How Cinequest weathered two years of COVID-19


When Cinequest was canceled in the middle of its 30th anniversary festival two years ago this month, no one had any idea what the future of Silicon Valley’s film and creativity festival held. Well, hardly anyone.

Co-founder Halfdan Hussey knew Cinequest had the ability to stream movies and recreate the festival experience in a virtual setting – he had done it before.

“We were having a virtual internet film festival in 2003, 2005,” he said. “Initially, people laughed at the distribution of films on the Internet in those days, believe it or not.”

The ‘alpha’ version of a live online festival was launched in October, when people were still reeling from the first big wave of the pandemic. Two more took place in 2021 and the fourth iteration will run from April 1-17, with 132 movies and TV shows – including 82 world and US premieres – from 53 countries available to the public. And special events are still going strong, including virtual “red carpets” spotlighting the filmmakers and cast of the evening, online screening parties where groups can interact with each other after watching a film and a virtual “VIP Lounge” where ticket holders can mingle with each other. via avatars (even if you’re alone for Tito’s beer, wine, and vodka).

Fans head to the California Theater for the Cinequest opening night on Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (Sal Pizarro/Bay Area News Group)

“This challenge for us was not a disappointment or a depressing one during COVID,” Hussey said. “It was an exhilarating challenge, so we called this experience ‘Cinejoy’ because we wanted to bring people the joy of humanity, the joy of cinema, the joy of positive and affirming talk.”

Cinejoy’s opening night film is “18½,” a 1970s Watergate conspiracy thriller and dark comedy directed by Slamdance Film Festival co-founder Dan Mirvish that stars Willa Fitzgerald, John Magaro, Bruce Campbell, Richard Kind and Jon Cryer. The screening will be preceded by a conversation with the stars and filmmakers. In addition to the 15 “Spotlight” films that will be shown on certain evenings, you can also buy tickets for the other films in the “showcase” program, available to watch 24/7 throughout the duration of the festival. The easiest option is to grab a festival pass for $129. You can view the lineup and purchase tickets at

Gemma Arterton, who stars in the short film “Bump” (April 10), is the first announced winner of this year’s Maverick Spirit Award. And while the awards show will be virtual instead of the lavish California Theater, Hussey says that has its perks. “If we put Gemma Arterton on stage, it’s going to be very electric, but only 1,100 people will be able to see it,” he said. “And if you don’t have a front row seat, she’s going to seem a bit far from you.”

The in-person version of Cinequest is set to make a triumphant return to downtown San Jose in August, and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo included a $75,000 funding request in his March budget message to help “restart” the festival. But Hussey doesn’t expect Cinejoy to go away once audiences return to in-person screenings.

“We feel it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that we’re very excited about,” he said. “It wasn’t just a COVID substitution. We will continue to create cool new experiences that match the world of global Internet access.

LIBRARY RESTORATION SEARCH: The San Jose Public Library Foundation will be recognized at Tuesday’s San Jose City Council meeting for its 35th anniversary. But while the group no doubt appreciates the commendation, they would also like to see something more from the city council: $2 million in funding to restore the hours and staff of the city’s 25 libraries to levels pre-COVID-19.

At a rally at the West Valley Branch Library, Foundation executive director Dawn Coppin said before the pandemic, library branches were open 47 hours a week and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library du downtown was open 77 hours a week, collectively serving 6 million people. visitors.

San Jose Library Foundation Executive Director Dawn Coppin speaks during a rally to restore funding to the San Jose Public Library System at the West Valley Branch Library on Thursday, March 10, 2022. (Photo by Marilyn Nguyen/PRxDigital)

“What does this 2 million dollars mean? If parents need a safe place for their children to go after school, if they need help with their child to do homework and prepare for a successful transition to adulthood, if parents need fun and educational activities, the city can provide that,” said Coppin, who was joined at the rally by San Jose City Council member Chappie Jones, whose mother was a librarian.

“I know firsthand the impact libraries have on the lives of our community members,” said Jones, who urged colleagues to put hours and staff back into the budget process. “Having access to the library for more hours will have a huge impact on the lives of our residents.”

ST. THE RETURN OF PATRICK’S DAY: It’s hard to believe that five years have passed since the last St. Patrick’s Day party at the venerable CB Hannegan’s in Los Gatos, which closed in late 2017 and has been replaced by, well, nothing since then. But restaurateur Alexander Hult hopes to bring that St. Patrick’s Day spirit back to Mountain Charley’s at 15 N Santa Cruz Avenue, where he and Jim Foley, part of the building’s owners group, are planning a “ShamRock-N-Roll Party” on March 17.

The festivities begin at noon, with live music, food, DJs and, yes, green beer.

‘VIETGONE’ WILL BE SOON HERE: San Jose’s City Lights Theater Company just shut down Agatha Christie’s ‘The Hollow’, whose full run was pushed back two weeks due to COVID-19, and is rapidly preparing its next show, ‘Vietgone,’ which will s opens for one month on March 24.

Qui Nguyen’s play is both a hip-hop comedy and a love story of Vietnamese refugees settling into American life in 1970s Arkansas. Chopsticks Alley is City Lights’ nonprofit partner on the show, and executive director Trami Cron brought a group of Vietnamese community leaders to watch the rehearsal with cast and director Jeffrey Lo. You can get tickets for the real thing at


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