The motion picture “Sideways” celebrated its 10th anniversary Sunday with a special screening at the Arlington Theatre, which featured a post-film interview with director-writer Alexander Payne and star Virginia Madsen. It was a time to toast the cultural resonance of this humble character study, as its effects are still being felt in the Santa Ynez Valley and beyond.
Ten years ago, “Sideways” enlivened the entire county when Fox Searchlight announced it would be shooting among the many wineries that dot the area, but that was before it was released. After its premiere, and its run of film festivals, and its several Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, our county realized just how important this film was to the economy, and to this day, visitors can take a tour that takes in the wineries that its lead anti-hero Miles (Paul Giamatti) and his friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) seek out.
At a well-attended afternoon screening, guests got to see a screening of “Sideways” 10 years to the week of its premiere and then were treated to a Q&A hosted by News-Press columnist Gabe Saglie with the filmmakers and Frank Ostini of Hitching Post II and Martin Brown of Kalyra, two of the locations featured in the film.
Since “Sideways,” director Alexander Payne has gone on to further success with the George Clooney vehicle “The Descendants” and the black-and-white “Nebraska,” both of which got Oscar nominations. For Virginia Madsen, the film gave her extra clout in Hollywood and on TV, most recently in “Witches of East End” where she plays a character 180 degrees from her lovely role in “Sideways” as Maya, the waitress who Miles tries to woo.
At first the two filmmakers were a bit glib to test the waters, like when Ms. Masdsen was asked how she got the role (“I auditioned”) or when Mr. Payne was asked – in a long rambling question – if it was the characters that drew him to the film (Answer: “Yes.”) But afterwards they opened up and were quite giving, especially when the two vintners shared the stage with them.
The long-running joke in the film is how Miles detests merlot for being trendy. But despite Mr. Saglie’s goading, backed with figures, about how merlot sales dipped after the film became popular, both vintners said that its dismissal made their wine more popular.
“Our first wine we made in ’79 was a merlot,” Mr. Ostini said. “And I didn’t think the world needed another merlot. But after the movie we bottled a 2004 merlot from Westerly Vineyard. We have great grapes in our region, we can make any variety. We can make anything here, we’re so blessed.”
For Mr. Payne, the secret to his success is the small budget. “Sideways” cost $16 million and grossed $160 million, not counting DVD sales and beyond. “It doesn’t make it any easier when I go to write a screenplay. There’s always a blank page.”
For Ms. Madsen it helped opened the door to other gigs. “For our whole lives, for what we do as actors, we have to hustle,” said the actress. “So now the hustle isn’t as hard. For all the press, the audience, the attention, all the stuff that came down from this film, it made me feel more confident. It still does. Before this film I didn’t feel that way.”
The film is set to be released on Blu-Ray, and Alexander Payne is set to start on a new film that’s been a long time brewing. However, don’t expect a “Sideways 2” he said.
Despite the original novelist Rex Pickett having continued his tales of Miles and Jack, Mr. Payne said he didn’t want to “step in the same river twice.”
As for Mr. Ostini, the “Sideways” effect continues. He’s off to London soon to promote Santa Barbara County to the London Tourist Board.