Lights, Camera…Cliche!

For about a decade, it’s been my professional privilege to write something pithy about the Sonoma International Film Festival, in all its various incarnations, for any of a number of affiliations. Google my name and “film festival” and one will find enough published pixels to cobble together a couple of digital flicks with some to spare for the DVD “extras.”

Which is also why I dread writing about the festival which, in of itself, has never been short of a peak experience for me, whether that be boozing it up with a bunch of weekending showbiz types or waking up under a bench in the Plaza with the sinking feeling that I sold my life story to some crank for the price of a Glarifee. Such phenomena are part of what film historians may someday call the “total festival experience” and, as such, are a pleasure to recount in print when one can remember them. It’s the lead paragraphs that I dread writing. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve written and deleted “Hollywood and Vines” in the last half-hour. That phrase, which facilely conflates the motion picture business and wine country, has been my standby film fest line for years. Its shabbier alternate “Lights, camera, appellation,” has also seen its share of deaths and resurrections on this page. I once used the opening line, “Wine, women and – film?” in the San Francisco Chronicle a few years back when the program featured special honors for a gaggle of actresses. I can only surmise the reason my editor didn’t mercy kill the line, or me for that matter, was because she too was flummoxed by the issue.

Another winner was ye olde “a vintner’s blend of” trope, which preceded a laundry list of genres, events and sundries in a tidy, if tired, opening line. I’m pretty sure I’ve used “vintner’s blend” in other Sonoma contexts like “a vintner’s blend of barbeque accessories” and a “vintner’s blend of parking violations.” Remember, a vintner’s blend of failed metaphors is like a winemaker’s cuvee of similes. The film festival’s Web presence,, has its own lead line that’s only a notch above the inanity of mine: “Lights. Camera. Corkscrews. Action.” Granted, they annually face the same problem I do in re-packaging the festival such that it’s always exciting and new, though some dark part of me thinks it would have read better as “Lights, camera, screw-cap, action.” Somehow, that’s a better budgetary fit for the indie film types soon to swarm our village. And here’s the funny part – certain Sonomans will bitch that screw-caps don’t necessarily infer cheap wine and the filmmakers will bitch that they’re out of it.

Not that all filmmakers are drunks with entitlement issues – just the good ones. Fortunately, the collective generosity fomented by the festival always results in a lot of purple, capped teeth. For ours is not a market festival wherein deals are made and careers are born. The Sonoma International Film Festival is what I once dubbed a “resort festival.” Filmmakers don’t come here seeking the Holy Grail in a three-picture – they’re here because the cup is always half-full in Sonoma, both literally and figuratively, and for many, this is about as good as it will ever get.

Which brings me to how I should have started this damn column: There are no second takes, so get ready for your close up, Sonoma. It’s just us, the cameras and those wonderful people out there in the dark …

Daedalus Howell’s film “Life of Making” screens as part of the Sonoma International Film Festival at 6:30 p.m., Saturday, April 17 and April 18, with “The Desert of Forbidden Art” and “American Artifact: The Rise of American Rock Poster Art” respectively. Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, 551 Broadway, Sonoma.

Ever the intrepid reporter, Howell will offer live coverage, from tweets and blogs to streaming video reports, throughout the Sonoma International Film Festival, April 15 to 18, at

About Daedalus Howell

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