Cinequest Film and VR Festival 2017 Preview

by on February 28, 2017

2017 brings change to San Jose’s premiere international film festival Cinequest, which runs this year from February 28 to March 12.  The screening venues supplementing San Jose’s California and Hammer Theatres are primarily located at the Century 20 Redwood City.  Cinequest 2017’s other big change is an inaugural virtual reality (VR) program.  It consists of 10 film programs, forums and panels on VR technology issues, and over half a dozen workshops on the nuts and bolts of making VR films.

Here is a taste of what you can expect at Cinequest 2017:

The comedy “The Last Word” opens the festivities.  Legendary businesswoman Harriet Lauler (Shirley MacLaine) hires Anne (Amanda Seyfried) to write her life story.  However, Harriet’s business success is matched by personal relationships that end up as flaming trash heaps.  When the very controlling businesswoman begins altering her story to be more flattering, the beleaguered writer seriously regrets taking the job.

In “The Citizen,” African war refugee Wilson Ugabe is studying for his Hungarian citizenship exam.  But when he performs an act of kindness for a desperate pregnant Iranian woman, the effects of that selfless act changes his life in incredibly unexpected ways.

A real-life refugee experience is chronicled in the documentary “Levinsky Park.”  The titular Tel Aviv neighborhood is home to a community of sub-Saharan African refugees.  Yet culture clashes and apprehensions create tensions between these new arrivals and the already established Jewish community.   Can both groups find some common ground?

Class-based antagonism provides the dramatic engine for the English thriller “Monochrome.”   Fugitive anti-capitalist Emma becomes a serial killer of rich strangers.  Pursuing her is the young government detective Gabriel, whose synesthesia proves valuable in his investigation.

The psychological thriller “Revenge” hails from Norway.  Years ago, a terrible crime was committed against Rebekka’s younger sister.  Under a false name, Rebekka arrives at the Norwegian resort town where the perpetrator lives.  Her plan is to make him suffer before she kills him, even if he’s the town’s most charming and trusted man.

The documentary “What Happened In Vegas” will set off the Blue Lives Matter crowd.  It investigates three fatal shootings committed by Las Vegas police officers.  Friends and family of the shooting victims have to fight through both official police department character assassinations and the attempts to doctor evidence of the cops’ culpability.

Concealment without life and death stakes describes the drama “Flemish Heaven.”  Sylvie runs a very successful brothel business with her mother.  However, 6-year-old Eline is very curious about the place where Mommy works, and wants to visit the business.  When the little girl wanders into Sylvie’s brothel, everything changes.

To celebrate the 150th year of San Jose State University’s “Reed Magazine,” Cinequest will co-present with the magazine a night of “Poets and Film.”  The program combines live poetry readings with screenings of short poetry-themed films.  Renowned poet Kim Addonizio highlights the program.  Not only will she read her poetry, the festival will screen short film adaptations of her poems “Cigar Box Banjo” and “Creased Map of the Underworld.”  Joining Addonizio will be such poets as Lita Kurth, Robert Pesich, and Mighty Mike Mc Gee.

The shorts screening in the Cinequest VR cinema programs range from animation to immersive documentaries.  Viewers who’ve seen the touching Oscar-nominated animated short “Pearl” in its 2-D theatrical version will get to experience the film in its original VR format.  In “Hypatia,” participants tour a VR city specially created for Cinequest attendees.  The must-see “Collisions” recounts Australian indigenous elder Nyarri Morgan’s first encounter with Western culture, courtesy of his witnessing an atomic bomb test.  In “War Knows No Nation,” three veteran World War II tankers’ memories are brought to life with a combination of live action panorama footage and CG scenes.  “A Tango in San Francisco” blends an SF Ballet dancer’s biography with gorgeous footage of San Francisco.  And “Zika Virus 360: Inside the Epidemic’s Center in Recife” will immerse viewers in the world of parents and doctors dealing with the effects of the Zika virus.

The crowd-sourced documentary “India in a Day” may not have been made with VR.  But it manages to convey the incredible breadth of Indian life   On October 10, 2015, millions of ordinary Indians recorded on their webcams and smartphones footage of their day’s activities.  The resulting thousands of hours of footage got pared down into this cinematic portrait of the energy and life that defines this amazing country.

In “The Listen Project: The First Five Years,” musical artists from around the world attempt to preserve rare and intimate performances aimed at answering the question “What would we put in a time capsule that will be opened in 1000 years?”  This documentary shows the answer so far includes performances by Kazakh throat singers and Argentine dancers.

“The Commune” is the new film from director Thomas Vinterberg.  Anna and her husband inherit a very large house.  The couple turns the building into a commune and gets several friends to live with them.  But the initial joys of skinny-dipping and emotional honesty soon yield to the friendship-straining idiosyncracies that emerge from their living together day-to-day.

Closing out Cinequest is director Niki Caro’s World War II-drama “The Zookeeper’s Wife.”  Antonina Zabinska (Jessica Chastain) and husband Dr. Jan Zabinska (Johan Heldenbergh) are the successful custodians of the Warsaw Zoo.  But after Poland gets invaded by the Nazis, the Zabinskas become subordinates of Nazi zoologist Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl).  The couple decides to fight back by joining the Resistance and secretly helping Jews confined in the Warsaw ghetto.

Needless to say, there are more worthy films to be mentioned than there is space to actually mention them.  Readers are encouraged to check out the Cinequest website to find an unexpected treasure or a new favorite film.

(Cinequest runs from February 28, 2017 to March 12, 2017 at various venues in San Jose and Redwood City.  For readers interested in further information about the films offered or in ordering advance tickets, go to .)

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