March seems to be the preferred month for festival programmers, and I’ll be damned if I know why. SXSW, SF International Asian American Film Fest, Cleveland International Film Fest, Charleston Film Fest… all unspooling across movie screens within days of each other if not simultaneously. March was probably viewed as a quiet film month once upon a time, but clearly that’s no longer the case. And here’s one more to add to the list…

The Cinequest Film Festival 21 will be celebrating the medium next month from March 1st to March 13th in San Jose, Ca. Eighty-five feature films will play alongside ninety-nine shorts and multiple forums and special events. Some of the films we’re looking forward to this year are listed below, but some of the highlights include John Turturro’s latest directorial effort Passione, the darkly comic Australian thriller Bad Behaviour, the inspirational true story Soul Surfer, and Tom Shadyac’s exploration of humanity I Am.

Cinequest remains one of the last big festival bastions for the discovery of new and emerging film artists. Cinequest Film Festival (CQFF) presents a dynamic 13-day event of 200 international films with over 600+ film artists, technologists, and professionals from 44 countries in attendance. Over 10,000 artists have attended CQFF to date. Exhibiting unique social and artistic visions from around the globe, Cinequest’s dynamic festival engages audiences in thought-provoking dialogue, giving film artists and film lovers alike an opportunity to connect. Furthermore, Cinequest provides cutting edge technology and movie-making forums to empower professionals and students. Although 80,000 attend CQFF, the four-block proximity of its state-of-the-art venues along with Cinequest’s renowned hospitality, makes the festival experience as warm and personal as it is electrifying.”

Check below for ten of the more intriguing titles from this year’s fest with official synopses from Cinequest, and head here for information on all of the films and events playing this year.

22nd Of May (directed by Koen Mortier)

– “Sam is an ordinary man. He has his morning routine, heads off to work and comes home at night. Repeat, endlessly. But not today. Things will never be the same as Sam arrives at work. Is it his lack of intuition, or his inability to pick up on personal cues that leaves him unaware of the troubled individual entering the mall? Boom. An incident. What has happened? Something unpredictable. Lives and their individual tales are hypnotically woven together throughout Koen Mortier’s (Ex-Drummer) second feature in highly unexpected ways. Sam feels responsible for the incident as mall-goers make him re-live the many what-ifs, and he begins to second guess his actions before the tragedy. 22nd of May makes for a impressive mix of image and sound for a visually stunning and emotionally intense cinematic experience.”

3 Backyards (directed by Eric Mendelsohn)

– “Edie Falco (The Sopranos), Elias Koteas (The Thin Red Line), Embeth Davidtz (Schindler’s List) and Rachel Resheff star in a mesmerizing drama of chance and unscripted encounters that reveal life to be more dangerous and mysterious than we usually care to consider. Writer/Director Eric Mandelsohn (Judy Berlin) introduces us to a business man who is jerked out of his self-centered concerns by the plight of a hard-luck waitress, a little girl who encounters perversity and shame in very different circumstances and a house-wife who explores the boundaries of privacy and respect with an actress unsure of what she owes to her public. With a unique visual style that consistently asks the audience to think differently, Mandelsohn’s web of stories challenges and instructs without delivering pat morals or resorting to clichés.”

Bad Behaviour (directed by Joseph Sims)

– “The town of Cecil Bay is about to have visitors, and not the usual ones interested in its calm beach-side atmosphere. Emma and Peterson, psychopathic siblings on the run from a vicious debt collector, are cutting a murderous swathe through Australia, eventually leading them to this peaceful, unsuspecting community. The stories of a cop searching for the people responsible for his son’s murder, a wife cheating on her husband and a party of teenagers enjoying the weekend intersect, intertwine and ultimately end when they are sucked into the maelstrom surrounding the siblings and their pursuer. With hints of Quentin Tarantino throughout, Joseph Sims’ first feature film is full of the morbidity, flippant violence from which you just can’t seem to avert your eyes, humor and lively dialogue that one would expect from the more seasoned of the two.”

Hair Of the Beast (directed by Philippe Gagnon)

– “New France, 1665: Through a daring escape, the notorious ladies’ man Joseph Côte escapes his captors hours before he’s to be hanged. On his way to the Seigneurie de Beaufort, where his misdeeds are certainly unknown, he finds a dead priest’s body in the field and claims his identity. The townsmen welcome their new “priest” with open arms and feed him like royalty. But something isn’t right in this small village, and the men standing guard nightly to stave off unwelcomed werewolves soon has Côte wondering if he had rather met the gallows. And what will Côte do when the men look to him as their savior? Philippe Gagnon’s beautiful Hair of the Beast is a magical blend of horror and suspense, making for spectacular entertainment that will have you enthralled from beginning to its unexpected results.”

I Am (directed by Tom Shadyac)

– “Director Tom Shadyac (Ace Ventura, Bruce Almighty) was inspired by a traumatic head injury to radically re-examine his success and the civilization that rewarded him. Deciding that there is something terribly wrong with the world, he sets out to find exactly what that is and how to fix it. The result is a remarkable and entertaining criticism of the consumer society achieved through interviews with such notable thinkers as linguist Noam Chomsky, historian Howard Zinn, Bishop Desmond Tutu and Rumi scholar Coleman Barks. He learns that democracy is our natural state, and love is a force of nature. Using brilliant editing and engaging animation as illustrations, he finds inspiration in such diverse fields as quantum mechanics and non-violent civil disobedience. Shadyac has crafted an inspirational call-to-arms that insists we can make a difference.”

Little Baby Jesus Of Flandr (directed by Gust Van den Berghe)

– “Lost in a forest and laden down with new wealth from Christmas caroling, three drunken beggars stumble upon a couple with a newborn baby, the Baby Jesus perhaps, and experience a spiritual conversion. Over three Christmases, some of them become religiously obsessed; others have their newfound faith sorely tempted by such offerings as “a Latina devil, a singing transvestite and a black midget musician.” Begun as a student project, shot in radiant widescreen black & white, and with a cast comprised almost entirely of theater actors with Down’s Syndrome, this mesmerizing, visually stunning film, one of the year’s most unusual, is an audacious poetic reinterpretation of the beloved ancient tale, one that is sure to simultaneously challenge and satisfy you.”

Passione (Opening Night film, directed by John Turturro)

– “John Turturro directs a spectacular and beautiful love poem to the city of Naples—a city of music, of culture and most of all, its extraordinary people. The stunning and evocative music of Naples takes center stage in John Turturro’s fourth directorial outing with magnificent results. Turturro immerses us in the rich culture that lies within the complex city, exploring the dynamic music which continues to define its traditions. Richly textured and layered, Passione vibrantly combines archival footage with astonishing musical numbers on the streets, inside the sites and within the hearts of its people.”

Poligamy (directed by Denes Orosz)

– “Andras and Lille have a loving, long-term relationship. Now they’re getting married: Lille is pregnant, and Andras, though happy, is worrying about commitment. Plus, secretly, he wishes he had had more time to play the field. Well, unfortunately for him, poor Andras is about to have his wish granted in a way he never imagined, and it’s going to drive him crazy.
A runaway hit in Hungary, this inventive delight is like the best of the 1930s-40s screwball comedies of Howard Hawks and Preston Sturges, but with a completely modern heart. Though it has a serious side, first and foremost, it is just a whole lot of fun. And just when you think you’ve got it figured out, surprise!! Off it goes in another direction.”

Small Town Murder Songs (directed by Ed Gass-Donnelly)

– “All seems calm in the small Mennonite town of Port Beach, Ontario, until a young woman is discovered having been raped and murdered. For Walter (Fargo’s Peter Stormare), the formerly violent but newly baptized and reformed Chief of Police, the ensuing investigation brings tremendous difficulty — especially when the prime suspect is his ex-girlfriend Rita’s (Crossing Jordan’s Jill Hennessy) new beau. Will shadows of Walter’s past jeopardize his new life with his God-fearing girlfriend (Raising Hope’s Martha Plimpton)? Will his latent feelings for Rita undermine the investigation? Can he truly be forgiven and accepted as a reformed man?”

Soul Surfer (Closing Night film, directed by Sean McNamara)

– “Bethany Hamilton was born to surf. Growing up on the Kauai Coast, hers was a tranquil, surfer girl’s life—participating in national competitions and revealing her natural talent on the waves. On Halloween morning 2003, her dreams seemed to splinter when Bethany, on a typical ocean outing, was attacked by a shark and lost her arm. Bravely determined, Bethany fights to recover, supported by the love of her parents (Quaid and Hunt). And while on a trip to Thailand with her youth-group leader (Carrie Underwood) after the devastating tsunami, Bethany sees her greater purpose to help change the lives of others. With her resolve stronger than ever, she returns home to conquer, not only her own challenges, but also to help others do the same.”


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