Arriving early on the opening night of the 2016 Nevada City Film Festival, I mingled with moviemakers, organizers and audience members, all of us eager for the festival to start.

Of Shark And Man (the film on which I’d worked as sound designer and composer) was to be the main feature of the night—but that could wait. First there was the “Adventure Program” of films, ranging from short to hour-long offerings. I was particularly eager to see Ben Henretig’s Crossing Bhutan. It did not disappoint. The audience was utterly engaged, and the subsequent Q&A was extensive.

As I sat at the back of the auditorium to watch my film—the film I had seen so many times, in various stages of completion—it occurred to me that I had never actually seen Of Shark And Man on the big screen. I felt like I was watching the Californian premiere of the film with fresh eyes and new ears. Audience engagement had not faded, even that late into the evening. A huge portion remained to ask many questions about my involvement in Of Shark And Man, and I found myself talking with audience members outside, long after the doors had closed.

With opening night behind me, the rest of the festival was ahead of me to enjoy as a spectator.

Even though I now call Nevada County home, the Nevada City with which I have become so familiar was given a different lease on life for the weekend. Unlike the larger film festivals I have attended in big cities in England, where it is so easy to get lost in the crowd, the filmmakers and attendees at NCFF quickly became familiar faces, and the conversations about film and filmmaking filled the streets.

I had been told that the organizers of NCFF try to out-do themselves each year, and this year they managed to transform part of one of the venues into a VR exhibition. Kaleidoscope VR had set up a weekend residency, and I joined awestruck people all immersed in their own private universes, experiencing the next big thing in visual technology. Walking around a 3-D representation of Van Gogh’s The Night Café was unbelievable and unforgettable.

Little Miss Sunshine screens at Nevada City Film Festival 2016, with a discussion with directors and Steve Carell

Little Miss Sunshine screens at Nevada City Film Festival 2016, followed by a discussion with its directors and Steve Carell

Another highlight of the festival was a 10th-anniversary screening of Little Miss Sunshine, followed by a Q&A, with not only the directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris on stage, but also Steve Carell, streamed in live. All this in California’s oldest existing theater building, the Nevada Theatre, a place that appears to have been lifted straight out of an old Western.

Drawing to a close with an outdoor screening of the “Best of The Fest” films, NCFF brought together the community feel of a small, homegrown film festival, with technical and creative execution punching above its weight. It clearly deserves its reputation as “the Sundance of the Sierras.” MM

David Lawrie is an English-born music producer and award-winning sound designer who now resides in California. For more information on Nevada City Film Festival, visit its website here.