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Cinequest 16 Breaks Out

Cinequest Turns Sweet 16 in San Jose (March 1-March 12)

“This will be the most electrifying Cinequest Film Festival yet—until next year,” announced Halfdan Hussey, Cinequest Co-founder and Executive Director, as he faced an audience that filled the historic 1,100-seat California Theatre in downtown San Jose.

Who knows what next year will bring?

But without a doubt, the March 1st opening night was the best in Cinequest history. Strolling into the California Theatre is like entering a cathedral. It’s one of the most meticulously restored and luxurious movie palaces in the state. The 1927 chandeliers illuminate the original stenciling on the dark, high beams of the entry foyer ceiling, and the auditorium offers ornate ornamentation, a balcony and plush seats. Internationally acclaimed organist Clark Wilson played the Wurlitzer organ before the program began, getting festival goers—including Silicon Valley legend and Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak, and the voice of the San Jose Sharks hockey team, radio play-by-play announcer Dan Rusanowsky—into a festive mood.

Cinequest is synonymous with the independent spirit of the Maverick. Hussey pointed out that the festival has grown into a 12-day celebration that discovers, connects and empowers film artists with the knowledge and technologies to “get that story out that’s inside of them and out into the film medium.” The festival will showcase over 190 films, representing 45 countries, until the curtain comes down on March 12.

Since September 2005, Cinequest has launched a new DVD label and an animation discovery contest, as well as partnering with Netflix, the world’s largest online DVD movie rental service. Films can be downloaded from Cinequest Online (, and two episodes of “The F Word” mark Cinequest’s video podcast debut on iTunes.

Hussey uses the term “Institute” to describe the festival’s expanded identity. He hopes Cinequest will be a leader in transforming traditional film delivery models: Less than 1% of films shown at festivals get distribution deals, but technology can now make these works available to international audiences through the Internet. When Co-founder and Board of Directors Chair Kathleen Powell commanded the stage, she added another perspective: “I believe it’s the Maverick who has the power to change the world.”

Despite the touting of high-tech solutions, several attempts to get sound for the festival trailer failed. Hussey quipped that the Film and Technology Forums were “going to teach people how to use sound this year.”

Fortunately, the sound was fine once the crowd-pleasing feature started to unspool. Skewering spin doctors and the tobacco industry, Jason Reitman’s “Thank You for Smoking” is a hilarious satire based on Christopher Buckley’s best-selling novel. Aaron Eckhart leads an all-star cast that includes Maria Bello, Katie Homes, Rob Lowe, Robert Duvall and William H. Macy.

With such a strong opener, Cinequest succeeded in acting like a hip 16-year old and lived up to its tagline. The festival was able to “Break Out” in style.

Susan Tavernetti
Tavernetti is a San Francisco Bay Area journalist

Cinequest Program cover: BreakOut
Image from opening night film: Aaron Eckhart stars in "Thank You for Smoking."
and William H. Macy in "Thank You for Smoking."

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Chatelin Bruno

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