Cinequest 18 blazing new trails

In its relatively short existence of 18 years, and its proximity to San Francisco’s many festivals (including the granddaddy of them all, the 51-year-old International Film Festival), San Jose’s Cinequest has staked out a claim to innovation and unusual programming.

The 2008 festival, announced this week, selected 153 feature and short films from among 1,800 submissions, presenting 37 U.S., North American and world feature premieres, in three venues, between Feb. 27 and March 9. More than 100 first-time, emerging film artists are represented from 34 countries.

Two American films bracket the festival, opening with Paul Leuer’s “Eden Court” (world premiere) and closing with Charles Oliver’s “Take,” featuringMinnie Driver and Jeremy Renner.

The festival’s Latino Film Showcase includes Esteban Sapir’s “La Antena” (The Aerial), from Argentina; Andrew James’ “Una vida mejor” (A Better Life), U.S.-Mexico; Eva Norvind’s “Nacido Sin” (Born Without), Iván Ávila Dueñas’ “Enlightened Blood,” Juan Patricio Riveroll’s “Opera,” Jesus Magaña Vázquez’s “Once Upon a Time Maria,” and Sergio Umansky’s “It’s Better If Gabriela Doesn’t Die” — all from Mexico; and Pere Portabella’s “The Silence Before Bach” (SpainGermany).

The San Jose organization is the first in the world to offer online downloads of feature films in

DVD/HD quality. Beginning with Cinequest 14, in 2004, the festival has been available live in theaters and online.

“When we first introduced Cinequest Online in 2004, many people said it would never work,” Cinequest co-founder and executive director Halfdan Hussey said. “But we’ve seen great success with online distribution over the years, and of course now, we’re even seeing the studios doing it.”

Cinequest’s Maverick Awards this year go to actor John Leguizamo (“Moulin Rouge,” “E.R.,” “Ice Age”), writers Bobby Moresco (“Million Dollar Baby,” “Crash”) and Michael Arndt (“Little Miss Sunshine”).

“Our mission has always been to empower the Maverick,” Hussey says. “The mainstream film industry can be slow to try new technologies and distribution models. By definition, Maverick artists are early adopters, and we’re here to help them think beyond the traditional boundaries of how films are made, marketed and delivered.”

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