized communities among the glitz and fun of the festival.
Now, the Maverick award winners for this year are three individuals whose contributions and accolades make them luminaries in their fields. This year specifically, these individuals or the work they are representing have ties to heroism, yearning for equity, and in general are people who carry with them inspiring stories.
Hussey says, “We’ve seen a lot of that through time at Cinequest. People that follow their heart and they do something important.”
ruth weiss (uncapitalized on purpose), a poet who was one of the central figures of the beat generation, is one of the festival’s three recipients. Before weiss was a distinguished poet though, she was a child who was able to escape the horrors of Nazi infested Berlin with family, ending up in the United States, and becoming one of the most important voices of the 60’s beat movement.
Along with a film called “ruth weiss, the beat goddess”, attendees to this showing will see the unveiling of the Maverick award to weiss and experience a conversation around the influence of the beat generation.
Hussey adds that it’s “So ultra-cool, including the fact that Neil Cassidy’s home is half a mile away from here when he lived here, and Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac and all these people, San Jose was a big part of their world. So that’s exciting.”
The next Maverick Spirit Award winner is Hong Chau, who is currently in HBO’s “Watchmen” show. Chau and her family also fled political unrest, in Vietnam specifically, and was able to create from that a flourishing career in entertainment.
The film she will be showing at the festival is called “Driveways”, and Hussey adds, “[She’s] a really perfect person for us to recognize with the Silicon Valley being a cross-section of the globe of which Latino and Asian cultures are the most dynamic part of that.”
The final and last minute (or surprise maybe) addition to the Maverick’s of 2020 is actor Jesse Eisenberg who along with big budget Hollywood films like “The Social Network” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”, has been seen on the Cinequest screen before with 2018’s “The Hummingbird Project”.
This time around Eisenberg is representing the closing night film, “Resistance”, which is the story of French actor marcel Marceau, who moonlighted as a leader of the French Resistance in Nazi Europe.
“[He] was known as a mime to American people. But before that, he was a leader of the French Resistance, helping people out of the Nazi era. So, a real hero of his time, in addition to being an artist who utilized physical communications and creativity,” says Hussey.
Amongst the fun and elation of this year’s Cinequest lineup is a focus on those that contribute to helping those in need both as far back as 1940’s until now on the streets of Silicon Valley.
More info on the movies, events and parties for Cinequest Film and Creativity Festival 2020 can be found at Cinequest.org. See you at the movies.