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Napa Valley Film Festival

The Napa Valley Film Festival takes place November 11 - 15 (Wednesday - Sunday) in the four walk-able villagesof Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, and Calistoga. Each year the festival features 125 new independent films, 300+ filmmakers and film industry guests, 150 wineries, 30 chefs, and an array of culinary demonstrations, wine tasting pavilions, and special events.

The Napa Valley Film Festival is produced by Cinema Napa Valley, a registered 501c3 non-profit organization headquartered in Napa, California. The festival's co-creators (and Cinema Napa Valley Founders) are Brenda and Marc Lhormer, producers and distributors of the feature film BOTTLE SHOCK, about the historic upset victory by Napa Valley wines over the French at the infamous 1976 wine-tasting competition in Paris. BOTTLE SHOCK premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival before going on to international theatrical distribution. The husband-and-wife team also ran the successful Sonoma Valley Film Festival from 2001 through 2008. In addition to producing the annual Napa Valley Film Festival, Cinema Napa Valley presents special film programs throughout the year and provides support to student filmmaking programs in Napa Valley schools. To learn more, visit


Interview with Brenda Lhormer, Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Napa Valley Film Festival (NVFF)

Interview with Brenda Lhormer, Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Napa Valley Film Festival (NVFF)

Co-founder and co-director of the Napa Valley Film Festival (NVFF) Brenda Lhormer is an 8th generation Northern Californian native who runs the festival with husband and co-founder Marc Lhormer. The festival began in 2011 and has been growing exponentially ever since its inception in size, attendance and vision. This celebratory miscellany of specialty cuisine, wine, independent film and the arts started in the 1980s as just a pipe-dream for the married couple, an idea that has metamorphosed decades later into one of the country's most attended and anticipated events. Brenda says, “We really wanted to do something more philanthropic that could be for the community and bring people together.” The festival takes place annually for five days from the 2nd week of November. This year's edition will take place from Nov 7-11, 2018.


In an interview with Brenda just days before their 8th annual festival kicks off, here is what she had to say: 


Can you speak a bit about your extraordinary journey in creating the beloved and highly anticipated NVFF?

BRENDA: Marc and I have both had successful careers in business and we love film, good food and travel. We met in 1987 working in an event production business called Amazing Events. Our clients were big high-tech clients and we put together massive event productions. With our business backgrounds and as event producers, we always thought, “someday, we're going to do something really amazing that could involve film, food and wine.” It was just a little special dream back in the 80s. It's funny that it came full circle. Fast forward through our careers, we went up to Seattle where we spent the 90s'. I worked for Microsoft and then a couple of high-tech startups. Then, we went traveling for a year and a half and decided when we got back that we didn't want to do the corporate thing anymore. We really wanted to do something more philanthropic that could be something great for the community and bring people together. I started producing short films for non-profit organizations, fundraising heartwarming films to raise money for needy organizations. Marc started a venture called City Year Seattle (an Americorps program) for young people doing civic work for under-served youth. We knew we wanted to root ourselves in philanthropic work for the rest of our lives, but we couldn't handle Seattle anymore because it was constantly raining. 

BRENDA CONT'D: When we moved to Sonoma, we knew we didn't want to get back into the corporate world. We found out about this little tiny film festival in Sonoma. We got involved becoming a host family for a filmmaker and decided we thought we could do a lot to build it as a business. A lot of nonprofits are run by volunteers, which is not bad thing at all, but you don't have a lot of business leaders running an art festival or nonprofit, especially in film, so we thought we could do something to broaden the appeal and reach the festival. Putting our business and marketing skills to work along with our love for film, we ended up taking over the then four year-old festival. We did that for seven years, helping the very small festival grow about ten times the size. Our reputation grew in a positive way and we were meeting industry talent and professionals. At the same time in 2005, we put the world out to our producer friends that we were thinking about making a movie using our skills of raising money, connections and film knowledge. That's when producer Todd Harris sent us the script for Bottle Shock. It was in 2006 that we started searching for our director for Bottle Shock. We locked the deal in September 2006 and filmed in summer of 2007. In January 2008, we premiered the film at Sundance. It was funny because we'd been going to Sundance for twelve years scouting for films and having fun and suddenly, we were wearing filmmaker badges, which was cool. Our last festival in Sonoma was in April of 2008. 

BRENDA CONT'D: Over the course of the years we were doing Sonoma, we had a vision to start a sister festival in Napa. At the time, in early 2000s, Napa downtown was just starting to become a real destination. Before then, people didn't stop there. A lot of money and effort went into redevelop and rebrand downtown Napa as a destination itself, so it was a really good time to think about what people might want in terms of new cultural activities in Napa; not just about the wine, but what could be added to make Napa a more exciting place to experience. In 2009, we started talking to people about our Napa idea. We incorporated a nonprofit in summer of 2009 then started putting together a series of presentations for people who were interested in what we were talking about. We made it very clear that we didn't want to do just a Napa film festival, we wanted a Napa Valley Film Festival and to produce it in all four of the main towns at the same time. No organization or cultural event had ever done that because it's a real challenge. After a year and a half of discovery, presentations and enough confidence that we could put it on, we kicked off the inaugural festival in 2011. It was never pre-conceived but it kind of fell into our laps. 

BRENDA CONT'D: We grew to love the world the film festival could create, a community within a community. We love what it can create and how it inspires, entertains, informs and educates people. There's this wonderful bond between people making human connections around the art of independent film. When we did our due diligence in talking to people, the valley embraced the concept more than ever. We just knew we had to do it. Then once we did the first one, we learned what worked and what didn't, but we knew wanted to do it again. And that's what happens every year. We feel it's such an adventure and we want to do it again, because we always want to be doing something different. And now we're doing number 8!


What is it like to be business partners with your significant other?

BRENDA: Well, if only one of us was doing it, the marriage wouldn't work. It's so all-consuming once you start it. Marc and I are both artistic, event operations and business people. Marc is super artistic and creative and he's also a numbers guy. I'm more marketing, PR, HR, Chief Management Officer. We balance each other out. By doing it together and not getting in each others way, it actually works. And what we get to do is talk a lot every day and every night about what's exciting, what's working, how we can make sure our team is happy, that we have continuity, sustainability and pick the best films. It's fun and creative and energizing. 

BRENDA CONT'D: When it gets tough is when we have to deal with the finances because it's really hard to raise money and sell passes when you don't have a lot of money to market. The classic catch 22. We struggle with that because it's not an easy sell. We're a five day festival where you can choose to go for three days or one day, but if you come for three days you really get something out of the festival. But that's a hard thing to ask people to do because it's an investment of time and money; after you buy a badge, the hotels are not cheap and they're a two night minimum. It's a big investment and that's something we struggle with. It causes stress because we want to make it easier for people, for us to have the money to be able to get through the festival, pay our people well, pay our vendors, have a slush fund to pay our student educational programs and then do it again. We need that to be easier.


How long does the festival take to plan every year?

BRENDA: It takes all year long. And we stretch ourselves because we want to remain present in our community. We don't want to be forgotten over the year. This year we had a film series with CIA at Copia, we did a first Friday of the month movie, outdoor summer screenings at Charles Krug, student programs and workshops in the summer where they make short films. So we really do a lot year round. Plus, it's a five million dollar business where we're fundraising, finding partners and sponsors and making sure we do our reporting for them and having them sign up again. That is a lot of work because we have hundreds of partners we work with. It's a complex production so that's why it's year-round.


What has been your most rewarding experience in running the festival?

BRENDA: One is walking into Lincoln theater on the Monday before the festival starts. It's when we have our entire program. We bring in eight hundred to a thousand students in Napa county and we bring them to watch back to back screenings of documentaries followed by a Q and A on subject of the film, special entertainment and a lunch provided by Whole Foods. It's the most amazing experience to see these kids. They're yelling and screaming with the lights when the subject of the film walks out on stage after the film. We've had so many inspirational films on this day. Seeing the kids and talking to them about how those films affected them and what they might do in their own life now that they've seen the films and filmmakers. Most of these kids are under-served and minorities. Over Fifty five percent of the kids in Napa County are Latino and the first in their family to go to school, trying to get into college. It's the 2nd poorest county outside east LA. No one knows that. They think Napa county is super rich but it's not. 

BRENDA CONT'D: The other most rewarding thing for me is meeting the filmmakers. I'm so grateful for their work and excited to meet them after I've had the opportunity to screen their film, all of which we select for very specific reasons. When I finally meet them and they thank me for the opportunity to come to Napa, it's I who thanks them. Just walking around the film fest and meet the filmmakers, sharing a glass of wine and a story, I always have so many memories afterwards. Then, after the festival, we get together with our staff and share what we call our 'festival moments'. We always cry and have heartfelt moments because we've met someone whose changed our life. That happens every single year.


Interview by Vanessa McMahon



About NVFF:

About the Napa Valley Film Festival

The ultimate celebration of film, food and wine, the Napa Valley Film Festival (NVFF) lights up wine country at the most colorful time of year, November 7-11. NVFF presents approximately 100 new independent films and studio sneak previews in 10 beautiful venues in Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga. Attendees interact with over 300 filmmakers at screenings and special events, as well as enjoy daily culinary demonstrations and wine tastings. Events include the Celebrity Tributes, Awards Ceremony, Festival Gala, Opening and Closing Night parties and much more. The Napa Valley Film Festival is presented by Cinema Napa Valley, a registered 501c3 non-profit organization headquartered in Napa, California. Visit for more information or call 707.226.7500

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Presenting Sponsor: Lexus

Major Sponsor: Meadowood Napa Valley

Leading Sponsors:  AVMS, Charles Krug Winery, Cognition Studios, Colorzone, DoNapa, Miner Family Winery, Raymond Vineyards, Westin Verasa Napa

Supporting Sponsor: Archer Hotel Napa, Calistoga TID Committee, Davis Estates, Estate Events by Meadowood, Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch, Monogram Appliances, MovieCoin, Glenfiddich, Las Alcobas Napa Valley, Materra | Cunat Family Vineyards, Napa County Board of Supervisors, Stella Artois, The Studio by Feast it Forward, WanderLuxxe, Whole Foods

Media and Marketing Partners: Travel + Leisure, Variety, Wine Spectator


For information or to buy passes, visit NVFF.ORG or call 707-226-7500.  




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About Napa Valley Film Festival