Ed and I recently attended a Napa Valley Film Festival (NVFF) sneak preview of a terrific film: Woman in Gold, at the Cameo theater--the oldest single-screen theater in the US--in St. Helena, California. The film starred the immensely talented Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds and was directed by Simon Curtis (My Life with Marilyn). Mirren stars as the Jewish exile Maria Altmann, who escaped from Austria and likely death in the camps; she sought the restitution of the luminous Gustav Klimt painting--in shimmering gold and oil on canvas--of her aunt Adele Bloch-Bauer, the subject of the painting, and four other Klimt paintings, all looted by the Nazi's in World War II Austria from her family.
At the time of the 8-year effort to regain the paintings, the one named "Portrait of Adele Block-Bauer 1" (1907) was considered by many to be Austria's Mona Lisa. Reynolds played her only-32-year-old attorney, E. Randol (Randy) Schoenberg, grandson of Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, who himself fled Austria in 1933, and son of Altmann's close friend. Together Altmann and Schoenberg took the claim against the Austrian government all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which found in favor of Altmann. The Austrian federal art museum, the Belvedere, where the paintings had been exhibited, returned the paintings to their rightful owner--Altmann.
Following the screening, David Glasser, President and COO of The Weinstein Company, which generously provided the film, participated in a Q&A with Festival founder Marc Lhormer. (See photo.)
The film was especially poignant for Ed and me as we had attended a showing of the painting "Portrait of Adele Block-Bauer 1" at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) shortly after it was returned to Maria Altmann in 2006. We met both Altmann and Schoenberg there. Although LACMA had so much wanted to acquire the painting, it was purchased by Jewish philanthropist and cosmetics heir Ron Lauder (son of Estee Lauder), for $135 million and hangs in his Neue Galerie in New York City. The other four Klimt paintings were sold at auction for $192.7 million. The combined proceeds for the five paintings were bequethed to her heirs. Altmann passed away in 2011 just after her 95th birthday. What a woman!
Prior to the screening, we were treated to some great Freemark Abbey Chardonnay, and afterwards we walked over to Caldwell Snyder for a VIP after-party catered by Meadowood Estate Events. In addition to the 2010 Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon we donated, patrons were treated to Alpha Omega, Sullivan, and Paratus wines. An after-after party at Raymond Vineyards was enjoyed by many of the late night revelers.
The wonderful evening was a fundraiser to support the NVFF's year-round film education and outreach programs and exemplified what the Festival offers as part of its Patron Circle and year-round programming programs.
Ed and I attended the Sundance Film Festival again this year, which ran from January 22 to February 1. We attended many films, and the favorite for both of us was the documentary The Best of Enemies about the explosive series of 10 televised debates between liberal Gore Vidal and conservative William Buckley. Both of these men were brilliant and witty, and delivered a no-holds-barred dialog about poliltics, religion and sex. Apart from this film and of the films that we saw at Sundance, we concluded that the Napa Valley Film Festival screened more uplifting and entertaining films.
An extremely interesting panel I attended called Power of Story: Serious Ladies at 2015 Sundance Film Festival, consisted of Lena Dunham (Girls), Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project, The Office), Jenji Kohan (Orange is the New Black, Weeds), Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids, Saturday Night Live) and New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum. It was quite hilarious to hear them explore the stereotypes of women in film and television. Kristin Wiig (picture) was especially funny. I had actually sat in back of her during the screening of Diary of a Teenage Girl, in which she played the immature mother of the teenage girl, earlier that same day at Sundance.
On Friday night, Access Hollywood's Billy Bush hosted the Napa Valley Celebrity Tributes to recognize the outstanding achievements of established actors and filmmakers, as well as rising stars. The BVisionary award was presented to screen-icon Kevin Costner (who was introduced by his buddy Bill Paxton), and the Domaine Chandon Rising Star award honored Jeremy Jordon. An additional tribute was presented to Michele Monagan. Before each star came on stage, film clips from many of the actors' films were shown. The number of fabulous films that Kevin produced, directed and always acted in was incredible!
We had actually seen his most recent wonderful film, Black or White, which he both produced and in which he starred, the night before. He played a successful attorney, who has to fight for custody of his African-American granddaughter after his wife is killed in a car crash. He and his late wife had taken care of the little girl since birth after their daughter dies in childbirth.
After the Celebrity Tributes, Ed and I headed over to the etoile restaurant at the winery Domaine Chandon, in Yountville, where patrons of the Festival toasted the honorees at a private dinner. Ed and I were so lucky to be seated next to Kevin Costner and his beautiful wife Christine Baumgartner. Kevin was charming and extremely articulate about subjects diverse as hunting, vegetarianism, drugs, football, family, and film.
The dinner of Maine Lobster Bisque, paired with etoile Rose; Braised Short Rib, paired with Domaine Chandon Cabernet Sauvigon, Mt. Veeder 2010; and Honey Olive Cake, paired with Chandon Delice; was terrific too.
Truly a night to remember!
David Gelb, the director of the super successful documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi (for which Ed was an Executive Producer), just sold a docu-series about other famous chefs to Netflix. Jiro, about an 85-year-old sushi chef, whose three-Michelin-starred restaurant in a Tokyo subway, was 30-year-old Gelb's first feature. The terrific film was about Jiro's striving for perfection and about his 50-year-old sushi chef son wondering when his father would retire so he could take over the restaurant. (The younger son, knowing he would never take over, opens his own sushi restaurant in another part of Tokyo.) It was also the restaurant to which Prime Minister Abe of Japan took President Obama right off of Airforce One upon Obama's arrival in Japan.
Ed and I are looking forward to seeing Gelb's other documentaries about talented chefs and their stories creating mouth-watering food in exotic locations. Bon appetit!
On November 11, the Napa Valley Film Festival gave Silicon Valley a first look at what the Festival has in store November 12-16, 2014. This preview party was held at the Morgan Estate, in Los Altos Hills, CA, an incredible mansion, that looked like it belonged to an English duke. Festival Founders Brenda and Marc Lhormer presented a preview of the 2014 Festival program and a taste of the Patron Circle experience with rare library wines from Napa and Bordeaux by Benchmark Wine Group, hand-crafted cocktails by Scott Beattie of Meadowood Napa Valley, and mouth-watering cuisine from Estate Events by Meadowood.
As a special bonus, filmaker Kelly Cox presented an excerpt from her new film Big Dream, which explores the lives of young women who've been inspired to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. Big Dream will have its world premiere at this year's Festival in November and show in Napa Valley high schools.
News Flash: the Festival's Celebrity Tribute honoree will be none other than Kevin Costner, who brings his provocative new film Black and White to screen on Thursday, November 13, and will participate in the post-screening Q&A with director Mike Binder. On Friday, Billy Bush (who MC'd the evening's program), will host a wide-ranging conversation with Kevin avout his career as actor, director, producer. Following the Celebrity Tributes, Patrons will continue the celebration at Jean-Charles Boisset's Raymond Vineyards. Mike Myers is also attending the Festival with Shep Gordon, super talent agent and subject of Mike's hilarious and touching documentary Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon. Also screening at the Festival is The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her & Him, starring Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy, and Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, which just won the Toronto Film Festival Audience Award.
Hope to see you at this year's marvelous festival!
(Billy Bush Photo: Courtesy of Napa Valley Film Festival)
Ed and I were lucky enough to attend this July's annual Wine Bloggers' Conference, held in Buellton, Santa Barbara County, California, home not only to Anderson's fabled pea soup, but also to many fabled wineries. The area has four official appelations--Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley, and the Santa Rita Hills; Buellton is in the Santa Ynez Valley.
One of the conference activities was a secret tour of and dinner at one of these wineries in Santa Barbara County. Most of the 300 attendees boarded one of the buses outside the conference hotel, not knowing to which winery they were going. Luckily (again) Ed and I boarded a bus heading to Bien Nacido Vineyards and Winery, in the Santa Maria Valley. Bien Nacido means "well born" in Spanish, harking back to the roots of the vineyard which, in 1837, was part of a Mexican land grant from the then Governor of Alta California.
On board was Nicholas Miller, youthful 5th generation owner of Bien Nacido, a branch of whose family has owned the vineyard since 1871. He explained that most of the vineyard's almost 900 acres is Burgundian and Rhone in nature--Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with some Merlot, Syrah, and Pinot Blanc. Bien Nacido owes much of its exceptional quality to the cool climate from the Pacific Ocean's morning fog and cool afternoons, creating the longest growing season (grape hang time) in California. The result of these favorable growing conditions is that much of the Chardonnay planted in California began as a Bien Nacido Vineyard cutting, and that the Bien Nacido Syrah grape's reputation is unique and notable.
Although Bien Nacido has begun making its own wines, most of its vineyards is divided into blocks farmed according to the customers' wishes, customers (over the years), such as Au Bon Climat, Qupe Winery, Foxen, Gary Farrell and Hitching Post. Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat and Bob Lindquist of Qupe Winery actually make their wines at the vineyard.
Duing a tour of the vineyards overlooking the Santa Maria Valley and a delicious buffet dinner at the original adobe home of the vineyard, we tasted Qupe, Foxen and Hitching Post wines. Gray Hartley, co-owner of Ostini Hartley Hitching Post Wines, who poured a great 1997 Hitching Post Highliner Pinot Noir with dinner (photo), has gained some local notoriety from appearing in some scenes of Alexander Payne's Sideways, partially filmed at his Hitching Post Restaurant, in Buellton.
As you may remember, one of my earlier blogs was about our trip to the La Jolla Playhouse to see the play Sideways, also based on the novel of the same name written by Rex Pickett. Look forward to a future blog about the Napa Valley Film Festival's anniversary screening of the film Sideways, along with a Merlot tasting. Merlot has actually regained its popularity since the character Miles in the film criticized it by saying he was not going to drinking any of that .......Merlot.
On June 29, Ed and I were back to Hollywood and Vine, at the beautifully-restored art deco Pantages Theater, to see the terrific Ghost The Musical. This stage version was directed by Matthew Warchus, book and lyrics by Bruce Joel Rubin and music and lyrics by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard. Bruce Joel Rubin adapted the play from his Oscar-winning screenplay Ghost (1990).
As you may remember, the plot of the film Ghost (can you believe it's been almost 25 years since it was first released?) revolves around lovers handsome banker Sam Wheat (played by Steven Grant Douglas--the late Patrick Swayze in the film) and sweet sculptor Molly Jensen (played by Katie Postotnik--Demi Moore in the film). Sam and Molly are attacked on the way back from her art show, and he dies and becomes a spirit caught between two worlds. Sam convinces the psychic Oda Mae Brown (played by Carla R. Stewart -- Whoopie Goldberg in the film--a part for which she won an Oscar) to warn Molly that her life is still in danger from their (so-called) friend, Sam's co-worker Carl Bruner (played by Robby Haltiwanger). Carl was responsible for Sam's death, as Carl hired someone to commit the attack to steal information from Sam to further a scam Carl has initiated.
The special effects and illusions created by Paul Kieve were amazing, and we were also not disappointed in the new portrayals by the actors, who had wonderful stage presence and marvelous voices; when Sam sang "Unchained Melody" to Molly, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
My husband Ed is one of the executive producers of the wonderful 2011 documentary feature film Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which was directed by David Gelb. It is about the almost 90-year old sushi chef, Jiro Ono, his search for perfection in the making of sushi, and his relationship with his two sons. In fact, Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, uses this film as a mangement tool to motivate his staff. Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which was screened at the 2011 Napa Valley Film Festival, is the film of which Ed is the most proud to have been a part.
On April 23, 2014, within 90 minutes of landing in Tokyo to meet with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Abe took President Obama to eat at Sukiyabashi Jiro, the only sushi restaurant in the world to be rated with three stars by the Michelin Guide. There are only about 100 restaurants in the world with three Michelin stars and, I'm sure, it took a prime minister to score the reservation there. It is located in a Tokyo subway, has only ten seats, and is extremely popular. There is no menu, one eats what chef/owner Jiro Ono puts in front of him or her, and the meal costs about $300 per person.
Although director David Gelb started out to make a movie about several sushi restaurants in Japan, after meeting chef Jiro Ono, felt compelled to do the film about him and his fabulous restaurant. You may stream the film on Amazon Prime Instant Video or on Netflix.
At the end of the meal, President Obama told Prime Minister Abe that, even though he had eaten alot of sushi as he came from Hawaii, it was the best sushi he had ever eaten. If you are driven to make a reservation to fly to Tokyo, just know that, it could take at least 3 months to get into Sukiyabashi Jiro, if ever. You may have better luck with the French Laundry!
On March 2, the film Twenty Feet From Stardom, which the Napa Valley Film Festival screened in 2013, took home the Academy Award for the best 2013 documentary feature. The film, directed by Emmy award-winning Morgan Neville, tells the untold story of backup singers who have been behind some of the greatest musical legends of our time, such as Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, Sting, Beyonce, Alicia Keyes and Aretha Franklin. The film highlights the careers of backup singers Lisa Fischer, Darlene Love, Judith Hill, and Merry Clayton among others, who, like Darlene Love, either got beat up by an abusive music industry, or who, like Lisa Fischer, made a concerted decision not to seek stardom.
Immediately following the 2013 Napa Film Festival screening, we were lucky to have director Neville and Lisa Fischer for a Q&A session and then hear talented Ms. Fischer deliver a stunning impromptu a cappella performance. Check it out here. We also got to meet the delightful Lisa backstage. Actually, the nights right before and right after the screening, she was backing up the Rolling Stones, who were touring California.
Ed and I just returned from the Sundance Film Festival, in Park City, Utah. The festival, in its 30th year, screened 118 feature-length films from 37 different countries and 54 first-time filmmakers (from an incredible 12,218 submissions.) We saw some terrific films, like Camp Xray, Whiplash, A Most Wanted Man, Last Days in Vietnam (a documentary), I Origins, Song One, and War Story.
There were plenty of Hollywood A-listers making the rounds on Main Steet, like Anne Hathaway, Elizabeth Moss, and Robert de Niro. We were lucky enough to chat with the incredibly talented and beautiful star of War Story, Catherine Keener (see photo), at a dinner at Chef's Dance. Kevin Iwashina, who represents War Story, invited Ed and me to the dinner given for the cast and crew. In the film, directed by Mark Jackson and written by Mark Jackson and Kristin Gore, Keener plays a war photograher, who retreats to a small town in Sicily after being held captive during the conflict in Libya. We also met Kristin Gore, one of the writers and producers of the film and Al Gore's daughter.
We also had the pleasure of meeting American singer, songwriter and composer, Alex Ebert, who won the 2014 Golden Globes for his original score for the film All Is Lost (a gripping 2013 American survival film, starring Robert Redford and written and directed by JC Chandor). Unfortunately, Alex didn't get nominated for an Oscar for his score. What do they know?!? We met Alex (see photo) while taking a break from the films to watch the playoff game between the S.F. '49ers and the Seattle Seahawks. What a close game!
Someday, the Napa Valley Film Festival will be as successful as Sundance!