The new short full-length film from Alum Jason Wise (BFA Film Production, ’04), SOMM, was recently named the opening film of the Napa Valley Film Festival, and received a glowing write up in The Hollywood Reporter.

Jason Wise’s latest short feature film, SOMM, is making headlines in the indie film press, as it prepares to headline a major film festival.  Appropriately enough, the film’s first big break is at the Napa Valley Film Festival, the California region renowned for its prolific wine culture, where the film takes the center stage as the opening film of the festival, according to their press release:

The Napa Valley Film Festival will kick off with the world premiere of the documentary feature film SOMM on Wednesday, November 7, 2012.   SOMM (slang for “sommelier”) follows four talented young sommeliers as they cram for the grueling, notoriously difficult Master Sommelier exam.  The exam – a test with one of the lowest pass rates in the world – covers everything to do with the pairing of wine and food on a global level.

“We are honored to host the world premiere of SOMM,” said Marc Lhormer, Executive & Artistic Director of the Napa Valley Film Festival (NVFF).  ”Not only is the content a perfect fit for the food and wine-obsessed culture of Napa Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area, but the film itself is a tremendously well-executed, hilarious and compelling thrill ride of a documentary that will appeal to a broad movie-going audience.”

The title SOMM is a portion of the French word sommelier, meaning butler – which is itself, humorously, descended from the term “pack-animal driver.”  According to the film, this is no coincidence, for the test puts the world’s most elite palates through a greulingly comprehensive trial.  The Hollywood Reporter writes,

Wise decided the exam, whose pass rate is only 10 percent, was worthy of feature-length consideration after watching McClintic prepare for it by immersing himself in intense blind taste tests for practice. “It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” he says, noting that it involves breaking down everything about half a dozen glasses of wine (split evenly between reds and whites sourced from around the world) in 25 minutes, from vintage and region to chemical composition. “They have to know, when I say everything about wine and the history of it, literally everything, down to chemistry levels. It is absolutely absurd.”

The blind tasting is just one of three parts of the test, which costs $900 to take and also includes oral theory and service components. “I was one of those people before this started that thought they knew about wine,” says Wise. “I realized I don’t know a goddamn thing about wine at all.”

As someone who watches an inordinate amount of Top Chef, I certainly share the feeling of thinking you know a lot about wine, when in fact the subject’s complexity makes it more of a distinguished art than a folksy craft.  But with fewer than 200 applicants passing the exam since its inception in 1966, this prestigious examination is more rigorous than any standardized test most of us will ever encounter.

The filmmaker informs us that the short has a brand new cut, and an inspirational new score;  the team is very proud of their work, and you can see a preview of their efforts here in the trailer:

You can read more abotu the film, and the filmmakers, on the SOMM facebook page.  Hopefully we’ll get some interesting photos of the crew and friends at the festival!

Edit:  The film is full-length, not a short film as this story originally indicated.  Thanks for the Tweet, Jason!