Q&A: Cinequest Film & Creativity Festival Brings Energized Summer Screenings to San Jose and Mountain View, With New Discussions on Artificial Intelligence and 82 World and US Premieres

Cinequest CEO and Co-founder Halfdan Hussey Brings Us the Updates on This Year’s Summer Celebration, From the Extension Into Mountain View, Artificial Intelligence and Filmmaking, and How the Hollywood Strikes Have Affected the Festival
Halfdan Hussey is the CEO and Co-founder of Cinequest, which will have its summer Cinequest Film & Creativity Festival from August 15-30 in San Jose and Mountain View. Photo Credit: Cinequest.org

Arturo Hilario
El Observador

The Cinequest Film & Creativity Festival will have one last romp in the summer sun before returning to its usual March date next year. Taking place August 15-30, the festival that will host 253 films, red carpet premieres and discussions on artificial intelligence will be in San Jose for the first week before moving to Mountain View’s ShowPlace Icon theater for its second week.

Cinequest CEO and Co-founder Halfdan Hussey recently took some time to update us on what’s new this year in terms of lineups, the new satellite festival site in Mountain View, how artificial intelligence can be a tool used in filmmaking, and how the SAG strikes have affected the film festival circuit.

More information on the festival and tickets are available at cinequest.org.

What worked about the setting of last year’s festival in the summer to bring it back again for the same time period this year?

The summer events have been determined strictly because of the Pandemic because it changed our scheduling. It takes us nine to twelve months to produce one of the festivals. In terms of the in-person, last year was exciting to come back. And then we learned a few things. Some of them are kind of funny.

We learned that it’s hot in August! We had this beer and wine garden. This incredible beer and wine garden is set up from 11:00am-5:00pm every day. But of course it was 99, 100 degrees so we learned that “okay, this year when we do things outdoors, it’s going to be at night, okay. Because it’s August, if people are going to be outdoors, they want to do it in the evening or after the sun sets.” So that’s something we learned. And we’re doing a couple of big parties under the stars, which I’m really excited about.

The opening night party is going to be a block and a half away from the venue, from the screening venue, and we’re doing it out, as I mentioned, outdoors with music and food and drinks and lighting and the same on Saturday night, we’ve got a big theme party called Cinequest Energize. So we’ve never done outdoors parties and I’m really excited about doing that. We’ve done them in other locations to promote Cinequest. And we’ve never had a chance to do it in San Jose during the festival because we’ve always been in March and it’s too cold and it gets dark too early.

Oh, and we also have another great venue this year. So one of the nice things about the summer is getting inside into a nice, cool venue. The first half of the festival is in downtown and our beautiful venues of the California and the Hammer, those are big places with big events. But then the second part of it we have at the Icon multiplex, which is a fantastic multiplex in Mountain View. So we really have tremendous venues. So that is a huge plus. We haven’t had a state-of-the-art multiplex since the Camera 12 closed down in San Jose.

Those are the things those are things we learned, and we learned that last year, don’t make people do things outdoors when it’s 100 degrees, but take advantage of doing things at night. And we’re going to do that and have a nice multiplex for them to enjoy as well.

What brought you guys to choose Mountain View as a second location for this year’s Cinequest?

Well, it’s so representative of Silicon Valley. Not that San Jose isn’t I mean, San Jose, my God, the companies that we have in San Jose now that are world leaders in technology, but it really is the epicenter, Mountain View and Palo Alto. As you know, Google is right around our venue, and so it also is a symbolic thing. We have filmmakers and artists that come in from 55 countries for this and people from many places. And I think it’s great for them to have these two places, this great city, San Jose, and those beautiful venues, but then to be right there for part of it, right in the heart of the Google, Silicon Valley, Palo Alto, you know, energy, that’s really cool as well.

So I just think that it’s a perfect location, and I also think it’s perfect that we’re not doing them at the same time. A week in downtown San Jose and a week at the Icon of Mountain View because for a couple years we tried having a venue in both San Jose and another location at the same time. And that split people apart too much.

They really didn’t like that. So this way people can stay together, keep the energy in the community but just different places and keeps it fresh.

Because there are two locations now there are two opening nights. Can you touch on why that is?

Yeah, we just symbolically wanted to do something to kick off the first time we were in the Icon. But the opening night at the California Theater on August 15 with Fresh Kills and the party after that is really super special. I mean, we have a film Jennifer Esposito is coming to, the director and producer. She’s also been a big TV and film star. And we have a film about women in the mob. Not women girlfriends of the mobsters, but the women in the mob in the that’s a very amazing subject and a very entertaining and exciting film. We have this beautiful venue, the California Theater, this palace. We’ll have an organist playing beforehand. We’ll have the film, the Q&A with makers of the film and then the big party a block and a half away.

Food and music, dancing, whatever you want to do. Incredible drinks, of course, and lots of security, too, because people always want to know about that. “Is it secure? Yeah, very secure.” So it will just be a really fun, outdoors celebration. And the film, because it’s about Italian women, we’re going to have Italian food for the catering and it should be a great time.

And then the flip side of that is on the 24th we have opening day at the Icon and we’re going to have a symbolic opener there with the film called Sometimes I Think About Dying with Daisy Ridley. And it’s a great Silicon Valley kind of story. First of all, she’s a Star Wars star, okay? So that really ties her into Silicon Valley. But second, it’s a film about a woman whose pretty darn shy. In fact, she’s really shy and doesn’t really have the social skills to build friendships.

And here’s this guy who is very interested in her, very nice person and he has to break down a lot of barriers to get her to even listen to him. So it’s that kind of a love story about good people and how sometimes some folks are not equipped with some of the social skills that makes things like dating easy. So it’s a really nice movie like that. And I think that Silicon Valley will really enjoy it.

The theme of this year is the term ‘energized’. Can you touch on why that was chosen for this year?

Yeah, I feel like people have had their energy depleted, their good energy, by things like the pandemic global striving and wars, news media and other things.

So I think that that really has drained people. And so we thought ‘energized’ would be a great theme. Let’s get back together. Let’s do what Cinequest does. We get all kinds of folks together from all walks of life, just the opposite of battling each other. We’re just sharing and celebrating and enjoying great movies and fantastic people and all these artists that are out to present their films. So that’s the energy of Cinequest. It always has been and it’s such a great art form for that because it represents people from all around the globe and all walks of life and ways of thinking and so it’s fantastic. And I always love that Cinequest is all ages, too. It’s always been this cool party of different kinds of people because a lot of times when you go to a party or a club, whatever you go to, sometimes the people are a little bit alike, maybe the same age group, maybe whatever, but not at Cinequest.

I mean, the people are really so fun to see all these different kinds of people. You come with friends or meet new ones. There’s just so many things that make it more than a movie. And so we hope that people, when they come, feel very cared for and they feel energized by the experience. And of course, then people will energize others, the artists that come and the audiences, they’ll share with each other and they’ll provide that energy.

The core of Cinequest is what you’re talking about, the social aspect, the artistry of the films. The other part is the attachment to Silicon Valley and showcasing new technologies. In the past you’ve featured the latest in audio and video technology for theaters, virtual reality, and now this year’s “Artificial meets Human Intelligence” conversations. I was wondering if you can touch on that.

The concept is that where technology meets art and film and technology is always having an impact on media and art. And in AI, right now we have an example of things it can do to help the film process and television process and things that are scary to people and perhaps negative.

I mean, we have the writers on strike and now the SAG actors have joined them. And one of the issues is, “hey, we don’t want some AI coming in and writing an episode for a television show that we created and you not paying us.” And things like that are not attractive to the writers. And I don’t think that a tool, even though it can certainly emulate things like, “okay, well, I can emulate making a poem with an AI tool.” Okay, we’ve seen that kind of thing. But that’s not the same as a human being having a human experience, writing something that you’re going to connect with and then rewarding those writers by allowing them to continue to write the episodes for their TV shows. So there’s an example.

An example of it being a positive in the world of film is there are some nice tools that are not perfect yet, but they’re getting there, which they can upres film material and photographs. So maybe you shot something that wasn’t of today’s current technical standards. Well, you can upres it and get it there.

We shot an interview with JJ. Abrams when he won his Maverick Spirit Award, and of course, it was one of the greatest conversations we’ve ever had. So inspiring. Love to share it with the world. But the film technology we were using at that time is not to current know entry level standards. So with this AI tool, we can upres it. There are traditional ways of upresing, too but they’re extremely expensive.

Another example is we have this Polish film festival, the name of which I can’t remember, and they have come up with an AI technology to do a better job of dubbing their movie into foreign languages. And a lot of international filmmakers, we just assume, see it subtitled because the dubbing is always so terrible when they try to dub it.

So when you have bad dubbing, it takes you out of the film, it takes you out of the experience. So they’ve created a technology to perfect the dubbing process so it feels more organic to the actor. But there’s some examples of negatives and positives.

But when it’s a tool, in my humble opinion, it’s great. When you try to replace human beings, it sucks. And I don’t think it’s effective because I think human intelligence is unique and the human experience is unique to why we watch movies and read books.

How have these creator strikes affected Cinequest?

We will find a way to make every challenge work for us and to serve people. We have a ton of people coming out, artists and films. Global actors are not under contract with SAG. Directors and producers can come. There’s no problem with that. American independent actors that are not SAG can come. The ones that we would call American star actors are going to be SAG signatory. And part of the strike regulations was that SAG actors cannot attend film festivals.

Now, I’m not going to get into my feelings about that, but I don’t understand why they come with that restriction. Maybe because they just didn’t want the actors out there at all. I don’t know. But certainly festivals don’t pay them. Our actors come because they want to be here. But that’s the way it is. So we had some major movie stars that were planning to attend, and if the strike is called off, they’ll attend, and if it’s not, they won’t. But Cinequest will be a great experience regardless. We’ll have plenty of great actors, plenty of amazing actors in films and the wonderful people that make it happen.

We have 82 US and world premieres, so we don’t have a shortage of experiences for people. But, hey, we hope it clears up in time.

Is there any last note you’d like to leave us on?

Well, the whole point of doing this is to serve people, and the people are what make it great. So I just welcome folks to come and enjoy, it’s going to be a big hit, and they’re going to absolutely love it.

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