How to Survive Cinequest 2024

An updated viewer’s guide to what USA Today readers voted the Best Film Festival.

It’s about to be Cinequest time, which means getting slightly ahead of the festival schedule so that I can provide you some idea about which films you should definitely check out. I’ve been able to screen a few of this years picks, so the starting gun has already been fired, the smoke is clearing, it’s time to start planning.

#DoudouChallenge from Shorts program

Before we get onto the first actual reviews, I want to give you a few pointers on maximizing your enjoyment of this singularly wonderful festival. This is an update to my 2022 article, so some parts may be familiar, but the reminders should still be useful.

This year’s opener is The Island Between Tides, a world premiere on March 7th. Based on Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie’s gothic bedtime story Mary Rose, a stunning sci-fi, mystery about a young woman who follows a mysterious melody onto a remote tidal island. When she crosses back over at the next low tide, she emerges into a world where 25 years have passed.

I haven’t seen it, but I’ll be there for the actual red carpet, the interview lines, and a packed California Theatre two nights from now!

The Mark of Zorro

This Friday night is the traditional Silent Cinema selection. This year it is The Mark of Zorro from 1920! Douglas Fairbanks, the original swashbuckler, plays Zorro, the masked hero who protects the poor citizens of Old California against their rapacious governor. Fairbanks is equally impressive as the dashing, athletic Zorro (performing his own stunts) and his alter ego, the foppish Don Diego. And the theatre experience is amazing because the film is accompanied by the legendary Wurlitzer Organist Dennis James playing an immense Wurlitzer organ that rises from the stage, and then decends playing. If you’ve never been to such a presentation, this is a must see!

Reservations and tickets are easy to get. Find a film on the Cinequest calendar, or follow any of the links in my articles, and click on the Buy button for each and every film. If you don’t want to bother with tickets, go to the Festival Pass page and find a pass that fits your needs.

For many, Cinequest is more about the indies; smaller independent films. Indies are a joy. Why? Because independent filmmakers and their crew are typically trying to tell stories they love and believe in, using a medium with which they’re similarly in love. And they do this without the interference of large corporate studios who answer to stockholders more often than their heart. And so you get some unique and memorable experiences, unlike what you’ll see in general release.

Aw. Isn’t that sweet.

Human Resources

But indies can be hard to find. Or rather, can be hard to find just the right ones for you.  There are hundreds of films being shown at Cinequest, you likely have not heard of most because they simply don’t have the backing money to advertise to you. So how do you decide what to see?

Well, you can browse the event guide, if you have the time. Note the ones that sound interesting. See anything you absolutely want to see? You can buy tickets online for specific showings direct from the web site. Uncertain? Just head down to the festival and discuss them with other film lovers, and sometimes just take a chance. It’s not uncommon for a long conversation between strangers at Cinequest to start with “what film are you looking forward to?” or “What’s the best film you’ve seen so far?” Because at its heart Cinequest is two weeks where a community of film lovers gathers, enjoys films and each other’s company, and occasionally makes a few new long-term friends.

Cinequest is also an opportunity for audience and creators to mingle. That guy sitting next to you might be the director of this film, or may give you a postcard advertising his film that’s showing later in the day. If you’re a film fan, the opportunity to discuss what went right and wrong, what you loved or didn’t, and to get feedback from the creators themselves, is a terrific experience, often for them as well. People involved in independent film are doing it all for the love of the subject matter and the art.

The Invisibles

So, from this we can wrap up with a few pointers on getting the most out of your time at Cinequest:

  • Look for World Premieres!  There are lots. And you get the “yes, great film! I was at the premiere back in 2024!” bragging rights.
  • Look for the names you recognize, this is often a chance to see actors stretching into roles we’re not accustomed to seeing them in. (Look carefully! I’ll never forgive myself for missing Grant “The Flash” Gustin playing a pot smoking artist in Krystal at the 2022 festival!)
  • But don’t ignore the films and actors you’ve never heard of. One of the real joys of cinema is going to a film where all the big beats haven’t already been spoiled by weeks of advertising trailers.  Again, think future bragging here. (Come on, you know you love that.)
#DoudouChallenge from Shorts Program

Most of all, for Bay Area / Silicon Valley folks, this is an opportunity to get out to an annual event that celebrates the love of creativity in Cinema, bringing to you unique and memorable experiences. You can put off the finale of Capote vs. The Swans on Hulu a couple of weeks. Now is time for something new and exciting.

Ric Bretschneider
March 6, 2024
San Jose, California

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