The Answer Man Opens 12th Sonoma Film Festival


The Sonoma International Film Festival kicks off tonight with the Northern California premiere of The Answer Man, a shrewdly amusing drama starring Jeff Daniels (The Lookout, Traitor) as the author of a spiritual self-help book.

The film, which earned critical raves and a Grand Jury Prize nomination at Sundance, marks the feature debut of writer-director John Hindman, who was able to lure Daniels to the project on the strength of his script alone. (At the time, Hindman had no movie deal, much less a budget for big-name talent.) Daniels, whose reclusive writer believes none of his own bestselling psychobabble, heads a talent-rich cast featuring Lauren Graham, Kat Dennings and Juno’s Olivia Thirlby.

Other festival entries include:

Emmy-winning director Robert Kenner rages against the well-oiled corporate machinery of our nation’s food industry in Food, Inc., an often-shocking exposé that examines what we eat, where it comes from and why an estimated 73,000 Americans are affected by e coli-related illness each year. Among those on hand to help blow the whistle: Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan, director of the Knight Program in Science and Environmental Journalism at U.C. Berkeley.

Winner of the Grand Prize at last year’s Rhode Island International Film Festival and filmed on both sides of the Bay Bridge, director Jon Bowden’s The Full Picture is a tense depiction of a family torn asunder by long-festering secrets and one seriously domineering matriarch. The film stars Sonoma’s own Joshua Hutchinson as a lawyer who, despite his arsenal of smarmy quips, reveals a genuine tenderness in the final act – and steals the show in the process.

Luxembourg’s Anne Fontaine contributes The Girl from Monaco, her cheerfully eclectic black comedy about a middle-aged lawyer (Bertrand Beauvois) hired to defend a woman accused of offing a Russian mobster.

Inspired by a tuberculosis epidemic that struck Canada’s Inuit population in the 1940s and '50s, Benoît Pilon’s The Necessities of Life follows the ups and soul-crushing downs of a man who abandons his Far North home to recover in a Quebec City sanatorium. There he experiences extreme culture shock and, thanks to an unexpected connection with a young orphan, a reawakening of the spirit.

Matthew Lillard (Scream, Scooby-Doo) stars as the titular hero of Spooner, an engaging romantic comedy about a soon-to-be 30 misfit who still lives with his parents and earns a modest living, with little joy, as a used-car salesman. When a beautiful brunette (Nora Zehetner, of NBC’s Heroes) lends some much-needed spark to his universe while passing through town, his mission – to win her heart, whatever the cost – comes into focus.

For more information about the festival, which ends Sunday, or for tickets to Saturday evening’s tribute to featured guest honoree Bruce Willis, visit the Sonoma Film Fest’s official site.

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