Cinequest goes live again in South Bay after 2½ years – The Mercury News

When COVID-19 cut Cinequest short in March 2020, the plan was to mount the second half of the San Jose film festival in August of that year.

Fast-forward to August of this year, and Cinequest is making its much-anticipated return to an in-person format.  Films are set to be screened and events are set to be held Aug. 16-29.

“We thought we were postponing for a few months, but that wasn’t the case,” says Halfdan Hussey, co-founder and CEO of Cinequest Inc.

The 2½-year hiatus gave Hussey and the rest of the Cinequest staff some time to regroup.

“We’ve done it for quite a while, so it was nice to take a bit of a break,” Hussey says of the in-person festival. “I’m envisioning having fun again like it’s the first year. We don’t have any expectations because we’re coming out of the pandemic.”

The first Cinequest was held in 1990, with the first Maverick Spirit Award going to Jon Jost for his innovations in filmmaking. This year’s Maverick winners include Jim Gaffigan, whose film “Linoleum” will be screened on the festival’s opening night.

While Cinequest has featured plenty of established artists over the years, the festival is also a showcase for up-and-coming filmmakers from all over the world. This year’s 220 films represent 55 countries and include 130 world or U.S. premieres.

Hussey says festival submissions increased from 2020.

“For us, the biggest surprise with the film artists was that our expectations were that not a lot of great films were made in the last 2½ years,” he adds. “This year is the biggest comedy and inspirational film lineup we’ve had. People are bummed out enough; let’s do something to make them laugh.”

About 60 percent of the films at the in-person Cinequest were also screened during one of two online versions of the festival held during the pandemic. Cinejoy had already launched pre-pandemic, and Hussey says the online festival will take place regularly along with the in-person version.

“We’ve done three versions of Cinejoy,” he adds. “Every one has found a new way of bringing forward aspects you find at an in-person film festival. It helped extend our reach to different people who wouldn’t show up to San Jose.”

While the online festival brought in new audiences, Hussey says, “It doesn’t replace the experience of getting people together in person and meeting and talking. I’m really stoked that we were able to come back.

“Cinequest has always been about community,” he adds. “Not being able to do this for two years makes you realize this is special.”

The festival is dropping the virtual reality component that was showcased in recent years to focus on films.

“It’s nice to make that the focal point of the festival,” Hussey says.

While the in-person festival is usually held earlier in the year, Hussey says no decision has been made about when next year’s Cinequest will be.

“We have to be fluid and flexible,” he adds. “We’ll see how August goes.”

For ticket information and the full festival lineup, visit


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