‘Jules’, Starring Ben Kingsley, Wins Audience Award at Sonoma Film Fest – Exclusive

The 26th annual Sonoma International Film Festival, held from March 22-26, was a resounding success, with its highest audience attendance to date. The festival opened with the world premiere of Marc Turtletaub’s “Jules,” starring Ben Kingsley, and featured a robust film slate programmed by newly appointed artistic director Carl Spence, who worked with Executive Director Ginny Krieger. The festival showcased 110 films, including seven US premieres, and was curated by Spence along with senior programmers Amanda Salazar and Ken Jacobson. The lineup included 38 narrative features, 20 documentary features, and 52 short films from 32 countries.

The festival drew industry heavyweights for its dramatic jury, including John Cooper (Director Emeritus, Sundance Film Festival), Marcus Hu (Co-President, Strand Releasing), Laura Kim (Executive Vice President, Marketing, Participant Films), Fred Tsui (Founder & CEO, Moebius Entertainment Limited), and Christine Vachon (Co-Founder, Killer Films). The dramatic, documentary, and shorts juries chose the jury prize winners, while the audience voted for the audience awards.

“Jules” won the Stolman Audience Award for Best Feature; the A3 Audience Award for Best Documentary went to “Karen Carpenter: Starving for Perfection,” and “Nina & Irena” took The McNeely Audience Award for Best Short Film. The Grand Jury Best Narrative Feature went to Turkish filmmaker Emin Alper’s Cannes entry “Burning Days,” which Match Factory is selling. The Grand Jury Best Documentary Feature went to “Blackfish” director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s TIFF entry “The Grab,” a frightening expose about foreign countries’ drive to buy resource-rich U.S. land.

The festival also featured industry panels, including “Film Veterans Tell All,” moderated by John Cooper, which covered topics such as the challenges facing specialty distribution, where theater attendance has declined dramatically since the pandemic. The panelists discussed the importance of originality in independent film and the need for companies to take risks. Vachon said, “The only way independence is to continue is to be as original as possible, to truly be an alternative. The ones that do succeed in the independent field tend to succeed for that very reason, because you can’t see anything else like it anywhere else.”

The festival also featured a conversation about food and cinema, moderated by San Francisco food and film critic Meredith Brody, and a conversation with producer David Dinerstein, who shared stories from his days working with Harvey Weinstein at Miramax, Tom Rothman at Searchlight, and Ruth Vitale at Paramount Vantage. Dinerstein noted that there’s a more robust market for documentaries these days than two-hour indie narrative features.

The Sonoma International Film Festival provided a unique experience for attendees, combining eye-opening films with tasty gastronomy and a touch of local color. The festival’s success is a testament to the hard work of its curatorial team and the dedication of its attendees.