Sonoma Intl Film Fest Survival Guide

If you are a filmmaker and you’re attending the Sonoma International Film Festival, you are in mortal danger. The extent to which one might enjoy oneself can reach a level of lethality unparalleled on the festival circuit. Oh, and congratulations.

Filmmakers of a certain disposition are advised to write a last will and testament prior to attending the annual event. This is not some proviso ordained by the festival’s legal team (who, I believe is an 18-year-old intern) but rather some advice from a film fest veteran who has popped as many corks as he once had neurons. Twenty-four frames a second looks like slow-motion when compared to the speed with which one can transit from rising star to supernova in the course of a winery mixer. Needless to say, the unbridled boozing that annually occurs here is no more the fault of the festival than civil engineers are responsible for bridge-jumpers. Be that as it may, there would be far less bridge-jumpers if there weren’t any bridges. Just sayin’.

Here, prophylactic measures are best. A colleague suggests ingesting an entire bottle of Pedialite, “an oral electrolyte solution that is specifically designed to replace fluids and minerals that are lost when a child has diarrhea with or without vomiting.” Apparently, it’s just as effective if you’re a 30-something with a mountain of credit debt, a feature film without distribution and a growing grudge against sobriety. You will note the bottle of wine in your swag-bag. This, dear filmmaker, is a preparatory offering meant to ease your liver into its cirrhotic journey toward oblivion. Where you go from there is entirely your choice, however, you’ll likely pass a wine bar on the way. And then another one. And so on.

Irish poet Seamus Heaney famously belched, “I’m a drinker with a writing problem.” For the uninitiated, a film festival set in Sonoma might look like a wine festival with a film problem. This is not entirely true, though there have been recorded instances when it’s become evident the only reason people were sitting in a dark theater was to nurse their hangovers. Or, because they’d woken up there. Though this is a great way to build an audience if you’re film is scheduled early in the day, one shouldn’t take offense if someone yells “Turn off the lights” when your film flickers onto the screen.

This brings to mind another cliche that is often repeated come festival time: “Friends don’t let friends do the Q&A drunk.” That is, unless those friends have films competing in the same category in which case it’s not personal it’s just The Business.

Speaking of the business, permit me to disabuse out-of-town filmmakers of the notion that they’re going to leave Sonoma with a three-picture deal. You’re not. Consider yourself lucky if you leave with a hangover and perhaps a social disease. Deals don’t get made here, so please do not patronize the patrons.

They’ve put a lot of money into the film festival to celebrate your talents and enjoy your company for a weekend. Don’t spoil it by getting greedy. The fact is, they have less money than you think, especially the ones willing to talk with you.

Consider this: if you and your mark are at the same party, chances are neither of you have any dough. See you there.