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March 30, 2006

Mega Stars, Indie Producers at Sonoma Film Fest

By M.L. Hilton

(SONOMA VALLEY, CA) -- Do you hear the word “indie” when it comes to filmmaking and shudder, afraid that you will be forced to sit through some plodding documentary or worse, something created strictly in the effort to educate you about something you have no interest in?

If you answered yes to the above, it may be time you re-evaluated your regular cinema experience, put aside your preconceived ideas, and explore the fascinating and entertaining world of film festivals.

I mean let’s face it. When was the last time you were able to consistently attend your multiplex’s regular fare and leave satisfied both by the entertainment experience and the money you spent?

Even the stars are starting to feel that way.

New independent films featuring Danny Glover, Nick Nolte, Marisa Tomei, John Goodman, Mary Steenburgen, Danny DeVito, William Hurt (and I can go on) are being shown as part of Cinema Epicura – the 9th annual Sonoma Valley Film Festival. A number of the stars themselves are attending the screenings, galas, awards ceremonies and gourmet food and wine tastings.

The festival starts next week – April 5 through 9, and online sales end on Wednesday, April 5. Do you have your tickets? I do.

Seventy-five films in five days. It is better than On Demand. Get off your couch and enter a world of fantasies, emotions, clashes, and cultures you will never get at home.

Festival At a Glance

Buy your festival passes, and exclusive experiences online (hey, rubbing elbows with the glitterati and bone fide stars doesn’t come at the price of a chili cookoff). Prices go up April 1, so you really should make up your mind today.

If you are limited on time and funds, day passes are $50 and individual filmings $10 each. Remember, each screening has food and wine tastings.

March 3, 2006

Belly Dancers, Belles, Balls, and Benefits

By M. L. Hilton

(NAPA VALLEY, CA) -- If you are a professional party-goer, a philanthropist, or an aution-ophile, spring is the season to get out your wallet. The last weekend in February in Napa Valley was the Winter Ball in St. Helena and the Premiere Wine Auction (raising collectively more than $2 million). The first weekend of March there will be an Academy Awards benefit, two school wine auctions (don’t look down your nose – bottles of Screaming Eagle have been known to show up) and a marathon.

I didn’t peruse neighboring wine countries, but I know from experience they are just as packed full of fun and parties. After the glitter of the holidays and before the warmth of spring, it is easy to think of the winter months of January, February, and March as dreary.

Truth is, you probably need to change your mind-set and start looking ahead with date planner in hand. Otherwise you are going to miss your opportunities and you mize well stay home with a strong dose of Prozac.

Sadly, most of the touted Balls don’t put a strong enough emphasis on the dancing. The timing will typically take place after the live auction and the bands are not always that engaging. If you really love to dance and aren’t as interested in the auction check in advance to see if the dancing is in a separate area (like the Mustard Festival opening event) or if they follow the auction, which will rarely be on time.

If you love red wine, the local Napa auctions will always have an amazing selection. St. Helena Rotary’s Winter Ball (Feb. 25) was cab-o-rama. Premiere Napa Valley is only about wine (for the trade). The Mustard Festival was strong on vacation packages this year.

If you only pick one party, that little black dress is going to do you just fine. But if you love dress up there are some pretty fun opportunities. The Mustard Festival Opening is usually a masquerade, the Rotary Ball was Morocco themed and jewel tones, see through gauze and glitter were every where. Sophisticated glamour is the Academy Awards. If you are of the female persuasion and need a new dress, a number of the top local stores will pull the similar gowns in different sizes off the racks – so you don’t have to run into your evil twin.

In California style, I saw a sheik at the Winter Ball whose purple painted toenails were an obvious standout in his sandals (Birkenstocks, I believe – but they fit right in).

The best times I have had are at the events I have come home with something: a new friend, an auction lot, and once a tattoo (temporary) in a very low spot on my back. It is really a great time when you have a fabulous table which can take some putting together. More on that thought another time.