by Peter Wong, 2013-02-22

What links a decommissioned American school bus, Indiana Jones, and traditional Balkan music? For Bay Area cinephiles, the answer is the 23rd edition of Cinequest. This year’s edition of the San Jose film festival runs February 26 through March 10. On tap are 85 world, North American, and U.S. premieres of films from 48 countries. The familiar names gracing this year’s festival include directors Sally Potter and Deepa Mehta, as well as such actors and subjects as Annette Bening, Mads Mikkelsen, Genevieve Bujold, and even George A. Romero.

Cinequest attendees will have the opportunity to catch more than just film screenings. The Picture the Possibilities conversations brings together business and entertainment leaders with young filmmakers hailing from Mexico City and Beijing. Demonstrations of Sony’s new 4K cinema projection technologies will introduce attendees to the newest and sharpest presentation of films for home and theatrical release.

Due to space restrictions, one can only touch on the more intriguing offerings at Cinequest.

The book-ending Opening and Closing Night Films come from two well-known directors of world cinema. Sally Potter’s “Ginger and Rosa” kicks off Cinequest 23 with a coming-of-age story about two young women living in 1960s London during the Cold War and the start of the Sexual Revolution. The film stars Elle Fanning, Alice Englert, Annette Bening, and Christina Hendricks.
Deepa Mehta’s epic “Midnight’s Children” ends Cinequest with an adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s Booker Prize-winning picturesque tale. The film concerns the intertwined fates of two children who are born in the first hour of India’s independence, but are accidentally switched at birth. Rushdie will appear in person to receive a Maverick Spirit Award.

Hollywood star-watchers will flock to this year’s Cinequest for the appearance of another Maverick Spirit Award recipient. This actor has played everyone from a falsely accused murder suspect to the President of the United States. He’s probably best known for being Hollywood’s iconic two-fisted archeologist/adventurer. As readers will have guessed, Harrison Ford will be in San Jose.

Speaking of iconic genre films, George A. Romero’s low budget chiller “Night of the Living Dead” became one of the classic zombie films. For those who wondered how the film came to be made, Rob Kuhns’ documentary “Year of the Living Dead” will recount the story of how Romero went from working on “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” to creating this horror classic.

Another 1960s pop figure is professional amateur George Plimpton, who did everything from playing with a football team to founding the influential literary journal “The Paris Review.” “Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself” takes viewers through this man’s incredible life.

Also incredible is Steve Wampler, the subject of the documentary “Wampler’s Ascent.” Scaling up El Capitan, the great mountain of Yosemite National Park, may sound mundane even with its dangers. But Wampler’s determined to make the climb in spite of his cerebral palsy.

Dealing with the infirmities of the body is the dramatic engine for Michael Mc Gowan’s Canadian love story “Still.” James Cromwell and Genevieve Bujold star as an elderly farm couple who face both a partner’s declining health and the unwelcome involvement of a government building inspector.

Stefan Schweitert’s documentary “Balkan Melodie” tells a different type of love story. It’s the tale of Marcel and Catherine Cellier, whose 1950s trip behind the Iron Curtain eventually led to Western listeners’ introduction to Zamfir, Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares, and other purveyors of traditional Balkan music.

1950s Czechoslovakia provides the setting for David Ondricek’s multiple award-winning thriller “In The Shadow.” In this Iron Curtain country, a police inspector’s investigation of a supposedly simple robbery leads to his clashing with the newly formed State Secret Police, who want to twist the crime for political gain.

Thomas Vinterberg’s “The Hunt” features Mads Mikkelsen in a performance that won him Best Actor honors at Cannes. Mikkelsen plays a divorced daycare worker living in a small tight-knit community whose life gets spectacularly upended for the worst thanks to a child’s innocent kiss.

What happens to American school busses after they get decommissioned? Mark Kendall’s documentary “La Camioneta: The Journey Of One American School Bus” follows a decommissioned school bus as it gets sent to Guatemala and repurposed for daily transportation for the country’s working class. But for the bus and its new owner, the challenges have just begun.

Hatuey Viveros’ interestingly titled drama “My Universe In Lowercase” offers a portrait of contemporary Mexico as told through the story of a nurse whose search for her father leads her to explore the tiny universes of Mexico City.

“Girl Shaped Love Drug” and “Oh Boy” each follow one day in the lives of its characters. The former film, set on the streets of Manchester, concerns a philosophical boy convinced fate is bringing him together with a sweet girl he accidentally encounters three times. The latter film is an award-winning crowd-pleasing comedy about a Berlin drifter’s often humorous encounters with odd characters such as a hyper-petty bureaucrat and a senile old lady with her armchair.

One of Cinequest’s weightier offerings is Peter Webber’s historical drama “Emperor.” General Douglas Mac Arthur (Tommy Lee Jones), with the aid of General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox), must determine whether Emperor Hirohito should stand trial for Japanese war crimes committed during the Second World War.

For those who prefer their cinema experiences with a heavy dose of absurdity and anarchy, Czech director Marek Najbrt’s “Polish Film” will definitely fill the bill. It begins with four well-known Czech actors playing themselves in a film. Yet what happens to them draws into question which film parts are scripted and which are…something else entirely.

As mentioned above, this is only a small sampling of the many films on offer at this year’s Cinequest. So whether you’re looking for Innovation, Inspiration, or even Love, Cinequest will have something that will catch your fancy.

(Cinequest runs from February 26, 2013 through March 10, 2013 at various venues in San Jose. For advance tickets and further information on the festival’s films, go to .)