Pass the Remote: Cinequest serves up genre flicks in San Jose   

"Eden" finds Saratoga vintners Jeffrey and Ellie Patterson reflecting on where they've been and where they're going. (Courtesy Nomadic Bear Productions)

The Cinequest Film & Creativity Festival flexes its genre muscle this year, showcasing 217 films (66 are world premieres) during its March 7-17 run in San Jose, with most screenings at the California Theatre unless noted.

A special AI Day and Town Hall event on March 6 is a prelude to the main event, which opens with the world premiere of the eerie, atmospheric “The Island Between Tides” at 7:15 p.m. March 7 and concludes with “Hard Miles,” a crowd pleaser about an inspiring cycling trek, at 7 p.m. March 17. 

At that closing screening, “Hard Miles” star Matthew Modine will be presented with the Maverick Spirit Award, the festival’s highest honor.  

True to its tradition, Cinequest continues to celebrate genre filmmaking —from comedies to horror to thrillers to dramas—along with documentaries. This year, the fest spotlights silent film classics on March 8: 1920’s “The Mark of Zorro” with Douglas Fairbanks (7:15 p.m.) and 1923’s “Our Hospitality” with Buster Keaton (9:30 p.m.). The program features Dennis James on the organ.  

Can’t make it? You’re still in luck. Cinejoy, the virtual portion of Cinequest, offers streaming selections from March 21-31. 

Tickets are $8 for matinees, $9 for students, $14 general and more for special events. For a complete lineup and to purchase tickets or passes, visit

We dove into the program and plucked out five nuggets: 

A vintner family wrangles about who should eventually take the reins of the highly regarded Mount Eden Vineyards in Saratoga in the artfully shot documentary “Eden.” Soquel-based filmmaker Chris McGilvray’s visuals nicely complement the metaphorical story about a couple, Jeffrey and Ellie Patterson, who worked tremendously hard and sacrificed much over 40 years to create the one-of-a-kind winery nestled in hills. The film also introduces their adult children, Reid and Sophie, who distanced themselves from the vineyard, but come back around when monumental shifts happen in their parents’ lives. “Eden,” receiving a world premiere, should be seen on a big screen due to its gorgeous, often reflective cinematography from Isiah Flores and McGilvray. (4:30 p.m. March 9) 

In “Old Righteous Blues,” Hantjie (Ayden Croy) finds that actions of others in the past hinder him from moving up the ranks in a choir band. (Courtesy Cinequest)

Familial secrets and feuds sound a note of discord for members of the beloved Christmas Choir Band, a dedicated group adhering closely to tradition in “Old Righteous Blues.” Set in a South African town, this earnest drama plays out sincerely even as it delivers a fair share of shocks. Director Muneera Sallies genuinely cares about the plight and concerns of her characters, in particular the talented but passed-over protagonist Hantjie (Ayden Croy), an ambitious hothead who gets passed over to be drum major. What begins like a “Bring It On!” for the drum major corps set turns into an emotional drama about not judging a current generation for others’ past actions. (11:30 a.m. March 9) 

In “Paradise,” Patricia Allison plays a punk and gunslinger out to avenge her father’s murder. (Courtesy Cinequest)

Ella (Patricia Allison) isn’t your typical cinematic gunslinger. In Max Isaacson’s island-set Western “Paradise,” the “Sex Education” star proves she’s capable of getting into, and out of, bloody trouble. Everything goes down when her lovable sheriff father is slain, leaving her without one parent. Hellbent on rubbing out the creeps who did the dirty deed, Ella crosses paths with one shady mayor (Tate Donovan) and his doofus of a drug-dealing son (C.J. Hoff) who’s always putting creepy moves on her. Tia Carrere pops in for a hilarious surprise cameo in this fast-paced thriller. It receives a world premiere and opts for a high body count. It also cements Allison’s rep as a talent on the rise. (7:15 p.m. March 11) 

Ryan Sarno’s “The Greatest” is about a love that had to exist in the shadows of the 1960s. (Courtesy Cinequest)

Prepare to tear up a little, perhaps a lot, watching director-screenwriter Ryan Sarno’s queer period romance “The Greatest.” Sarno fashions a richly detailed 1960s-set love triangle wherein young straight couple Jay (Isaac Nevrla) and Beverly (Isabela Jacobsen) discover something’s slightly amiss in their relationship when Ricky (Sergio Acevedo) catches Jay’s eye. Sarno’s fondness for period details shine through in every beautifully shot scene. It’s a quiet, seductive story about a secret love and the devastation of repression due to the stringent cultural demands of the time for women and the LGBTQ community. (9:30 p.m. March 16 at Hammer Theatre Center) 

As movie buffs know, the 1956 Howard Hughes production “The Conqueror” was a travesty in every way, from its casting to dialogue. In addition, filming it downwind of nuclear testing proved to be deadly, not only for people involved in the production, but also for those living in communities around St. George, Utah. In “The Conqueror: Hollywood Fallout,” director William L. Nunez probes what did and didn’t happen, exposing how people were advised that they wouldn’t be harmed—but the surging rates of illness and death proved differently. Nunez’s documentary, receiving a world premiere, pays equal attention to the film’s stars and the area’s residents. It’s powerful. (6:50 p.m. March 10 at Hammer Theatre Center)  

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