Cinequest turns 30 with films and much more

Silicon Valley fest offers latest in tech and live performances, too

Cinequest co-founder Halfdan Hussey admits he was surprised upon learning that many patrons attend the Silicon Valley film festival mostly because it brings them joy.

“It would have been the last thing I would have thought of, though it is what we want to communicate,” says Hussey. To that end, the theme of the 30th annual program — which runs March 3-15 in San Jose and Redwood City and features more than 150 film and virtual reality premieres as well as parties and live performances — is “elation.”

Cinequest is unique, Hussey says, because it’s diverse, innovative, inclusive and lacks pretension.

“We’ve never been about pomposity or intellectual elitism, there are no velvet ropes,” says Hussey, who adds that three-quarters of the films in the lineup come through open submissions.

He says the best way to navigate the wide range of offerings — from documentaries and dramas digging deep into complex issues to fun comedies and horror flicks — is to browse the 80-page guide, which clearly describes and categorizes the programming.

Hussey is particularly looking forward to the March 8 screening of the documentary “ruth weiss: beat goddess,” which includes an appearance by the 91-year-old Beat poet, who will read her work (joined by guest poets and a live band), and accept a Maverick Spirit award.

On March 9, “Port of Destiny: Peace,” about Juan Manuel Santos, former Colombian president and Nobel Prize winner, screens in an event with a talk by Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins, who is being honored with a visionary award, and media executive Pattie Sellers, cofounder of the Fortune Most Powerful Women ranking.

A new, community-focused program that screens “Hope for Breast Cancer,” detailing one woman’s efforts with natural treatment, benefits the nonprofit Stand Up To Cancer.

Hussey points to the contrast between opening and closing nights. Cinequest opens with “John Pinette: You Go Now,” a loving tribute to the late comedian (who appeared in the final episode of “Seinfeld”), screening in a light-hearted evening with comic Matt Donaher doing a standup set.

In contrast, the closing event is “Resistance,” a World War II set film starring Jesse Eisenberg as an aspiring Jewish actor — who years later became famed mime Marcel Marceau — who joins the French Resistance to save orphan children from Nazi atrocities. Eisenberg, director-writer Jonathan Jakubowicz and producer Claudine Jakubowicz will attend.

Hussey points to the success of Cinequest’s virtual and augmented reality programming, now in its fourth season, in Californa Theatre and nearby Kaleid Gallery.

“There’s been amazing growth in the quality of the storytelling, both techologically and with the artistry,” he says, mentioning that despite tons of money being poured in, “the content wasn’t there.” Adding, “now there’s a lot of great stuff,” he points to “Museum Alive with David Attenborough,” in which the eminent natural historian brings viewers up close to extinct creatures; and “Out There AR,” billed as “the world’s first truly immersive AR musical” with the voice of Vanessa Williams.

In its three decades, as Cinequest’s audience has increased from 3,000 to more than 100,000, and expanded from about 25 movies in one weekend to an extravaganza including comedy, dance, music, fashion, poetry, socials and evolving technology, Hussey says, “Creativity is what it’s about” in programs that aim to democratize opportunities for writers, technologists, artists and entreprenuers and for those who just want to have a wonderful experience.


Cinequest Film & Creativity Festival

Where: California Theatre, 345 South First St., Hammer Theatre Center, 101 Paseo De San Antonio, and 3Below, 288 South Second St. in San Jose; Century 20, 825 Middlefield Road in Redwood City

When: March 3 to March 15

Tickets: $12 to $55; $165 to $500 for passes

Contact: (408) 295-3378,

Cinequest opens Tuesday, March 3 with “John Pinette: You Go Now,” a tribute to the late comedian screening in a light-hearted evening with comic Matt Donaher doing standup. (Courtesy photo)

Cinequest opens Tuesday, March 3 with “John Pinette: You Go Now,” a tribute to the late comedian screening in a light-hearted evening with comic Matt Donaher doing standup. (Courtesy photo)


“John Pinette: You Go Now,” 7:15 p.m. March 3 at California

Poets N Film with ruth weiss, 2 p.m. March 8 at Hammer

“Port of Destiny: Peace,” 7:15 p.m. March 9 at California

“Hope for Breast Cancer,” 6:15 p.m. March 11 and 6:10 p.m. March 15 in Redwood City; 11:15 a.m. March 14 at Hammer

“Resistance,” 6 p.m. March 15 at California


Asking for It: Becky Scott and Amanda Lundquist’s thriller comedy is about a woman who takes justice into her own hands when her internet stalker walks free from the law. 4:40 p.m. March 7 at Hammer, 9:35 p.m. March 8 in Redwood City, 10 p.m. March 13 at California

Faraway Eyes: Christina Ricci, Andy Karl and Nora Arnezede star in Harry Greenberger’s fantasy-dark-comedy-romance about the meaning of love, set in the afterlife. 9 p.m. March 7 at California, 2 p.m March 8 and 8:50 p.m. March 14 in Redwood City; 11:45 a.m. March 13 at Hammer

Fox Hunt Drive: In the thriller by Drew Walkup, a rideshare driver finds herself in danger after picking up a mysterious passenger. 7 p.m. March 6, 9 p.m. March 10 and 1:30 p.m. March 12 in Redwood City; 9:30 p.m. March 9 at California

The Mimic: Thomas F. Mazziotti’s comedy explores the “lighter side of being a sociopath,” telling the story of how a writer’s life is upturned when he is befriended by a younger neighbor. 4:30 p.m. March 7 and 4:45 p.m. March 11 at California; 7 p.m. March 9 and 6:15 p.m. March 14 in Redwood City

Take Out Girl: Director Hisonni Johnson premieres the film about a desperate 20-year-old Asian woman, who, to save her family’s failing restaurant, parlays her Chinese food delivery expertise into a profitable drug hustle. 9 p.m. March 7 and 8:50 p.m. March 13 in Redwood City; 9:30 p.m. March 9 and 2:45 p.m. March 15 at Hammer

Tingle Monsters: The short horror film created by and starring Alexandra Serio is about an ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) vlogger with a devoted fan base who returns from an extended absence with a livestream that spirals out of control. 8:45 p.m. March 6, 9:15 p.m. March 11 and 10:15 a.m. March 15 in Redwood City, 11:30 a.m. March 7 at California

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