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Reimagining Silicon Valley’s Cinequest as Cinejoy, with an emphasis on the joy

The 30th annual Cinequest Film & Creativity Festival was six days in when it came to a screeching halt, along with the rest of the world, with the arrival of the first COVID-19 shelter-in-place order.

Now, a year later — with festival producers trained and equipped for the pandemic streaming era — Cinequest is back and rebranded as Cinequest on Cinejoy, with a lineup of 200 films from 55 countries (111 of them world and U.S. premieres) and virtual experiences for a 10-day event that kicks off Saturday, March 20. 

The new name points to the festival’s transformation from a live to virtual event and aims to emphasize both the pleasure of watching films and the possibilities for viewer engagement.

“Cinejoy is a term we feel is important, the way that cinema does bring joy to people and the experience of connecting with others,” said Cinequest CEO and co-founder Halfdan Hussey.

As Silicon Valley’s film festival, Cinequest has always been bound up with technology, but this year organizers plan to use the event to launch its own streaming platform, Creatics. It’s another milestone for Cinequest, which presented the first online worldwide film festivals in 2005 and 2007.

Here’s what you need to know about this year’s film festival:

The Films

The festival is broken into two sections: Showcase Screenings and Spotlight Events. The showcase films are the ones screening on demand throughout the festival. The spotlight events are for appointment viewing, at specific times.

The Spotlight Events are also the festival’s biggest films . This year’s highlights include the opening-night feature, “Death of a Ladies’ Man,” starring Gabriel Byrne as a man whose brain tumor causes movie-musical hallucinations, inspired by the oeuvre of Leonard Cohen. Byrne will take part in a live conversation preceding the screening, while a Q&A with other cast members and crew will occur after the movie.

Other spotlights include tributes to Eddie Izzard, who screens his latest film, a prewar thriller, “Six Minutes to Midnight,” and Sam Neill, who is screening one of his most recent films, 2020’s “Rams,” a comedy about feuding sheep farmer brothers.

The Northern California Connection

Although it is an international film festival, Cinequest also makes room for work originating in our own backyard, with the Bay Area and surrounding regions represented by 17 features and shorts. Among the more intriguing of these is the latest adaptation of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 19th century feminist short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The tale of a woman said to be suffering from some form of hysteria has been transformed into a horror film. What’s more, it is a U.S.-Irish co-production, a partnership between Stockton’s Hysteria Pictures and Emerald Giant Productions, shot in both Ireland’s County Clare and the University of the Pacific Campus in the Central Valley.

Party Time

The red carpet is a staple of any film festival, but here it’s reimagined for a virtual world where the stars take part in live, preshow interviews. 

“I enjoy a good red carpet, like the next person. The fun of it, seeing the gowns and everything,” Hussey said, adding that their plans are to use the time to present interviews that pose “more in-depth questions about (the filmmakers and actors’) art … things that matter more than the gown I’ve got on tonight or the necklace or earrings, or who am I dating this year.”

Another element is the screening party, some hosted by artists involved with the film, others by film fans. Anyone can sign on to host a party and pick the movie they want to build it around. And the best part — beyond the cost of a movie ticket — is that the parties are free. “The idea is that the host of the party is having some of their friends and colleagues show up, and then there’s some new people. That’s the excitement of it, and the fun of it,” Hussey says. “Our intention is to fulfill the title ‘Cinejoy,’ and to give people the joy of experiencing movies that represent filmmakers who really care. These artists deeply care about the movies they make.”

Watch Since August here.