A sold-out movie premiere opened the Cinequest Film Festival in downtown San Jose Wednesday night, with movie stars, city officials, residents and visitors packing into the newly renovated California Theatre for the start of the 12-day celebration of creativity and art.
Organizers rolled out the red carpet onto the sidewalk of South First Street this evening as a crowd gathered outside the theater, which seats 1,000 and was filled to capacity by the end of the night.
Stars of the movie "Wake," which premiered tonight as the film festival's first screening, arrived to walk the red carpet and proceed through the theater.
The movie, starring Bijou Philips, Jane Seymour, Danny Masterson and Marguerite Moreau, is a dark comedy exploring Philips' character Carys, who frequents strangers' funerals and falls in love.
"To have this movie at this festival is such a big deal to me," Philips said. "It's just an awesome project. We had no money, we really struggled, we had to just sort of try and make it if we could. It was rough, it was rough getting this film made."
Philips, who said she has family in the Bay Area and spent some of her childhood here, was clearly awed as she walked into the expansive theater.
"It's the most beautiful theater I've ever seen," Philips said. "It's unbelievable. This is what I love about California, theaters like this."
Philips' boyfriend Danny Masterson, who starred in the sitcom "That 70s Show," stars in "Wake" and is also screening "Capers" on Thursday. He joked that he has enjoyed visits to the Bay Area before.
"I've been up to San Francisco probably 50 times, I've been to San Jose probably 10 times, and I love both cities a lot," he said. "I've been to Oakland twice, too. I know about Oak-Town, you know."
More than 72 films are scheduled to premiere during the festival, which will also feature forums on weekends. The California Theatre, Camera 12, and the San Jose Repertory Theater will show films, said Jessica Trainor, a spokeswoman for the festival.
Local filmmakers and actors featured in the dozens of films screening during the festival also milled into the California Theatre this evening for opening night.
Mark Tran, a San Jose resident and former film major at San Jose State University, will be screening his film "All About Dad" on Saturday.
His script for the movie, a Vietnamese comedic family drama, started in a university screenwriting class, Tran said. A professor encouraged Tran to finish the screenplay, and the "very low budget" production enlisted the help of friends to complete production, Tran said.
Showing the film just blocks from his alma mater is a thrill, Tran said.
"It's exciting," he said. "Especially Cinequest having such a diverse demographic and all of my family and friends can come see it."
Organizers have estimated the festival, which will continue through March 8, will boost business in downtown San Jose and have an economic impact between $4 and $5 million.
An estimated 80,000 people from 44 different countries are expected to participate in some part of the festival, with hundreds of filmmakers and other industry officials also in attendance.
City officials attended tonight's event, including Mayor Chuck Reed and several city council members.
The city supports the 19-year-old festival and its ability to bring together creativity and innovation, Reed spokeswoman Michelle McGurk said.
"Cinequest has almost two decades of history in downtown San Jose and continues to grow," McGurk said. "Part of what makes it really special for San Jose and for Silicon Valley is that the event shows the exciting things that can happen when art and technology connect."
Hotel bookings, restaurants and other businesses benefit from the influx of visitors downtown, she said.
"(The festival) really brings life with all of the visitors who come downtown to see the movies, to frequent the restaurants and the nightclubs downtown," she said. "Our downtown businesses really benefit from the activity that Cinequest generates."
McGurk noted that given the poor economy, a sold-out opening night demonstrates the festival's unshakable ability to draw crowds.
"At a time when the economy is down, to have an event sold out for opening night and have numbers that look like they're meeting their goals and exceeding their goals its really exciting and it shows what a tradition the event has become," she said.
Information about ticket prices and show times for Cinequest screening and forums is available online at http://www.cinequest.org.