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Guide to Film Festivals in Sonoma County

Many parts of Sonoma County are so picturesque they look like they belong on a movie screen, and indeed, Wine Country attracts an array of actors, film makers and film festival organizers.

The festivals, in particular, keep growing more popular, with new ones popping up each year. Ranging from small venues showing a half-dozen screenings on a single day, to multiple-day schedules celebrating some 100 movies all across downtown Sonoma, these festivals showcase international talents.

Because we’re in Sonoma County, the festivals usually include food and wine, too. What’s more elegant, after all, than an afternoon in an artsy movie theater, nibbling West County charcuterie and sipping local wines?

Wine Country Film Festival
September 22-25, 2016, Kenwood
This eclectic five-day celebration of cinema, the arts and culture screens films in various venues, both indoors and out, in the heart of the Sonoma Valley. Now in its 30th year, the annual showcase provides a cinematic window to the world through the silver screen, including presentations by filmmakers, producers, and actors. Full festival pass $75.Various locations throughout the Sonoma Valley; 707-935-3456.

Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival
Fall 2016 (Oct/Nov), Sebastopol
Each year the film festival committee at the Jewish Community Center in Santa Rosa screens more than 100 dramas, comedies, and documentaries to pick six that will be shown during the annual festival in October and November. This year marks the FIRST JCC, Sonoma County Israeli Film Fest. The goal is to present a slice of Jewish life from around the world, and the festival's tagline is that you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy these movies. The movies are typically held in a local movie theater; for 2016 it’s at the Rialto Cinemas in Sebastopol.
Jewish Community Center Sonoma County, 1301 Farmers Lane, Santa Rosa, 707-528-4222. Dates and info.

Alexander Valley Film Festival
Oct. 20-23, 2016, Cloverdale and Healdsburg
This second annual four-day celebration of film, food, music, wine, heritage, and hospitality will be held in two theaters in the Alexander Valley - The Clover Theater in Cloverdale and The Raven Film Center in Healdsburg. The goal is to showcase new and emerging talents worldwide, though a curated selection of professional films as well as student films. Be sure to get tickets for the opening and closing night street parties, too. 707-893-7105.

Petaluma International Film Festival
Oct. 28- 30, 2016, Petaluma
Now in its eighth year, the Petaluma International Film Festival showcases independent and feature films from around the world. Screenings are scheduled over three full days, from noon to midnight. All films are in English or with English subtitles.
Boulevard Cinemas, 200 C St., Petaluma, 415-251-8433.

OutWatch Film Festival
November 4-6, 2016, Sebastopol
Billed as the "wine country's LGBTQI film festival,” OutWatch is committed to presenting Sonoma County with the best lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, and intersex films. Now in its fifth year, OutWatch typically hosts a gala reception and movie screening on Friday night, followed by a day of movies on Saturday.
Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Brent Auditorium, 282 High St., Sebastopol, 707-829-4797. 

Windsor Independent Film Festival
January 13 & 14, 2017, Windsor
This second annual festival screens at the beautiful, 350-seat Windsor High School theater, with an emphasis on locally made films. As a grassroots, nonprofit event created by Windsor residents, the gathering aims to encourage young Sonoma County residents to get involved in filmmaking, while presenting independent films — both local and international — in a range of styles and themes.  Windsor High Theater, 8695 Windsor Road, Windsor. Full festival pass $80.

Hitchcock Film Festival
Spring 2017 (Date TBD), Bodega Bay
Thriller movie master Alfred Hitchcock loved Bodega Bay — his masterpiece "The Birds" was filmed there and in the nearby small town of Bodega — and Bodega Bay returns the appreciation with its fourth annual Hitchcock Film Festival. The event raises money for Bodega Bay and Tomales elementary schools. Concessions will be offered throughout the day, including clam chowder from the Spud Point Crab Company.
Bodega Bay Grange Hall, 1370 Bodega Ave., Bodega Bay; $10 per movie or $18 for both. Sponsored by Bodega Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, 707-347-9645.

Sonoma International Film Festival
March 21-April 2, 2017, Sonoma
Held over five days in the eastern Sonoma County town of Sonoma, the Sonoma International Film Festival is an intimate celebration of unforgettable cinema, world-class food, and fine wine. More than 100 hand-selected films take the stage, including independent features, documentaries, world cinema, and shorts. All movies are shown in intimate venues within walking distance of the town's historic central plaza. Presented by the Sonoma International Film Society. Cinema Pass $275; Soiree Pass $550; Patron Pass $5,000; 707-206-4480, www.sonomafilmfest.org

Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival
Spring 2017 (Date TBD), Sebastopol
Each year the Sebastopol Center for the Arts strives to bring the best documentaries and filmmakers from around the world to Sonoma County for its award-winning Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival. Twice named "One of the Coolest Film Festivals" by MovieMaker Magazine, the Sebastopol event has become one of the important and special stops on the documentary festival circuit. Films will be screened at the Rialto Cinemas (6868 McKinley St., Sebastopol) and the Sebastopol Center for the Arts (282 S. High St., Sebastopol, 707-829-4797). 
All access pass $250; Saturday only $50; $50 punch card; and $10 for regular screenings.

Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet.

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