.Women on the Scene

The fem perspective was strong at Cinequest San Jose

As you read this, the San Jose portion of Cinequest is wrapping up. The transition to the Mountain View segment of the festival is underway.

The best aspect of Cinequest is that everyone can assemble a list of specific preferences and then attack the festival however he or she wants. If you prefer Syrian refugees, a jazz singer and three lost souls from India, then you can choose exactly that. Ahem.

I could stop right there, but I’ll keep going. Hitting the California Theatre at 5pm, Wednesday, Aug 23rd, Sloane: A Jazz Singer, documents the almost-career of Carol Sloane, an unsung hero who ran with just about everybody. It’s an amazing documentary. The next day at 11:15am, Aug 24th, the fictional Valley of Exile screens at the Mountain View ShowPlace ICON Theatre, telling the journey of two sisters who fled the Syrian war to a refugee camp in Lebanon. Both films portray powerful women in the face of overwhelming adversity.

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This year, even with no happy-hour soirees, nightly Maverick Meetups, or iced tubs of yerba mate in the VIP lounge, Cinequest still presented a killer variety of films—serious and not-so-serious, foreign and domestic, artsy or commercial. For lack of a regular place to congregate, the everyday attendees seemed to be making their own impromptu meetups out in the streets or the parking lots. It was fun to watch.

The festival featured many women directors, producers and writers, all trying to advance the cause. Everything began when Jennifer Esposito showed up to the world premiere of her mobster flick, Fresh Kills for a near-capacity crowd in the California Theatre. 

Written and directed by Esposito, Fresh Kills was one of the better opening-night films in recent memory. Just imagine the degrees of emotional wreckage left by a murderous mob boss on his wife and daughters, but instead of focusing on the hypermasculinity of the genre, we learn about the women’s experiences the whole freaking time. Imagine that. We get to focus on what the women have actually gone through as a result of being unwittingly indoctrinated into such a family. Not many directors have ever done this before, which is why Esposito faced major obstacles while completing the project. On stage afterward, she admitted to mortgaging her home twice to get the film finished. And Fresh Kills is indeed a mobster flick, replete with realistic violence.

After the film, Esposito even attended the outdoor afterparty in the abandoned concrete environs of CityView Plaza. CityView is slotted for destruction and redevelopment, so why not use the space in the meantime? That’s what happened.

I did not attend the afterparty on opening night, but I did attend last Saturday’s installment following the world premiere of Breakwater. The afterparty space featured numerous food stations, bars and seating areas throughout the CityView Plaza complex, allowing all attendees to migrate, spread out and experience the food and drink. This was a much better alternative to previous afterparties when everyone rushed from the theater to some generic event space or restaurant, only then to wait in the food line for 20 minutes or mob the overworked servers for hors d’oeuvres. After the despair of Jay Paul buying CityView Plaza and then predictably just sitting on it, the Cinequest parties perfectly re-imagined the space.

But back to strong women. Written and directed by Anna Fahr, Valley of Exile featured the trials and tribulations of two sisters, Rima and Nour, Syrian refugees trying to survive in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Rima is pregnant with the baby of her husband, who had to stay behind. Nour is trying to track down their brother, who might be in trouble with the rebels. Backdropped by gorgeous colors, scenes and cinematography, the narrative depicts the anxiety and trauma of exile, nostalgia for the lost homeland, plus the strength of sisterhood as their bonds are tested during the misery of forced displacement. Valley of Exile was also a world premiere—from Bekaa Valley to Silicon Valley, you could say. No, I won’t forget the lost souls. If you missed Tabula Rasa (Kora Kagazz), you can see it at the ShowPlace ICON, this Saturday, Aug 26th at 6:25pm. As San Jose concludes, Mountain View, we’re coming for you next!

Gary Singh
Gary Singhhttps://www.garysingh.info/
Gary Singh’s byline has appeared over 1500 times, including newspaper columns, travel essays, art and music criticism, profiles, business journalism, lifestyle articles, poetry and short fiction. He is the author of The San Jose Earthquakes: A Seismic Soccer Legacy (2015, The History Press) and was recently a Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at San Jose State University. An anthology of his Metro columns, Silicon Alleys, was published in 2020.

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