Hey there!. It’s one of my favorites times of year again, not only am I turning 30 this week, but Cinequest starts! Below you will find information about __ films I recommend checking out at this year’s Cinequest Film Festival. Cinequest, is an amazing treat for fans of cinema in the Bay Area. I am proud to say I have attended regularly and seen at least 8 films every year since 2010. Check out those that I recommend based on being able to see them via online screener or judging from the information available (trailers, plot summaries, familiar cast/directors). With so many films (more than 200) showing, both feature and documentary, it is hard to pick what to watch so perhaps this guide can help you. The films are showing at four different locations, two of them in downtown San Jose (California Theatre & Hammer Theatre) as well as Santana Row (CineArts) & Redwood City (Century Theatre on Middelfield Rd).
Tier 1 (Must-See).
- Wednesday (Chaharshanbe) (Iran)
*North America Premiere*
Directed by Soroush Mohammadzadeh
Written by Peyman Naaji & Soroush Mohammadzadeh
Starring: Shahab Hosseini, Arman Darvish, Nasim Adabi, Gity Ghassemi
This film surrounding family issues is a great example of modern Iranian cinema and the realist movement. With strong performances, the film is technically sound and through great dialogue and plot structure, it really picks up and never lets go. I must say, the cinematography and editing was superb here, often not the case in your average Iranian film nowadays. The film has been shown in Sao Paolo International Film Festival, International Antalya Film Festival & London’s Iranian Film Festival.
3/1/17 – 1:30pm (Santana Row, Screen 6)
3/2/17 – 4:30pm (Redwood City, Screen 3)
3/8/17 – 9:15pm (Redwood City, Screen 3)
3/10/17 – 10:30am (Hammer Theatre SJ)
Directed by Carlos Melendez
Written by Gabriel Reyes & Carlos Melendez
Starring: Hector Kotsifakis, Sharon Zundel
A provocative film about a timid architect who deals with local neighborhood residents constantly harassing him. He gets a new job at a construction firm and ends up in a corruption plot, while also dealing with subtle harassment at work. The film is well directed and written and features a great performance from Hector Kotsifakis. The film was previously screened at Sydney’s Independent film festival as well FICMY and a few other festivals in Mexico.
3/5/17 – 3:45pm (Redwood City, Screen 18)
3/6/17 – 9:15pm (Redwood City, Screen 11)
3/10/17 – 9:15pm (Santana Row, Screen 6)
3/12/17 – 10:30am (California Theatre SJ)
3. Imitation Girl (USA)
*North America Premiere*
Written & Directed by Natasha Kermani.
Cast: Lauren Ashley Carter, Lewis Black, Adam David Thompson, Sanam Erfani, Neima Djourabchi, Kevin O’Rourke.
Natasha Kermani’s poetic sci-fi/drama about a mysterious woman who lands on earth and assumes the identity of the first person she sees, which happens to be a porn-star named Julianna Fox, whose image is on the front of an adult magazine. The film simultaneously shows us Julianna’s struggles, and this new guest of our planet’s tribulations. This is a compelling and thought-provoking drama that is sure to intrigue and entertain.
3/4/17 – 7:30pm (Redwood City, Screen 2)
3/5/17 – 4:05pm (Redwood City, Screen 3)
3/7/17 – 1:00pm (Redwood City, Screen 10)
3/11/17 – 6:30pm (Santana Row, Screen 6)
3/12/17 – 10:30am (Hammer Theatre SJ)
4. The Citizen (Az Allampolgar) (Hungary)
*North America Premiere
Directed by Roland Vranik
Written by Ivan Szabo & Roland Vranik.
Starring: Dr. Cake-Baly Marcelo, Agnes Mahr, Arghavan Shekari.
This compelling drama about Wilson Ugabe, a refugee from a Brutal War, now residing in Budapest that is studying to become a Hungarian citizen. Wilson’s life changes when an unexpected guest, a desperate, pregnant Iranian immigrant appears at his doorstep. The film is poetic and conveys a sophisticated level of humanity. The film was previously shown at Stockholm Film Festival.
3/2/17 – 9:35pm (Redwood City, Screen 2)
3/8/17 – 6:45pm (Redwood City, Screen 3)
3/9/17 – 1:30pm (California Theatre SJ)
3/11/17 – 8:30pm (Redwood City, Screen 18)
5. Painless (USA)
Written and Directed by Jordan Horowitz.
Starring Joey Klein, Kip Gilman, Evalena Marie, Pascal Yen-Pfister.
Horowitz’s examination of a complex character, Henry, with a rare disease which does not allow him to feel physical pain. Henry lives his life in a precautionary state, afraid that he will be unaware of an injury or illness. He obsesses and conducts his own clinical trials and seems to be willing to go to crazy lengths to find his cure. Combine this and his budding friendship with a barista, Shani, who is intrigued by him. The film features some great performances which do justice to the creative premise for this Sci-Fi/drama. I was impressed with Kip Gilman in the lead, and felt the production values were very strong.
3/2/17 – 7pm (Hammer Theatre SJ)
3/3/17 – 4:45pm (Redwood City, Screen 2)
3/5/17 – 10:45am (Santana Row CineArts, Screen 6)
3/9/17 – 8:50pm (Redwood City, Screen 11)
3/10/17 – 1:45pm (Redwood City, Screen 3)
6. Forgotten Man (Canada/UK) –
Written & Directed by Arran Shearing
Cast: Obi Abili, Eleanor McLoughlin, Jerry Hall, Christopher Leveaux, Tyler Dawson, Toby Wharton, Errol McGlashan.
An interesting comedy/drama shot in black & white which chronicles Carl, a young actor in a theatre company for the homeless, who meets a wealthy young woman, Meredith, who is town for a family affair. He goes on an elaborate escapade with her, but leaves out some key details about his social background and current living situation/occupation. The acting is first-rate, and there are some really good moments in the script. This film has some very subtle notions that I felt the director did a good job of shedding light on.
3/2/17 – 6:50 PM (Redwood City, Screen 18)
3/4/17 – 11AM (CAL Theatre SJ)
3/5/17 – 9:00PM (Redwood City Century 20, Screen 2))
3/9/17 – 1:30PM (Santana Row, Screen 6)
3/11/17 – 9:00PM (Redwood CIty Century 20, Screen 2)
7. The Valley (USA)
Written & Directed by Saila Kariat
Cast: Alyy Khan, Suchitra Pillai, Jake T. Austin, Agneeta thacker, Christa B. Allen, Barry Corbin, Salma Khan.
Saila Kariat’s gripping drama about a wealthy Silicon Valley couple who copes with the sudden suicide of their youngest daughter. Her father, Neil, searches for answers about what happened and starts to unveil vital issues within his own conscience and relationships. A well-written drama with impressive production values from the first-time writer/director.
3/5/17 – 7:00pm (Cal Theatre SJ)
3/6/17 – 4:15pm (Redwood City, Screen 11)
3/9/17 – 9:15pm (Redwood City, Screen 2)
3/11/17 – 4:15pm (Redwood City, Screen 11)
8. The Teacher (Slovakia)
Directed by Jan Hrebejk
Written by Petr Jarchovsky
Cast: Zuzana Maurery, Zuzana Koncecna, Csongor Kassai, Martin Havelka
3/1/17 – 9:45pm (Cal Theatre SJ)
3/2/17 – 6:00pm (Santana Row Screen 6)
3/12/17 – 3:45pm (Redwood City Screen 2)
An interesting story of a new schoolteacher in a suburban Slovakian school who is accused of extorting parents for their particular talents/trades in exchange for their children’s quality of education. A film that is entertaining, comedic and thought-provoking thanks to witty writing, stellar direction and a very talented cast.
9. Past Imperfect (Le Passe devant Nous) (Belgium/Netherlands)
*North American Premiere*
Written & Directed by Nathalie Teirlinck
Cast: Evelyne Brochu, Zuri Francois, Adonis Danieletto, Gullaume Duhesme
3/4/17 – 9:15pm (Redwood City, Screen 11)
3/5/17 – 1:10pm (Redwood City, Screen 18)
3/7/17 – 4:15pm (CAL Theatre, SJ)
3/11/17 – 12:45pm (Santana Row CineArts, Screen 6)
Alice leads a routine life as an escort and dodges social contact. When she’s forced to take care of her son after the death of her ex, her apparent indifference seems to fade away and she gets confronted with her emotional emptiness.
10. Aloys (Switzerland/France)
Writen & Directed by Tobias Nolle
3/1/17 – 4pm (Santana Row, Screen 6)
3/2/17 – 930pm (Redwood City, Screen 3)
3/7/17 – Hammer Theatre SJ
Aloys is a quiet man, who has spent his life on the outside, observing others through an extensive hobby of filming and audio recording his neighbors and their intimate interactions. After his tapes are stolen, he accepts a mysterious phone call and an invitation to engage in the fantastical practice of “telephone walking” in exchange for the return of his tapes. In doing so, he escapes his physical world, exploring the depths of his imagination. Falling in love with the voice at the other end of the line, he begins to trace a thread of connection with others. Aloys is a thoughtful and beautifully creative meditation on loneliness and the search for companionship. – Megan Koehler
11. Hedgehog (USA)
Written & Directed by Lindsey Copeland
Starring: Madeline Brewer, Ann Dowd, Danny Deferrari
3/4/17 – 3:45pm (Redwood City, Screen 11)
3/6/17 – 9:10pm (Redwood City (Screen 2)
3/8/17 – 1:30pm (CAL THeatre SJ)
3/11/17 – 1:10pm (Redwood City, Screen 3)
3/12/17 1:15pm (Redwood City, Screen 18)
12. Train Driver’s Diary (Serbia/Montenegro)
Written & Directed by Milos Radovic
3/1/17 – 2:00pm (CAL Theatre SJ)
3/8/17 – 9:45pm (CAL Theatre SJ)
3/10/17 – 7:00pm (Santana Row, Screen 6)
During their professional career, every train driver inadvertently kills about 20 people. Ilija, a seasoned driver close to retirement, holds an infamous record of 28 and is haunted by some persistent ghosts of the past. When he meets an orphaned boy, they strike up an unlikely friendship. However, when the youngster wants to succeed him in the hazardous trade, it seems Ilija’s troubles are far from over… A distinctly eccentric, delectably dark, and hilarious tragicomedy set literally on the railroad tracks, Train Driver’s Diary is a true marvel of charming retro feel and a tribute to families found in the most unusual circumstances. – Liva Petersone
13. Flemish Heaven (Belgium)
Written & Directed by Peter Monsaert
3/4/17 – 3:15pm (Redwood City, Screen 18)
3/6/17 – 6:30pm (Redwood City, Screen 3)
3/9/17 – 1:00pm (Hammer Theatre SJ)
Sylvie and her mother have run their family’s brothel business for years. They’re quite good at it, as proven through their many repeat customers and great online reviews. However, Sylvie’s daughter, Eline, has become increasingly interested in the place where Mommy works. And, for all her mother does to protect her (having her stay in the car, or with her uncle), Eline can’t help but be a curious six-year-old—wandering into the brothel one day. That’s when everything changes. Peter Monsaert (Offline, Cinequest 2013) directs this hauntingly beautiful drama that is at times intense and chilling, but which always preserves its message that family is of the utmost importance.
14. Goldstone (Australia)
Writen & Directed by Ivan Sen
3/4/17 – 6:45pm (CAL Theatre SJ)
Director Ivan Sen’s Goldstone picks up where Mystery Road (Cinequest, 2014) left off. Aboriginal Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) arrives in Goldstone, a frontier mining town in the middle of the desert, in search of a missing person. However, the investigation stirs things up, and the townsfolk aren’t too thrilled by having him there. As he digs deeper, it becomes apparent the town had an unsavory history of nepotism and crime. Cinematically radiant with the backdrop of the Australian outback, Goldstone pays respect to its ancestral heritage while layers of drama and politics are unpeeled—making for a piece of evocative and intelligent entertainment.
Directed by Thomas Vinterburg
Writen by Tobias Lindholm & Thomas Vinterburg
3/6/17 – 7:00pm (CAL Theatre SJ)
When a large house is bequeathed to a Danish couple, Anna, the wife, sees an opportunity to explore her wilder side by living communally. At first, the playful group skinny dips, and a place of emotional honesty and peace seems within reach. But as the novelty wears off and everyday life exposes human flaws, the ensuing conflict sends Anna—and her marriage—to the brink. Another brilliant film by director Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt, The Celebration), The Commune is an emotionally charged, riveting dive into the depths of love, jealousy, and possession. – Pia Chamberlain
16. The Moderns (Los Modernos) (Uruguay)
*North American Premiere*
Writen & Directed by Mauro Sarser & Marcela Matta
3/1/17 – 8:30pm (Santana Row, Screen 6)
3/3/17 – 4:00pm (CAL Theatre, SJ)
3/11/17 – 4:00pm (Redwood City, Screen 3)
Fausto, a narcissistic and pretentious intellectual working in advertising, can’t stop arguing with his girlfriend Clara, a professionally accomplished woman and a mother of two children, over the status of their relationship. Following their breakup, Fausto jumps straight into an affair with a young actress, while Clara explores previously unchartered territories when starting to see another woman. Yet, their story is not over, as carnal desires and lingering emotions take over their sensible resolutions. A brilliantly articulated and poignantly funny portrait of a clash between artistic aspirations and financial security, family commitments and personal freedom, The Moderns is a dazzling and entertaining commentary on the myriad challenges relationships face in today’s world. – Liva Petersone
17. Una (United Kingdom)
Directed by Benedict Andrews
Written by David Harrower
3/7/17 – 7:00pm (CAL Theatre SJ)
How do you forget the past when it won’t forget you? Una has unfinished business with Ray. It’s been years since they’ve seen each other, yet Una wants answers to questions that she’s been obsessing about for over ten years; questions of the man who sexually assaulted her at 13-years-old. But, some answers shouldn’t be sought, and once she confronts him at his workplace, in his new life, the course of everything is changed forever. Famed theater director, Benedict Andrews, takes David Harrower’s screenplay (adapted from his own play, Blackbird) and orchestrates an ominous, passionate tale of rage and fragility that will leave you breathless by the final frame. – Michael Rabehl
18. Hunting Flies (Norway)
Written & Directed by Izer Aliu
3/1/17 – 1:30pm (Hammer Theatre SJ)
3/2/17 – 8:30pm (Santana Row, Screen 6)
3/10/17 – 9:00pm (Redwood City, Screen 18)
Ghani is in crisis mode. With a new government in power in Macedonia, it typically means everyone will lose his/her job to make room for educators of which the regime approves. Most of the teachers at the school are willing to sit idly by, go about their day, slap around some unruly students, and wait to see what happens. But, Ghani has something else in mind and locks himself and his students in their classroom, so they can all resolve their issues. Hunting Flies is a timely and very brave debut from director Izer Aliu, who fuses the ideas from filmmaking greats (like Abbas Kiarostami) to offer a biting commentary on the rise and fall of dictatorship through the eyes of youth. – Michael Rabehl
19. Exiled (Latvia/Lithuania)
*North American Premiere*
Directed by Davis Simanis
Written by Davis Simanis & Tabita Rudzate
3/5/17 – 6pm (Redwood City, Screen 11)
3/7/17 – 6:20pm (Redwood City, Screen 11)
3/8/17 – 4:00pm (Redwood City, Screen 3)
World War I might be nearing its end, but for the patients suffering from shell shock in an isolated convalescent home, the war is always present. Ulrich, a doctor for the German army, is sent to inspect the home, but the strange world he encounters when he arrives seems more fiction than his cold, rational mind can comprehend. When a blood-curdling cry from a wild boy draws Ulrich into the forest, he knows he must save the child. Little does he know, that the unlikely and endearing connection the two forge, will lead him to discovering his one true self. Director Davis Simanis crafts a visual masterpiece, filled with hauntingly beautiful imagery and bizarre logic. It’s a dark yet fascinating universe, unfolding like a Kafkaesque dream that will keep you guessing long after the screen fades to black.
20. Anishoara (Germany/Moldova)
*North American Premiere*
Written & Directed by Ana Felicia Scutelnicu
3/1/17 – 7pm (Redwood City, Screen 11)
3/3/17 – 1:30pm (CAL Theatre SJ)
3/8/17 – 6pm (Santana Row, Screen 6)
Her watchful gaze, graceful and muted, strikes a chord much like the works of Impressionist painters, so profound and breathtaking. Anishoara follows the almost speechless titular character through her daily life, doing chores, running through fields, and falling in love. A world is built in the Moldovan countryside, a timeless and ancient place – the way that Anishoara looks at the facets of life in her village lends a sort of mysticism to the film. Director Ana-Felicia Scutelnicu orchestrates Anishoara with delicacy and subtlety, giving life to a timeless country, giving way for romanticism to flourish separately from the externalities of the world outside of Moldova. – Joseph Morales
21. King of the Belgians (Belgium/Netherlands)
Written & Directed by Peter Brosens & Jessica Woodworth
3/1/17 – 6:15pm (Santana Row, Screen 6)
3/9/17 – 9:10pm (Redwood City, Screen 3)
3/12/17 – 3:15pm (Hammer Theatre SJ)
A sly and delightful “mockumentary” featuring the “only-for-show” monarch of Belgium. Stuck in Turkey with only his entourage and a documentarian without air travel or cell phones (both having been knocked out by a cosmic event) they attempt to get back to Belgium to confront a domestic crisis before the clock runs out. As the reluctant travelers encounter one ridiculous road block after another, the king begins to wrestle his way out of the royal cocoon, while his troupe of elites attempt to mingle with locals, learning to relieve the pressures of protocol and live a little. Infused with a droll humor, this gem gives a gentle yet insightful critique of the place of monarchies in the modern world, and a close-up view of a King as he races to prevent his country from falling apart. – Pia Chamberlain
22. Loop (Hungary)
*North American Premiere*
Written & Directed by Isti Madarasz
3/1/17 – 9:45pm (Redwood City, Screen 18)
3/2/17 – 4:30pm (CAL Theatre SJ)
3/4/17 – 9:45pm (Santana Row, Screen 6)
3/9/17 – 9:45pm (CAL Theatre SJ)
Imagine the worst day of your life. Now, insert Adam who happens to be reliving his day endlessly. Loop pulls together a supernatural story of a man who gets a second chance to do what is right… then a third, and a fourth. In hopes of saving his wife and future child, Adam has to brave his nightmares and prove himself worthy. Fighting to uncover a scandal that leads to his own demise, Adam seems to be getting in the way of himself. This fast-paced, sci-fi thriller re-defines “the edge of your seat,” leaving one with a thorough boggling of the mind. – Nobuki Fujioka
*I must note that I have not seen all the above films yet, but plan to. I have already seen #1-8 above, but plan on seeing #9-24 either via screener or at a screenings at Cinequest this year. However based on the information at hand, recommendations from cinequest programmers & other critics, I felt they needed to be included in this list. A wrap-up with my favorite film and performances from this year’s cinequest will be posted around the end of the festival. I have seen 18 films so far via press screeners & only 8 made this list (they are the #1-8 listed above).
Written by Arman “StrongArm” Mahmoudi