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Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)

 


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Interview with Director Sean Cisterna for FROM THE VINE (2019) @ 9th Annual Napa Valley Film Festival

Interview with Sean Cisterna, Director of FROM THE VINE (2019), at 9th Annual Napa Valley Film Festival

Interview with Sean Cisterna, Director of FROM THE VINE (2019), at 9th Annual Napa Valley Film Festival Director Sean Cisterna

Sean Cisterna is an accomplished, multi award-winning film director whose works are frequently screened at recognized international festivals. His first theatrical feature, Moon Point (2011), was acquired by The Movie Network and broadcast nationally in 2012. His feature length documentary 30 Ghosts (2013) was developed out of the Hot Docs International Documentary Film Festival's Doc Ignite program and now resides with the National Film Board of Canada. Full Out (2015), a family film about California gymnast Ariana Berlin, soared to the top of the ratings across all non-sports networks when it debuted on Family Channel in Canada before it was acquired by Disney Europe and Netflix worldwide. Kiss and Cry (2017) was acquired by Netflix worldwide as well. The film has received strong reviews, and many thousands of emotional audience responses across all social media platforms.

Most recently, Cisterna directed the award-winning feature film From The Vine (2019), an international coproduction between Italy and Canada, centered around the world of wine, and filmed in Acerenza, a 2000 year old town never before featured on film. From the Vine stars Emmy winner Joe Pantoliano (The Sopranos, The Matrix, Memento), Canadian Screen Award winner Wendy Crewson (Air Force One, The Santa Clause) and Italian acting legend Marco Leonardi (Cinema Paradiso, Like Water for Chocolate). From the Vine (2019) is making its international film festival tour. Most recently, it screened at the 9th annual Napa Valley Film Festival (NVFF).

In an interview with Sean after the 2019 NVFF, here is what he had to say:

 

How long from writing the script to finishing the film did it take you?

SEAN: Screenwriter Willem Wennekers adapted the award-winning novel Finding Marco by Ken Cancellara. Willem took the main themes of ethics and returning to one's roots and wove it into the wine plotline. The screenplay is quite different from the book, though you'll find all the main characters, locations and themes. Just like any strong character, it's amazing what a journey a story can go on, as well.

 

What attracted you most about directing this film?

SEAN: I wanted to direct From the Vine for a few reasons. Having made a couple of youth films that have gained some popularity on Netflix (Kiss and Cry and Full Out), I wanted the challenge of doing something a little more mature for an older audience. And, c'mon, who doesn't want to shoot a movie in Italy? I loved the challenge of shooting in a second language, and because it's an international coproduction between two countries which I have familial ties with: Canada (where I was born) and Italy (where my father is from). 

 

The cast was fantastic. How did you go about casting the film and did they all work together well?

SEAN: It was Paula Brancati, who played Laura in our film, who suggested Joe Pantoliano for the lead character, Mark Gentile. Our casting director Larissa Mair put us in touch with Joe's agent. I wrote him a nice letter and asked if he'd read the part. Joe called his agent back and said "this is some kind of mistake. Mark is the lead character". Joe was shocked that we'd offer him the lead role, but I loved the idea of the iconic actor playing against type and doing something more romantic. 

SEAN CONT’D: Marco Leonardi plays Luca, the local poliziotto in Acerenza. Marco is a legend in Italy, having starred in Cinema Paradiso and Like Water for Chocolate. We met him in Toronto early on in the development process and he was the first person we cast. Wendy Crewson also came on board because she knew she could bring something unique to the character of Marina...and the offer to shoot a film in Italy was too hard to pass up. Luckily, Paula Brancati had worked with Wendy in the past, and Paula reached out to Wendy personally with the offer. We were really lucky to get her.

SEAN CONT’D: And the local actors in Italy were all just so natural and charismatic - and many had never acted before. The townspeople in Acerenza simply wanted to participate, and the local mayor helped us cast some of the supporting roles in the film. 

 

How did you finance the film, and do you think it's necessary to fund films via co-production these days? 

SEAN: We financed much of the film with private equity, and with the help of Ontario Creates (our provincial funding source), and federal and provincial tax credits in Canada. On the Italian side, the Lucana Film Commission promised us some funds, as well as Italian tax credits. As funds seem to dwindle around the world, my new mandate is to seek out coproductions. They're a bit more of a headache to finance, but ultimately, it pushes filmmakers to tell stories with a broader, more universal appeal that can transcend borders.

 

Do you have any anecdotes (good or bad) from the set that stick out most?

SEAN: When I look back at From the Vine's production, I'll just remember the warm, community feeling that formed from the first day. It was the first time in Acerenza's history that a movie had ever filmed there, so it was a special event - and everyone wanted to participate. The local restaurant owner's kids were cast as the young children in the movie. The Archbishop met with us and gave us access to the stunning cathedral in the center of town. At one point, Wendy Crewson was getting her hair styled for the film, and one of the locals brought her accordion to play for her. Wendy filmed it on her phone, showed me, and now she supplies all the music on camera for the party scene early in the film. We were always on the lookout for the town to showcase its many unique talents.

 

How important is it for filmmakers to attend international film festivals?

SEAN: It's not only important, but it's necessary. So necessary. You never know who you're going to meet, and if you're shy, you gotta break out of that mold quickly and learn to network. I'm currently being interviewed from Łódź, Poland, where we're screening From the Vine at the Cinergia festival. It's here where we met Jacek Szumlas, the distributor at Solopan, and we signed a distribution deal to release our film in theatres across Poland. This is the same company that released Moonlight here, so we're in great company.

 

How was your experience at NVFF?

SEAN: Napa Valley Film Festival was a highlight on the festival circuit so far. First, the setting couldn't have been more perfect for a film with a wine theme. The screenings were well-attended - we had about 700 people show up for an afternoon screening of our film and my jaw dropped. The audiences are smart and sophisticated. And the networking opportunities were amazing! I met agents, managers, writers, actors, producers, distributors - including the creators of SOMMTV, a new wine-themed streaming service. Wouldn't that be a great fit for our film? If they like our film as much as audiences do and license it down the road, it would be very telling how important going to film festivals is for an indie filmmaker. 

 

How have audiences reacted to the film?

SEAN: We've screened in many countries around the world now, and I can say one thing - audiences really love From the Vine. The one clear message that we get is that in times of despair and uncertainty in the world, it's just necessary to regularly spend time in a pleasant, warm and friendly environment. Our film is good for the soul.

 

What will you be directing next?

SEAN: Next up, if all goes well, is Long Ride Home. It's based on the true story of Filipe Leite, a young Brazilian immigrant who, after 8 years of building a life in Canada, is forced to leave when his permanent residency runs out. He sets on a quest back home by riding a pair of donated horses from Calgary, Alberta to Pinhal, Brazil, a momentous journey across 12 borders spanning over 800 days. It's a modern-day adventure film, with a timely political issue. 

SEAN CONT’D: Those wishing to connect can follow me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter at @seancisterna or follow From the Vine at @fromthevinemovie on Facebook or Instagram.

 

Interview by Vanessa McMahon

 

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