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Cinequest  Film Festival March 1-13, 2016, set in the home of the world’s most influential media technology companies (Apple, Cisco, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, LinkedIn etc.) showcases premier films, renowned and emerging artists, and breakthrough technology—empowering global connectivity between creators, innovators and audiences. Cinequest has led the world in its showcase and implementation of the innovations that have revolutionized film making, exhibition and distribution.

CQFF’s highest honor, the Maverick Award, recognizes bold, visionary and creative forces—exemplary in the worlds of Silicon Valley innovation and the film arts. A Maverick stands apart from the crowd willing to create and innovate from a place of personal yet global vision.This year, on February 28th, in a pre-festival special event, the award was given to James Franco. Actor, director, producer, writer, author, performance artist, meta-explorer, and teacher Franco went to school at Palo Alto High School. His teacher Esther Wojcicki was present at the award ceremony.

Franco, who was nominated for a best actor Oscar in 2011 for 127 Hours — and co-hosted the ceremony with Anne Hathaway, grew up in Palo Alto and is now working with Wojcicki on a film workshop for students from his alma mater.

Following high school graduation, Franco headed south to UCLA and took a theater class to overcome shyness. Bitten by the bug, he committed completely to becoming an actor, dropping out of college, and enrolling in the intense and rigorous program at the renowned Studio 4 Playhouse West. In 1999, he was fatefully cast by director Judd Apatow in the short-lived, but critically acclaimed—and eventual cult hit— television series Freaks and Geeks. Co-stars included Seth Rogen and Jason Segel.

Franco’s breakout role came in the 2001 TNT biopic James Dean for which he received a Golden Globe Award. Robert De Niro was so impressed with Franco’s performance that he personally cast him as the junkie son, Joey, in City by the Sea. Since then, Franco has amassed well over 100 acting credits, including 127 Hours, (Best Actor Academy Award nomination), MilkSpider-Man trilogyPineapple ExpressOz the Great and PowerfulRise of the Planet of the Apes, and Eat, Pray, Love.

One of his strangest, most interesting gigs was a self-initiated, 54-episode stint (2009-2012) on the soap opera General Hospital, as a crazy artist and serial killer named…Franco. With enthusiastic endorsement from the show’s producers, actor Franco’s idea was to create a new way of watching the long-running program, where the Franco character almost knows he’s an actor on a soap opera. The result was the creation of a bizarre meta vortex of images that, as performance art, examined the very nature of the viewing experience.

Eager to continue the education he’d abandoned earlier, Franco, at age 28 (then a steadily employed actor), returned to UCLA for a BA in Creative Writing. Concerned that other students would think he was being given a pass because of his celebrity and acting credentials, he took on additional mega units to demonstrate the seriousness of his intentions. He loved the course work so much that after UCLA, he immediately entered graduate degree programs in filmmaking (NYU), English/fiction writing (Columbia, Brooklyn College, Yale), and poetry (Warren Wilson College in North Carolina). One of the products of his studies is the short story collection, Palo Alto, published in 2010.

Apart from teaching film at Palo Alto High School, he teaches classes at NYU, USC, and UCLA.

Now, at 37, Franco has also donned the instructor’s mantel at NYU, USC, and UCLA. “I’ve been very fortunate. I had to work hard but had opportunities to do everything that I wanted. That’s one of the reasons I’m teaching. I’m trying to give back to other people. That’s what I guess I want to do now—continue to be creative in a way that I can give back.” – P.D. Crane

Watch movies at Cinequest.

Vandana Kumar

Vandana Kumar is a publishing executive with a 35-year track record in the industry. She leads the India Currents Foundation as President and CEO. As a new immigrant, she co-founded India Currents magazine...