This year’s films from the San Jose-based festival focus on stories from Bay Area communities.

Samantha Campbell’s documentary “The Secret Song,” follows respected music educator Doug Goodkin’s final year at the San Francisco School as his plans to retire surrounded by the joy and togetherness that he had promoted in his 45-year career were derailed by the pandemic. Courtesy The Secret Song.

For the first time, Mountain View’s ShowPlace ICON Theatre & Kitchen will showcase a carefully curated selection of films as a part of the acclaimed South Bay-based film festival Cinequest. The festival is already underway in San Jose and opens Aug. 24 in Mountain View.

Since 1990, the festival has offered Bay Area audiences the opportunity to experience the work of independent filmmakers from the area and abroad, as well as a host of social gatherings where film enthusiasts and creatives can connect and learn from one another. Inspired by the culture of innovation, technological excellence and creativity that the Bay Area represents, Cinequest has made a name for itself in the South Bay over several decades.

This year, however, the festival is set to broaden its reach, presenting a host of films in Mountain View as well as in San Jose.

“When we saw the ShowPlace ICON Theatre in Mountain View, we said, ‘Wow, this is really perfect,’ because we can do the first half of Cinequest in downtown San Jose and have the bigger venues that have a very unique flavor, and then have this beautiful multiplex with state-of-the-art technology,” Cinequest CEO and cofounder Halfdan Hussey said. “And what I also like about the Icon is that it has a great area for people to hang out and mingle upstairs. It’s such a natural choice for a venue because facilitating bonding and sharing and community is a whole lot of the Cinequest experience.”

With pandemic restrictions lifted, Hussey said this year’s festival is focused on re-inspiring the vibrant community that Cinequest has represented for many years.

“This year, we have this theme called ‘Energize,’” Hussey said. “People are really ready to get back together and share, and that’s the Cinequest in-person experience. … When you get together with people from all walks of life and you celebrate and share, it’s just incredible. We had a couple of big parties to get that off on the right foot. We really just want to bring people together and bring this vibrant and diverse community back together after some years of being apart.”

Many of the filmmakers featured in the festival also echoed Hussey’s sentiment, emphasizing the importance of the communal, relationship-building nature of the film festival.

“I am a film festival junkie,” said Tony Gapastione, a Redwood City-based filmmaker who is also the founder and CEO ofthe Bravemaker Film Festival. “I see the power of art to create conversations and really to unite people around a common thought idea. Film festivals gather people into these shared spaces to watch things, to laugh, to cry, to heal together. And also to propel them to maybe go, ‘What do I do next? I watched that movie. How does it change me? Does it warn me? Does it give me ideas?’ I believe in the power of uniting around movies and talking about them as a community.”

This year’s lineup will feature a host of films that take place in the Bay Area, telling local stories and focusing on nearby communities. We spoke with Gapastione and two other Bay Area-based filmmakers whose movies will be screening in Mountain View.

The locally made short mockumentary “The Crossing Guard” was inspired by filmmaker Tony Gapastione’s time volunteering as a crossing guard at his daughter’s school. Courtesy Tony Gapastione.

‘The Crossing Guard’

Gapastione’s short film, “The Crossing Guard,” is based on his time working as a volunteer crossing guard at his daughter’s school in Redwood City, and featured several members of his local community in its process.

“I even cast my own daughter to play my own daughter in the film,” Gapastione said. “All the kids in the short are from the Redwood City school that we filmed at.”

Through his film, Gapastione said he hoped to celebrate the service of many members of his community and advocate for their value.

“It’s a mockumentary and there are some silly moments, but it really is to celebrate public servants,” Gapastione said. “Teachers, crossing guards, librarians, custodians. We highlight those people who are serving our kids and families on a day-to-day basis and how they don’t have enough funding. The reason why they need a volunteer crossing guard is because the district can’t afford one. Even in California. All of our schools need more support and I wanted to use my film to advocate for that.”

Gapastione noted that in addition to the character roles he highlights in his film, many members of the filmmaking community are also in need of support at this time.

“The film industry is really in a very challenging time right now,” Gapastione said, referring to the ongoing writers’ and actors’ union strikes. “Many of the Cinequest filmmakers, they’re going to come to the festival because they need it. It’s like an oasis. We’re all so desperately in need of encouragement and connection right now because things seem bleak. As creative people, we’re fighting and battling and protesting and striking to change that. But when we get into these little hubs at the film festivals, we all collaborate. We know that we will always find a way, that art will always find a way, that creatives will always find a way to bring their stories out into the world.”

Daniel Yoon’s feature film “East Bay” shares the story of a collection of working professionals in the East Bay searching for purpose as they navigate the reality of their unfulfilled dreams. Courtesy Daniel Yoon.

‘East Bay’

Filmmaker Daniel Yoon will be showing his feature film “East Bay” at this year’s festival, a story of a collection of middle-aged working professionals in the East Bay searching for purpose as they navigate the reality of their unfulfilled dreams.

“I lived in the Bay Area for chunks of my life and I miss it, specifically the East Bay,” Yoon said. “It’s a unique place to me, and the film is about the experiences and the people I’ve met there. It’s mostly about failure. These folks are in their 30s and 40s and … trying to avoid confronting the idea that they are failures. But on another level, it’s about the East Bay and the weird confluence of different kinds of communities that exist there. There’s the tech sector and then there are super righteous Asian American folks, and then there’s the status-oriented New Age folks. You get a bit of all of that in this film, interacting in interesting ways.”

As an Asian American filmmaker creating a film depicting a plethora of ethnicities on screen, Yoon said he hoped to break free of the norms surrounding being an Asian American filmmaker that restrict the authenticity and nuance of the filmmaker’s storytelling.

“I think Asian American filmmakers are really in a difficult spot,” Yoon said. “You can’t just be a filmmaker, you have to be an Asian American filmmaker. If you make a film with white people, you’re betraying your community. If you make a film about Asian characters, you’re automatically limiting yourself to a smaller potential audience out there. You’re trapped.”

Yoon also noted the norms governing the ways in which race is dealt with in film, and said he hoped to provide his audiences with something beyond the bifurcation of portrayals that exist in mainstream film today.

“When it comes to addressing race, there’s really only a couple acceptable ways to do it in today’s climate. One is a searing portrayal of racial injustice, and the other is a feel-good movie with, you know, Asian characters proudly celebrating their ethnicity and wearing flowing robes, etc. I don’t want to see those movies over and over again. Those are not for the benefit of audiences. Those are for the benefit of people who are in positions of benefiting by virtue signaling. … These narratives are not what the Asian American experience is about. It’s much more varied. It’s much more complex, much more difficult and it’s much more interesting.”

In addition to highlighting the diverse intersections of people that exist within the East Bay and offer authentic portrayals of Asian American experiences, Yoon said he also wanted to provide his audience with a narrative that is opposed to traditional stories of triumphing over adversity.

“I wanted to film failure,” Yoon said. “I feel like people are under so much pressure these days to be happy and successful, and movies are a part of that. You see these movies where characters triumph over adversity and they’re supposedly feel-good movies, but to me, those are actually feel-bad movies. You go through these horrible things and then now you have to find some silver lining narrative to make it all make sense. It’s just another burden that you have to bear. Especially for younger people these days, it’s like there’s no excuse not to be successful and happy and you have to let the whole world know. I just think it’s crazy.”

Samantha Campbell’s documentary “The Secret Song,” follows respected music educator Doug Goodkin’s final year at the San Francisco School as his plans to retire surrounded by the joy and togetherness that he had promoted in his 45-year career were derailed by the pandemic. Courtesy The Secret Song.

‘The Secret Song’

Filmmaker Samantha Campbell will be showing her first feature film, “The Secret Song,” at Cinequest this year. This documentary follows storied music educator Doug Goodkin’s final year at the San Francisco School as his plans to retire surrounded by the joy and togetherness that he had promoted in his 45-year career were derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My kids were students at the school where Doug taught,” Campbell said. “I had been at the school as a parent for eight years and I had never made a film before, so it was not something, you know, that jumped immediately to mind. But when I heard that Doug was retiring in the 2019-2020 school year, I … just said, ‘Oh, my God, that guy’s retiring after 45 years. Somebody has to film his last year.’ That person just ended up being me.”

Much of the film depicts the vibrant classroom communities that Goodkin cultivated throughout his career, as well as the sudden absence of this togetherness with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Campbell noted that the communal nature of film festivals like Cinequest, especially after pandemic restrictions have loosened, has provided her and the community of local film connoisseurs the opportunity to rebuild and cultivate communities not dissimilar to those she observed in the classrooms she filmed.

“I think people who go to film festivals love movies, and want to sit with other people and watch them and have that interactive and communal audience experience,” Campbell said. “A lot of people have also come up to me later and expressed how relieved they are, and how the film reminded them of some of the things that were lost in their lives during that time or the pain that they went through. And so they’re relieved to be back together. There’s a lot of pent-up demand that COVID-19 creates, and so people in the filmmaking community are just so grateful to be back together and able to convene again.”

Cinequest runs through Aug. 30 in San Jose. On the Peninsula, it will run Aug. 24-30 at ShowPlace ICON Theatre & Kitchen, 2575 California St., Suite 601, Mountain View. “The Crossing Guard shows as a part of “Short Programs 8: We Are …,” Sunday, Aug. 27, noon and Tuesday Aug. 29, 4:30 p.m. at ShowPlace ICON; “East Bay” shows Sunday, Aug. 20, 11:10 a.m. at the California Theatre, 345 S 1st St, San Jose, and Monday Aug. 28, 7:15 p.m. at ShowPlace ICON; “The Secret Song” shows Monday, Aug. 28, 7 p.m. at ShowPlace ICON. Tickets are $14 for single movies in Mountain View. Passes are $179-$500.

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