Napa Valley’s vineyards, tasting rooms and hotels are usually the destination’s draw, but this weekend the region’s film festival made it a stomping ground for those who made the trek up from Los Angeles — or, as in the case of Legendary Actor award honoree John Travolta, the flight straight from his house in Ocala.
“It’s a good place for film because people here are connoisseurs of lifestyle — fine wine, fine dining, fine atmosphere — and I think that parallels with fine films,” Travolta said. “I think that there’s an integrity with this. Film can be, when it’s in this venue, self-serving, but this seems to be the opposite of that.”
That said, Travolta’s attendance was, by definition self-serving. He was being honored, according to Napa Valley Film Festival cofounder and director Brenda Lhormer, for his willingness to take risks as an actor. “John’s a courageous and brilliant character actor who is not afraid to take on roles that might make others run far, far away from the challenges,” she said.
“Any film that I play a real character in, with attributes that are very different from my own, are the ones that I’ve enjoyed the most,” said Travolta, who pointed out “Urban Cowboy” as one of his first such roles.
Although this was the second time this year that Travolta and wife Kelly Preston had made the trip to wine country (the first being for the wedding of Riley Keough), for some of the younger honorees, such as Lydia Hearst and Finn Wittrock, this was their first time tasting its fruits — and they’d only just made it through the Champagne.
This go-around of the festival — its fifth iteration — manifested with events throughout the valley for five days, but Friday night’s Celebrity Tribute Program saw perhaps the most star wattage, with additional attendees including Keegan-Michael Key, who shared his experience with President Obama at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner on stage with Devon Sawa, who costars with Travolta in “Life on the Line,” which premiered at the festival.
Emilie de Ravin, who is expecting, only sniffed the wines, although she did indulge in a massage, she said, along with some chocolate and cheese. Josh Pence, for his part, praised the festival because, rather than sending out screeners, the format required the films to be viewed as they were meant to — in a theater.
“A wool-blend pantsuit,” said Abigail Spencer there with Pence, her husband. This was their second year at the festival — they were “still drunk” from when they attended two years ago), and their film “Winter Light” was being shown.
Hearst couldn’t remember the designer of her dress — but as a consolation, she offered that Christian Siriano would be designing her wedding gown for her upcoming nuptials to Chris Hardwick. And, she hinted, there might be some color along with the white.
After Friday’s ceremony, guests dispersed to a number of wine-soaked after parties throughout the valley. Jean-Charles Boisset, known for raucous events more reminiscent of Las Vegas than wine country, hosted go-go dancers and aerialists among the steel vats.
Thankfully, there was a quiet billiards room nearby where festival cofounder Marc Lhormer could pow-wow with Key. Unfortunately, there was to be no pool-playing that evening; Boisset had smartly hidden the pool cues to stave off any wine-induced mishaps.