Considered one of the best film festivals in the nation, the Cinequest Film & Creativity Festival resumes in-theater programming (Cinejoy, its streaming offshoot, takes place earlier in the year) this week after being absent from South Bay movie theaters since 2020 due to COVID-19.
With more than 250 films stuffed into a diverse program running Aug. 15 through Aug. 30, it can be a daunting task to determine what to see.
Pass the Remote offers a few picks of gems this week and next. For ticket info and the schedule, visit https://www.cinequest.org/.
“Under the Influencer ”: Social media influencers tend to be easy targets for criticism, disparaged for being flashy “tools” not for brands but for themselves. The criticism does ring true at times, and also weighs heavy on the mind of perky YouTube sensation Tori (played with sincerity and likability by Taylor Joree Scorse).
Tori has built a successful business out of pitching products, one that’s big enough to include hiring an agent/manager (Zach Paul Brown, doing the most with a small role) and a personal assistant (Chandler Young). But her career and personal life turn into a collapsing house of cards due to her vapid and conniving competition Becca (Ava Westcott) and an alarming health scare. It hurls the garden-loving Tori into an existential crisis, and even into the path of a potential love interest (Spencer Vaughn Kelly).
Director-screenwriter Alex Haughey astutely reflects up the influencer culture and the trapdoors surrounding it, but he never belittles those who are a part of it, Becca excepted, preferring to make “Under the Influencer” a redemptive journey for Tori and a thoroughly enjoyable dramedy for the audience.
9:30 p.m. Aug. 21, Hammer Theatre, San Jose and 11 a.m. Aug. 24 at Mountain View ShowPlace ICON Theatre & Kitchen
“7000 Miles”: Oakland-based director and San Jose State University professor Amy Glazer returns to the festival with a moving drama about a strong and talented granddaughter (Alixzandra Dove, who also is a co-producer) and grandmother (the wonderful Wendie Malick, also a co-producer and a Glazer regular) who discover they have things in common and a legacy that binds them.
With the recent tragedy on Maui, the gorgeous scenery of the island paradise of Molokai captured by Glazer and cinematographer Jim Orr comes across as bittersweet. So does the plot, with Jo (Dove), a co-operator of a small plane biz in Los Angeles, zipping over in the late 1970s to see her grandmother Meli (Malick), who is grieving over the death of her husband and showing signs of memory failure.
“7000 Miles” tells an inspiring and feminist story that aims to touch your heart and succeeds.
1:30 p.m. Aug. 20 and 2:30 p.m. Aug. 22, both California Theatre, San Jose
“Bibi”: In the grand tradition of authors Shirley Jackson and Gillian Flynn, director and screenwriter Christopher Beatty’s world premiere presents an intriguing but wholly unreliable narrator, Vivian Ashwood (Elizabeth Paige). She’s battling interior demons and is at odds with the smart-alecky Bibi (Judith Ann DiMinni) who’s hanging out with her in a mansion that’s starting to rot.
Lovers of Gothic horror will lap this shifty thriller up and its sharp, showstopping acting turn from Tammy Blanchard as Vivian’s liquored-up neighbor. The cinematography is stunning. Looking forward to what the talented Beatty makes next.
7:15 p.m. Aug. 17 and 2:15 p.m. Aug. 22, Hammer Theatre.
“Miranda’s Victim”: If you don’t know what led to cops being required to read certain rights to people about to be arrested, let filmmaker Michelle Danner enlighten you.
Her gripping historical drama revisits the rape and ensuing case that prompted Supreme Court justice Earl Warren (played by Kyle MacLachlan) to set into motion a new trial for Ernesto Miranda (Sebastian Quinn, outstanding), one that forces 18-year-old Patricia Weir (Abigail Breslin) to re-experience the trauma and put her back on the stand.
Danner’s feature grabs you as will Breslin’s shattering performance and the presence of numerous notable supporting actors: Donald Sutherland, Luke Wilson, Andy Garcia, and Ryan Phillippe.
4:15 p.m. Aug. 19, California Theatre, San Jose
“Share?”: In this confined-space thriller, a nameless man (Melvin Gregg) awakens in a four-square, prison-like cell. Stripped to just his white briefs, he communicates with others in the same predicament via old-school computers.
What the quick-thinking “Man” discovers is that he can attain purchasing power by entertaining or informing others who tune and then “like” the video. Those credits then lead to more amenities to be purchased.
But who’s holding the puppet strings and how does one escape those four walls? Director and screenwriter Ira Rosensweig’s crafty world premiere answers some questions, but has you asking even more. This one’s taut and gives off a Jordan Peele and “Twilight Zone” vibe.
9:40 p.m. Aug. 19 at California Theatre, and 4:45 p.m., Aug. 21 at Hammer Theatre