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Vanessa McMahon

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Interview with Kevin McNeely, Executive Director of Sonoma International Film Festival

Interview with Kevin McNeely, Executive Director of Sonoma International Film Festival

Born in Minnesota, Kevin McNeely moved to New York for school where he lived for twenty years. In 1992, Kevin and his wine Rosemary moved to Sonoma, California where they have lived ever since. A professional in wine and film, Kevin has held an illustrious career between both worlds. In wine, he partnered with the Roessler brothers at Roessler Cellars in 1990 and later partnered with R2 (AKA R Squared) Wine Company. In film, Kevin works as Executive Director of the Sonoma International Film Festival, a boutique five-day event in one of the top ten destinations of the world.

Now in its 24th year, the Sonoma International Film Festival (March 24 - 28, 2021) features more than 90 hand-selected films including independent features, documentaries, world cinema and short films. It also showcases top international cuisines, local art and select high-end regional wines. While the festival focuses on bringing attention to independent cinema and filmmakers, Hollywood industry A listers, such as Bruce Willis, John Lasseter, Susan Sarandon, Robin Williams and Ray Liotta attend annually as well.

While Covid 19 put a stop to almost every 2020 international film festival globally, some held this year’s edition digitally. SIFF was one of these, which was successfully held from July 30th to August 2nd, 2020. The festival continues its digital online presence weekly with film reviews, industry interviews and film screenings and will continue to do so through 2021 when the festival returns to an in-person event once more.

I recently interviewed Executive Director Kevin McNeely about his SIFF digital film festival experience. Here is what he had to say:


Many were not able to pull a film festival off in 2020 during Covid. Yet you did and with flying colors. Was it a difficult feat? 

KEVIN: We used Eventive..the same platform we use for our ticketing…it was intuitive and easy to navigate…it has inspired us to do a virtual platform in parallel with the live festive next March, 2021.


In your opinion, was the online 2020 Sonoma Film Festival successful?

KEVIN: Virtual access codes sent to all pass holders of the March festival….we sold a couple hundred @ $75 each!


How did the viewership turn out and what was the response?

KEVIN: Here are the analytics reported to us from Eventive:

SIFF 2.0 Virtual Film Festival

100+ films

20 countries

150 filmmakers

200 sponsors

4 days

10,984 total streams

22,402 reached internationally

3,973 hours of content viewed/5 months | 15 days | 12 hours | 56 minutes

An unbelievable online experience!


What were some titles you had at the market that were a highlight for you?

KEVIN: THE CUBAN (LOUIS GOSSETT,JR.), I AM WOMAN (Helen Reddy story), THE ARTIST’S WIFE (Lena Olin & Bruce Dern), DAYS OF RAGE: THE ROLLING STONES’ ROAD TO ALTAMOUNT, THE CAVERN:THE BEAT GOES ON (The early Beatles), THE CAVE (The Thai rescue of the boys soccer team), THE LENIN FACTOR, ON BROADWAY (Helen Mirren, Peter O’Toole and all-star cast), BANSKY & THE RISE OF OUTLAW ART and five amazing shorts programs!

What kind of content genres seem to be the most preferred at this time of tension and uncertainty?

KEVIN: Our audience loves documentaries, world cinema and narrative…we have passholders who see 26 films over the five days.

How do you think what has happened this year will impact the future of the film festivals on the whole? And are online festivals here to stay? 

KEVIN: we are planning a virtual festival at the same time of the live Festival March 24-28 2021.

How has Covid and the lack of public events impacted Sonoma itself and the wine region? 

KEVIN: We are doing drive-ins at the local airport (no night landings)...110+ cars…they are fantastic...


Interview by Vanessa McMahon

Comments (1)

Nice Interview

thanks Vanessa

 We love the Sonoma film fest


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