Mar 28, 2017
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Films (and Film Writers) Fly High Over Napa
by Jay Randy Gordon
I'M BLASTING MY TWO-BIT TOYOTA
Corolla through South Napa's fecund farmland, looking for that special full moon that's supposed to be rising in the East, my head also blasting from cineSOURCE magazine's "Martini Party" last night (11: is that excessive?).
It's closing night at the often incredible
Napa Valley Film Festival
. Unfortunately, I'm running late, having barely made my daughter's soccer match in time to pick her up before the Soccer Mom snitches notify my ex.
My evening is scheduled similarly tight. First order of business: find the fine, film-ophile Nancy Holland, who bailed on an important open house (she's a part-time realtor) to meet me and cash in on my swear-to-die promise of a great film and closing party. Second, locate the photographer, Blair, who cineSOURCE finally deemed me worthy of assigning, to cover my interview with Alan Kropf, director of the festival's closer, "Pisco Punch: A Cocktail Comeback Story".
Just seeing the marquee of Napa's lovely Uptown Theater, glistening in the setting sun, is a welcome relief. It was there I caught the festival's excellent opener, "
", starring Dev "Slumdog Millionaire" Patel, although, since I'm a sports fan, I enjoyed a bit more “
Bleed for This
An Open Road Films release directed by Ben Younger (“Boiler Room”, 2000), "Bleed For This" stars the stellar Aaron Eckhart, as boxing trainer Kevin Rooney, who coached the real-life Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller) in his championship comeback bouts—an impressive and moving film.
I was also taken by the indie “Heaven’s Floor”, which won the festival's "best narrative feature" jury award and a $10,000 prize from the Meadowood Napa Valley Resort. Another film based on a true story, it concerns a female photographer from LA who journeys to the Canadian Arctic to cover an expedition, gets lost and is saved by a Inuit girl, whom she, in turn, tries to save by bringing back to LA. After the show, I had met the actual girl, Malaya, now a woman and First People activist, a paragon of grit, brevity, adventure and civic duty.
By the same token, more or less, I wanted to meet Alan Kropf and talk to him about making “
Pisco Punch: A Cocktail Comeback Story
”. In addition to being a filmmaker and musician, Kropf works for Anchor Distilling, which imports pisco from Peru.
While this may seem like a conflict of interest to some, I’m a big believer in cross-platform marketing and "trans" media, a buzz word, as well as multimedia platform, from 2010 or so, that didn't really catch on.
By the way, did I mention, I am the author of "
" (2006), about modern business language. No? OK, just did—gotcha!
No sooner do I find parking, just a half-a-block from the Uptown, than I spot Kropf, loping along, obviously enthused about his impending world-premiere, given his large but oddly beige top hat. I jog towards him, waiving frantically, but he turns the corner and steps onto the NVFF's long, red carpet, where he's immediately surrounded not only by a pack of paparazzi but a scrum of beautiful women.
There would no word in edgewise until later, I conclude, spinning on my heels, whereupon I notice Blair, flat on his back, apparently hung-the-hell-over from Martini Night. As I approach, however, I see he's grabbing a low-angle shot of the Uptown's neon marquee, now fully luminescent in the rubying red sunset (check out the shot above: GORGEOUS!).
But before I can even wade through the crowd to him, I notice Nancy, weaving down the street, either from her own hard-hitting Saturday night or confusing arrival ordeal. After jumping the barricade and jogging over, I mollify her with reiterated promises of films and parties, while dragging her back to Blair, only to get the bad news.
CAN YOU BELIEVE? Blair has forgotten the all-important festival pass, which I had dutifully driven over to Oakland to deliver. Admittedly, it was in the middle of the above-mentioned party. Nevertheless, I had reminded him three or four times not to lose it and he had insisted, "Don't worry, I will tuck it right in this shelf," where it undoubtedly sits safely as we speak!
Now I am stuck with two bum steers—Nancy is sporting my pass from last year—and the film starts in ten.
In a stroke of the ongoing luck I've come to depend on, Ashley Patterson, one of the festival's PR managers and media wranglers, is standing in front of the Uptown. Indeed, Patterson was present when I was media credentialed by Brenda Lhormer, co-founder and festival exec-director.
Of course, cineSOURCE has been attending and covering the Napa Valley Film Festival since its inception in 2011. Alas, small press organs are mere scribblers in many people's eyes and easily evaporate off media pass lists. Not this time, if I have anything to say about it!
Alas, much like Kropf, Patterson is surrounded by a full court press of petitioners, shouting, waiving things, even grabbing her, although I am finally able to catch her eye and shout: "PHOTOGRAPHER FORGOT PASS," "MY GIRLFRIEND DOESN'T HAVE ONE!"
Admittedly, I was lying. Nancy was not my girlfriend—indeed, we both have significant others—but she would hardly mind a little prevarication to polish our way forward to the night's entertainment.
Ashley finally glances my way. I can see her making a quick, cost-effective accounting of whether to even bother with my claims. Suddenly, she waives us in and, when the ticket-taker at the door stops us, I point back and she's still waiving.
I turn to Nancy and Blair, "Whew, we made it," I say, grinning and hoping for at least some enthusiasm. Not much until I locate primo seats, first row on the mini-balcony half-way back, and we settle into their comfortable recline. "Ahh," I notice Blair saying to no one in particular before racing down the aisle to catch some candids.
Surprisingly, "Pisco Punch: A Cocktail Comeback Story" is an odd, hybrid bird, or hybird, as it were, both as film and festival closer. It has some great history and even historical footage but it still scans as a well-produced infomercial for Peru's national spirit, pisco, which also became popular in San Francisco around the turn of the last century.
To be sure, the music was startling but with way too much of it, it overwhelmed while still not achieving the monomaniacal drive of "Cocaine Cowboys", another over-the-top doc about another Peruvian export, especially popular among celebrity chefs, although "Pisco Punch" declines to go there, for some reason.
Blair, on the other hand, happily does. Having spent ten months in country in the '80s, he is soon whispering in my ear about Lima's fantastic street food, scrumptious fruit and alcohol drinks AND aforementioned marching powder.
"Pisco Punch" could have used a steady-cam shot snaking through one of Lima's many markets with the occasional actor plant biting into a ceviche tostada ($.10), toasting a Pisco Sour ($.20), or downing an "Especial" smoothie (ingredients: bottle of black beer, can of condensed milk, orange juice, banana and papaya—unbelievably delicious!).
"Pisco Punch" does have lots of fascinating shots and relevant historical information, however, notably about Lima, where the Incas directed the Spaniards to settle (supposedly because it was such a bad location), and the city's connection with San Francisco—they were the only two civilized ports on the Pacific for over a century.
Moreover, ''Pisco Punch" is quite the achievement for Kropf's first long-film outing. Although I wanted to stay for the Q & A, I had to hustle to make good on my party promises to Nancy. Indeed, after-parties are far tougher to crack than world-premiers, not to mention, I now had two passless chumps in tow.
As to be expected, after we walked along Napa's genteel waterfront to the Angele, the restaurant hosting the closing party, the 18 year-old festival volunteer guarding the gates rebuffs us on first try. Nancy glares at me. Now what? The place is packed; people are flooding in and music out; Blair volunteers to recuse himself, accepting the obvious fact that it was he who forgot his own damn pass!
I scan the scene and see, on the far side, Chelsea, coincidentally the third woman present, along with Ashley and Brenda, when I got cineSOURCE credentialed. After one-and-a-half or two seemingly-endless minutes of me explaining in rapid New York-ese (which is hard for me since I'm from Alabama, where we speak with the opposite inflection), Chelsea nods sagely, if nonchalantly, and opens her eyes wide.
A strong point in my argument? No, it's the extra full super-moon (once every 18 years) that is rising over my left shoulder.
"Isn't it magical?" I say, turning.
"Yup, super-romantic," says Chelsea, waiving me and my entourage towards the door of the fabulous Angele Restaurant, a large rambling affair, with multiple rooms, right on the water.
And with that gesture, we are in; I am golden; Nancy is hugging me, hanging on my arm; even Blair, who had already thrown in the towel, acknowledges my acumen in party politics (no pun intended to our current collective civic tragedy)!
Most of all, I can soon get my hands on some of the hair-of-the-dog-that-bit-me, in the form of the fabulous Pisco Punch being poured by the bucketload by Angele's expert staff, albeit under the direction of the famous La Mar Restaurant, which has places on San Francisco's Embarcadero and in Lima's Miraflores district—right on a cliff overlooking the ocean.
So we start drinking and dining on delicious ceviche (invented in Peru), tender beef hearts, and sweet seafood paella, all courtesy of the fabulous La Mar—truly a haute cuisine extravaganza, as well as rubbing shoulders with the many semi-celebs of the used to be up-and-coming but now FULLY ARRIVED Napa Valley Film Festival!
When I finally meet up with Alan Kropf, I'm already six or seven Pisco Punches to the wind and don't quite know how to balance my respect for his achievements with some cinematic suggestions: remix the music, perhaps, or switch out the gringo chef in the film's opener with a Peruvian—how about Gastón Acurio, founder of La Mar and arguably the guy who got Peru on the culinary map?
Super-chefs are the new millennia's rock stars since, as with sexual selection, they govern what goes deep down inside of us. In fact, Peru's gastronomic achievements are second only to its ancient ruins and gorgeous vistas, all of which vie for first place as tourist panty-droppers.
The party goes till one; I consume several more Pisco Punches, making it an even dozen and besting my 11 at cineSOURCE's Martini Party; I chat with all and sundry; the Napa Valley International Film Festival finishes its stellar sixth year in sumptuous, fully-satiating style; I drive home—VERY SLOWLY!
Can't wait 'til next year.
Jay Randy Gordon
is The MARINsider, the author of '
' and the founder of
and can be reached
Posted on Nov 16, 2016 - 03:29 PM