Bucking the mainstream has always been a hallmark of the Cinequest festival, and it sounds like the 24th edition taking place in March will live up to that tradition.

The biggest name announced -- so far -- is Neil Gaiman, the award-winning creator of "The Sandman" comic book series, author of "American Gods" among other books and occasional "Doctor Who" writer. He'll receive the Maverick Spirit Award during the Day of the Writer event March 9. If you haven't heard of him, ask any science fiction fan you know. He's a big deal.

Then there's cellphone inventor Martin Cooper and actor Matthew Modine, who'll be the first recipients of the new Maverick Innovator Award. Modine's probably best known for Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket," and he's created an "appumentary" based on his "Full Metal Jacket Diary."

Chef David Kinch of Los Gatos' Manresa and Love Apple Farms' Cynthia Sandberg will receive the Maverick Spirit Chef Award (and they're also featured in the documentary "The Farmer and the Chef"). And three film critics are being honored with the festival's first Media Legacy Awards: Indiewire's Eric Kohn, Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times and Harry Knowles, who pioneered online movie coverage with his website Ain't It Cool News.

So we've got a comic book writer, inventor of cellphones, movie critics, a chef and a farmer. It's enough to make you wonder if Cinequest will have any movies this year, right? Well, there are about 179 of them, including 84 that are U.S. or world premieres. And some of it is pretty intriguing, like an interactive screening that makes use of a cellphone app and a movie shot entirely on an iPhone 5 (On the other side of the tech spectrum, there's a screening of the 1924 silent horror film "The Hands of Orlac" on March 14).


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The festival opens March 4 with Director Don McKellar's comedy, "The Grand Seduction," at the California Theatre in downtown San Jose, followed by a party at The GlassHouse, a new event space on Santa Clara and Market streets. Everything ends March 16, with the closing film, "Small Time," and an appearance by its star, Christopher Meloni of "Law & Order: SVU."

And the days in between will be filled with screenings, parties and more screenings. Go to www.cinequest.org for the full schedule and ticket information.

Contact Sal Pizarro at spizarro@mercurynews.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/spizarro.