Voted Best Film Festival in the USA

It’s been called many things from “A Bastion of Discovery” to “The Future of Film” to “The Cure”. I set down with the co-founders of the Cinequest Film & Creativity Festival to find out what they call it. The answers were quite divergent.

“I call it a lot of sleepless nights.”—Cinequest Co-founder & President Kathleen J. Powell

Powell’s partner holds a more lofty view:

“Cinequest is a qualitative organization, focusing on impact to an individual or a community — rippling to the world. Cinequest’s uniqueness stems from being always ahead of the curve in the giving of opportunity, the democratization of voice and the disruption of outdated systems. It’s a celebration of Maverick originality, a laboratory of new ideas, and an enabler of creativity, all rolled into one.” — Cinequest Co-founder & CEO Halfdan Hussey

Whatever you want to call it, one thing’s for sure, the Cinequest Film & Creativity Festival is happening March 3 – 15 in San Jose and Redwood City, California. And there’s a lot happening:

Let’s talk film. There’s 140 World and U.S. Premiere movies. How do you sort through them to find what you want? They’ve devised a system they call “Cinequesters”, emotive categories including Laughs, Inspiration, Life, Thrills, Innovation, and Celebration (which means parties with films—more on that later).

I couldn’t get the program director to give me his top picks (as he said with a grin “Cinequest must love all their children equally”), but I did get an anonymous programmer to give some staff picks including:

All Joking Aside | Laughs A young woman who dreams of becoming a stand-up comic forms an unlikely friendship with a jaded former comedian after he heckles her off the stage. Country: Canada (World Premiere)

Asking for It | Laughs A journalist takes justice into her own hands when her internet stalker walks free from the law. Starring: Stephanie Hsu (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Path), Irene Morales (Labor Days), Janeane Garofalo, (Wet Hot American Summer, The Truth About Cats and Dogs.) Country: USA (World Premiere)

Before the Fire | Thrills After a global pandemic, an up and coming TV star is forced to flee the mounting chaos in L.A. and return to her rural hometown. Starring: Jenna Lyng Adams (The Kominsky Method) Country: USA (World Premiere)

Bleeding Audio | Life Told through the eyes of quirky, charming, and humble bandmates; an intimate portrait detailing The Matches’ promising career, defeating break up, and inspiring reunion, as they reflect on what success truly means for musicians in today’s digital industry. Country: USA (World Premiere)

Butter | Life A bullied, lonely obese teenager everyone calls “Butter” threatens to eat himself to death, live on the Internet, but it makes him popular. Starring: Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite, Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion), Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump, Heat), Annabeth Gish (Mystic Pizza, The Haunting of Hill House). Country: USA (World Premiere)

Disrupted | Thrills An Oakland widower’s thirst for justice is rekindled when a local killing is oddly similar to his wife’s unsolved murder from decades ago. Country: USA (World Premiere)

Far East Deep South | Life A Chinese-American family’s search for their roots leads them to the Mississippi Delta, where they stumble upon surprising family revelations and uncover the racially complex history of the early Chinese in the segregated South. Country: USA (World Premiere)

Faraway Eyes | Laughs An out-of-work actor dies right after a bad breakup, awakening into an afterlife in which he learns he must find true love among the other recently dead single New Yorkers in order to pass over to the other side. Starring: Christina Ricci (The Addams Family, The Ice Storm, Black Snake Moan, The Opposite of Sex Country: USA (World Premiere)

Fried Barry | Thrills An alien assumes control of a drug addict’s body and takes it for a bizarre joyride through Cape Town, South Africa. Country: South Africa (World Premiere)

John Pinette: You Go Now | Laughs Comedian John Pinette rocketed to fame in the 90s, where his kind, outsized personality was equally matched by his outsized frame. Country: USA (World Premiere)

Love Type D | Laughs A woman who has been dumped eleven times in a row, discovers to her dismay that she has a loser in love gene. Country: United Kingdom (North American Premiere)

The Mimic | Laughs An exploration of the lighter side of being a sociopath, when a writer is befriended by a younger neighbor, and his life is upturned. Starring: Jake Robinson (The Carrie Diaries), Thomas Sadoski (Life in Pieces), M. Emmet Walsh (Blade Runner), Marilu Henner (Taxi), Austin Pendleton (My Cousin Vinny), Jessica Walter (Arrested Development), Gina Gershon (Bound). Country: USA (World Premiere)

Naughty Books | Life As sexy as it is smart, Naughty Books examines the steamy world of erotic romance, following three self-published authors who go from living at the margins to making millions. Narrators: Aimee Garcia (Dexter, Lucifer), Allison Tolman (Emergence, Fargo), Aisha Tyler (Criminal Minds, Archer). Country: USA (World Premiere)

Shifter | Thrills A young woman struggles with the painful and gruesome side effects of an experiment with time travel gone wrong that causes her to lose control and shift through time at random. Country: USA (World Premiere)

Useless Humans | Laughs A thirtieth birthday — and the survival of mankind — are left hanging in the balance after a mysterious creature crashes the party, forcing five childhood friends to save the world. Country: USA (World Premiere)

Move over film, VR, I mean AR, is the new rage at Cinequest. They exist in the Silicon Valley and have been known as the place to discover new media technologies. From digital film making to delivery, you would have experienced much of the firsts at Cinequest past…and some great experiments like three screen cinema as well. Their new bag (fourth year of it) is a Virtual and Augmented reality showcase running in parallel with the film festival. Here’s a few highlights:

DINO MUNDI | XR Experience | Travel to an ancient time when dinosaurs ruled our young planet where you’ll walk and be transported through 3 different worlds of dinosaurs. An experience which will engage all your senses. Country: USA & Brazil (North American Premiere)

LIFE-GIVER | VR Cinema | Director(s): Petter Lindblad, Alexander Rönnberg | A mother and her daughters, caught in a dystopian future where the environment is completely destroyed, fight to ensure they are part of the planetary evacuation. Country: Sweden (World Premiere)

VERTIGO | VR Cinema| Director(s): Rona Soffer| Rona lost her ability to keep her balance after a childhood car accident. She dreams of moving to the rhythm of music. In her mind she never lost her freedom, and with the help of dance partners, can her body keep up? Country: Israel (World Premiere)

MUSEUM ALIVE WITH DAVID ATTENBOROUGH | AR Experience| Come face to face with breathtaking extinct creatures, guided by Natural History legend Sir David Attenborough. See a Dimorphodon fly and discover what lies under the skin of a leaping Sabre-toothed tiger. Country: United Kingdom (North American Premiere)

OUT THERE | AR Musical | The world’s first truly immersive AR musical with the beautiful voice of Vanessa Williams! Immersed in the song, you’ll explore a real-life set, meeting Liv, a young girl who has never left her bedroom and longs to fly away like the birds in the paintings decorating her room. Country: France / USA (North American Premiere)

WARPED | VR Cinema | Director(s): Bryan Robbins | Piloting a spacecraft around a space station to investigate a signal disturbance, you’re suddenly greeted by unfriendly visitors. Country: USA (World Premiere)

The Maverick theme’s been with them from day one. After all, these folks have Steve Wozniak and Marty Cooper on their leadership council so they know what doing something wild and crazy means. The founders speak of the Maverick as being the best of the spirit of the innovator and the artist and tell the story of the word’s origin: “Samuel L. Maverick was a rancher whose calves were the only unbranded ones.” They have given their Maverick Spirit Award to Nicolas Cage, Rosario Dawson, J.J. Abrams, Harrison Ford, and Elle Fanning. This year it goes to Hong Chau, Ruth Weiss, and Jesse Eisenberg.

I guess that’s not enough folks… They’ve started adding in more performance art. They call them Creativity Experiences. Some are stand alone and some are added value performances before movies.

And like all great celebrations (and this is their 30th anniversary), they’ve got plenty of parties to boot. The Opening Celebration includes Matt Donaher’s standup before the unveiling of John Pinette: You Go Now. The After Party includes a DJ showdown and more at The Glass House. The Closing Event focusses on Eisenberg’s new film Resistance and a party at Corinthian Ballroom. In between they have a full lineup of happy-hour meetups called Soirees in various San Jose venues plus the new Chan Zuckerberg Institute facility in Redwood City. They have a series of nightly Socials in San Jose and a great “cheap-date” concept called Redwood City Meet The Artists Parties which gets you a film, booze, and music for $20.

I asked co-founder Powell if she was going to get any sleep during the festival. “Unlikely,” she replied. For the good of Cinequest and those who enjoy it, I do hope she finds time to rest after March 15.

All event information, tickets, and passes at

—P.D. Crane

Just Posted

Crab fisherman Skip Ward of Marysville casts his crab net out off a pier near Fort Point. (Craig Lee/Special to The	Examiner)
San Francisco came back to life, and we captured it all

Last spring, in the early days of the pandemic, the bestselling authors… Continue reading

Revelers at Madrone Art Bar in the early hours of June 15, 2021 (Courtesy Power Quevedo).
No social distancing at Motown-themed dance party

‘I don’t care how anyone feels, I just want to dance!’

<em>The San Francisco Peace Pagoda stands tall in between Japan Center East and West malls.</em>
 (Ida Mojadad/The Examiner)
Patrons return to the Japantown mall

‘We’re so happy—it’s really hard to make a profit’

Scenes from an SFO-bound BART train on Tuesday, June 15, 2021, the day California fully reopened for business after the COVID pandemic. (Al Saracevic/SF Examiner)
SF reopens: BART riders dreading the end of the pandemic

‘I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be packed like sardines’

Micael Butial stands as he holds an umbrella that he painted with the words “Stop Asian Hate” at a rally held to show support for Asian and Pacific Islanders communities, Sunday, March 21, 2021 in San Francisco. (Photo by Ekevara Kitpowsong/Special to S.F. Examiner)
Inside the California organization tracking anti-Asian hate incidents

By Mallika Seshadri CalMatters Richard Lim was walking along a quiet sidewalk… Continue reading

Most Read