Director Mira Nair's latest, "The Namesake" opens the 2007 Cinequest Film Festival Wednesday night in San Jose, CA, launching the 11-day event. This year's lineup includes 14 films screening in Cinequest's Maverick narrative competition, while 13 are on tap for the doc competition. In addition to a shorts competition, the festival includes spotlights on the Balkans, Latino and Asian cinema as well as its "New Visions" line up and special presentations.
Nair's "The Namesake," from the director of "Monsoon Wedding") follows husband and wifee Ashoke and Ashima who leave Calcutta in the '70s for a new life in the United States. Ashima finds it especially difficult to adjust to American customs, but it is Gogol (Kal Penn), their son, who struggles most. As a young man, Gogol rebels against everything that makes him different, including his family's expectations. Discovering romance with a blonde, outgoing Max finds liberating, though the prospect looms of settling down with the proverbial good Indian girl.
A veteran of festivals around the world, Jens Lien's competition film "The Bothersome Man" (Norway) is the story of 40 year-old Andreas, who arrives in a strange city with no memory of how he got there. He is presented with a job, an apartment and even a wife. Before long, Andreas notices that something is wrong. The people around him seem cut off from any real emotion, and communicate only in superficialities. Also in competition, "Hand in Hand" by Dean L. Morini follows New York City couple Cate and Wes who have quarantined themselves during a smallpox breakout. As time passes, the couple begins to break under the pressure and the flaws of their relationship become exposed.
Brendan Keown's "Hitler Meets Christ" is the story of two men who meet in a train station. One believes he is Hitler, while the other believes he is Christ. When the personification of good meets the personification of evil, there are plenty of debates, controversies, and some "surprising" understandings. In "Pao's Story" by Quang Hai Ngo, a young soft-spoken Vietnamese villager's life is drastically changed when her mother is swept away by a violent river. The story shifts back twenty years, however, to a time before Pao was born, and it becomes evident that her family's past is not as it seems.
Doc competition film "American Losers" by Danish director Ada Bligaard Soby chronicles the lives of two New Yorkers on the fringe. Kimberle is a member of an aspiring band who moved away from the Bible Belt to spread her wings, while Kevin is a shut-in of sorts on the threshold of jump starting his life after a series of stumbles. But, the pair become "larger than life heroes"---wise, humorous, slightly manic individuals just trying to grab their piece of the American pie. Rebecca Chaiklin and Michael Skolnik's "Lockdown, USA" is a "provocative" depiction of how hip hop impresario Russell Simmons rallies a community to fight "the system" in New York to end archaic drug laws. "Out of Balance," meanwhile, exposes the largest, most powerful company in the world. Director Tom Jackson clearly points the finger at society's seemingly insatiable energy consumption on ExxonMobil, by using its immense power to block efforts to alter America's addiction to oil.
Closing the festival is Stephane Gauger's "Owl and the Sparrow," which focuses on three people, each alone in his/her own way, who find that what they need most is each other. According to the festival, the three unlikely ordinary people intertwine, yet when they connect, they begin the foundation for a unique family.
In addition to the festival, Cinequest is touting its new distribution label, which incorporates Intel's Viiv system, Jaman's online community, as well as Netflix Inc.'s DVD audience, and Cinequest Online's established base, into what it calls "a multifaceted fluid system of distribution not previously available to filmmakers and film fans."
"What makes us unique in the world is that we've wanted to give an opportunity to independent filmmakers by bypassing the Hollywood stystem and [find an audience]," said Cinequest's Jens Michael Hussey in a conversation with indieWIRE about the distribution subsidiary, which has offered pay-per-views since January and has offered DVD sales via their website (www.cinquestonline.org) since November. "We have a viable option for filmmakers to make money off their films and to give a lot of flexibility."
According to Hussey, the new label is targeting "non-Hollywood" fare that it considers to have been unable to effectively reach its market. Via high quality downloads, filmmakers can bring their work to audiences directly. Non-Cinequest titles are also eligible to participate by contacting the organization directly.
"There's always going to be Hollywood, but Internet technologies make it possible for the independents to make money back," commented Hussey.