Cinequest Film Festival expands beyond San Jose

Tuesday is opening night for an independent film festival in downtown San Jose. Through March 12, Cinequest is premiering 120 films from around the world.

For the first time, the festival will have screenings in Redwood City after Camera 12 Cinemas in downtown San Jose closed last year. Also, new this year, the spotlight is on virtual reality films.

The red carpet is rolled out and the California Theatre in downtown San Jose is buzzing with excitement. The Cinequest film festival is back.

“It’s cool to have a little bit of Hollywood down here,” said Jenifer Aguilar of San Jose. “See what a premiere might be like.”

One-thousand people are expected to attend the 10-day film festival. Now, in its 27th year, it showcases 200 movies mostly independent. The opening night film The Last Word starring Shirley Maclaine and directed by Mark Pellington who called it an honor.

“I think this is an up and coming festival that's gaining in its reputation and therefore festivals like that can take chances,” said Pellington. “They have a different energy. There are not so cynical so it's nice.”

More people will have the chance to see films outside downtown San Jose with screenings at Santana Row and in Redwood City after the closure of the festival's main venue Camera 12 last September.

“This gives people more options and opportunities up and down the peninsula so we are looking for a really big year,” said Cinequest CEO & Co-Founder Halfdan Hussey.

It’s a big year-to showcase virtual reality. “Asteroids” is one of 42 virtual reality short films where movie fans will be given headsets.

“We wanted to wait for this year to do it because now there's exciting new content in virtual reality,” said Hussey. “The technologies are fantastic.”

It’s also time for local filmmakers to shine like Saila Kariat from Los Altos, a former IBM engineer making her directorial debut for the movie The Valley.

“The story takes place here,” said Kariat. “I was completely shot here. It has a special meaning to debut here so we are thrilled.”

All of them are hoping to inspire the next generation of filmmakers like this young man motivated after attending Cinequest last year.

“People are out here at Cinequest with their films that are doing great,” said Haydin Trammel of San Jose. “They had barely any budget with it so I think it's nice for people to create something and for people to see it.”

A beloved part of Cinequest is the Maverick Spirit Awards. This year is one of the recipients is Jane Lynch, the comedian from the FOX show Glee. Lynch will be at Cinequest on March 11.

With hotels and restaurants full, the film festival estimates a $10 million economic impact for the South Bay.