Geneva Anderson digs into art

The 38th Mill Valley Film Festival starts tonight and runs through October 18─here are ARThound’s favs

The Indigo Bunting, a small songbird in the Cardinal family, sings with gusto. The male is all blue and looks like a slice of sky with wings. The plight of songbirds is the subject of Su Rynard's documentary,

The Indigo Bunting, a small songbird in the Cardinal family, sings with gusto. The male is all blue and looks like a slice of sky with wings. The plight of songbirds is the subject of Su Rynard’s documentary, “The Messenger,” which screens twice at the 38th Mill Valley Film Festival. Gorgeously photographed, with stunning super slo-mo shots of birds in flight and plenty of exquisite melodies, this thoughtful film celebrates these glorious magicians and explores their rapidly shrinking global populations, calling for drastic action to save them. image: MVFF

The 38th Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF38) is upon us─it kicks off this evening with two opening night films─Tom Hopper’s The Danish Girl and Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight─ and an always opulent gala afterwards at Marin Country Mart.  The festival runs full force (11AM to 10PM) for the next 10 days at several Marin venues, all within close range of Sonoma County.

Even with the catalog in hand, a 60 pager, redesigned to make it easier to figure out, it takes time and planning to decide which of the 170+ films and special programs to attend.  Long-time programmers Zoë Elton, Janis Plotkin and Karen Davis are so tuned in to our North Bay tastes, every film is a de facto good choice but I’ll point to some standouts.

I have a soft spot for world cinema that delivers a great story (the quirkier the better) and takes me to a (beautifully-filmed) place I’ve never been.  I also love documentaries that expose and inspire.  There are always a handful of films from Cannes and some that represent foreign language Oscar nominees.  As for the tributes and special programs, if you have the time, go to as many as possible.  Every special program I’ve attended at this festival has been well worth the extra money and I’ve been inspired to do wonderful things as a result.  In 2012, after seeing Luc Besson’s amazing bio-pic, The Lady, and hearing guest Michelle Yeoh interviewed about playing Burmese activist, Aung San Suu Kyi, I visited Myanmar for two weeks and experienced it on the brink of its transformation.  I got involved with supporting a school and I visited Suu Kyi’s family home in a posh suburb of Yangon─it was surrounded a high wall─and left flowers in tribute.

These are my recommendations for this year’s not-to-miss films and events─

Embrace of the Serpent:

Ciro Guerra's

Ciro Guerra’s “Embrace of the Serpent,” won top prize at Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight and is Columbia’s submission to foreign-language category for the Academy Awards. Image: MVFF

Thirty-four year-old Columbian director Ciro Guerra is no stranger to Cannes.  His 2009 drama The Wind Journeys, which competed in the Uncertain Regard category, was filmed in some 80 locations all over Columbia and tracked a musician’s restorative journey to return an accordion.  His Embrace of the Serpent took this year’s Directors’ Fortnight prize at Cannes which is the top Art Cinema prize and it’s Columbia’s submission to foreign-language Oscar category.  Rich is the only way to describe the rare Amazonian languages you’ll hear and the exquisite black and white photography of fabled Amazonian landscapes.  The story unfolds from point of view of European explorer and a Shaman who work over the course of some 40 years to search for a sacred healing plant.  The thoughtful film delivers a fairly comprehensive critique of the destruction of indigenous cultures at the hands of white invaders.  Cast member Brionne Davis in attendance. (Ciro Guerra, Columbia, Venezuela, Argentina, 2015, 125 min)

Golden Kingdom:

“Golden Kingdom” is American filmmaker Brian Perkins first feature film and it has its US premiere at the 38th Mill Valley Film Festival. Image: courtesy: Brian Perkins

“Golden Kingdom” is American filmmaker Brian Perkins’ first feature film and it has its US premiere at the 38th Mill Valley Film Festival. Image: courtesy: Brian Perkins


The first feature film shot in Myanmar and a first feature for it its director, Brian Perkins, too, Golden Kingdom is a prescient widow into the culture of this remote fabled land.  This is the story of four young boy monks, all orphans (played by non-professional actors), who are left alone in a monastery in Shan State in Northeast Myanmar when their elderly head monk receives a letter and takes off on a journey.  The film cleverly uses the Buddhist motif of pursuit of enlightenment and knowledge and traditional Burmese storytelling to explore the unknown and overwhelming new world the boys encounter as they decide to leave and venture out into the countryside, only to encounter a land that is still engaged in remnants of a violent separatist uprising.  (Brian Perkins, US, 2015, 103 min) in Burmese (10/13 5PM; 10/15 2PM Sequoia 1)


In Grímur Hákonarson’s “Rams,” two peculiar brothers in a small Icelandic farming community, who haven't spoken in 40 years, are forced to come together in order to save what’s dearest to them – their sheep. Image: MVFF

In Grímur Hákonarson’s “Rams,” two peculiar brothers in a small Icelandic farming community, who haven’t spoken in 40 years, are forced to come together in order to save what’s dearest to them – their sheep. Image: MVFF

When’s the last time you saw a film from Iceland or heard their language, Íslenska (Icelandic), spoken?  Grímur Hákonarson’s Rams, winner of the Uncertain Regard Prize at Cannes, weaves the story of two brothers, both single and getting on in years, who compete fiercely each year for valley-wide recognition for having the best ram.  They haven’t spoken in 40 years but are forced to come together in order to save what’s dearest to their hearts—their sheep.  Shot in remote lush valleys of Iceland, with added color in the peculiar characters of the two brothers, the film is also infused with some Norse humor. (Grímur Hákonarson, Iceland, 2015, 93 min)


Five beautiful sisters on the verge of womanhood in an Anatolian village by the sea suffer from their guardians' attempts to lock them away to protect their virginity. image: MVFF

Five beautiful sisters on the verge of womanhood in an Anatolian village by the sea suffer from their guardians’ attempts to lock them away to protect their virginity. image: MVFF

We’ve all heard of young girls cloistered away to protect their virginity and make them marriage worthy by their tradition-bound families.  Here’s Turkish female director Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s take on this. Mustang weaves a story of five young carefree Turkish girls, all orphans, who under the “protection” of their grandmother and uncle, are punished severely for being seen at the beach interacting with boys in what is interpreted as an indecent act by townspeople who report them.  One moment they are free and then they are not.  They are subjected to virginity tests, beaten and then essentially locked up until it is time to try and marry them off.  They don’t go down without a fight though and thus the aptness of the title–these gorgeous young mustangs, with their amazing flowing hair, yearn for the very freedom that defines them.  The filmmaker has crafted a potent critique of the suppression and demonization of female sexuality that is alive and well in Turkish society.  Mustang (Deniz Gamze Ergüven, France, Germany, Turkey, 94 min)

The Messenger:

Filmmaker Su Rynard's

Filmmaker Su Rynard’s “The Messenger” screens twice at MVFF38 and she will be at both screenings. Making a documentary is a labor of love that often takes years to realize. To understand what was happening with global populations of songbirds, Rynard and her team followed the seasons and songbirds on three different continents. Along the way, she met many people who shared her concern for the plight of these glorious musicians of nature. image: Su Rynard

The message of Su Rynard’s riveting documentary, The Messenger, is urgent─songbirds are disappearing and many species are in serious decline.  Changes in our world have brought utter catastrophe to theirs and soon they will be gone.  Each year, twice a year, songbirds embark on a dangerous and difficult migratory journey.  Every species has its own story to tell but the resounding commonality is that songbirds are in danger.  Whose song will we hear when they are gone?   The film is full of gorgeous shots of birds and clips of bird songs.  Director Su Rynard in attendance. (Su Rynard, Canada, France, 2015, 90 min)

Son of Saul:

Géza Röhrig is Saul Auslander in Laszlo Nemes' holocaust drama,

Géza Röhrig is Saul Auslander in Laszlo Nemes’ holocaust drama, “Son of Saul.” image: MVFF


First time director László Nemes’  Son of Saul (Saul Fia) is a Holocaust film that won the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and everyone’s buzzing about.  (Earlier this week, NPR’s Terry Gross devoted a full hour to the film, click here, to read or listen to her interview with the director.) The dark story is centered on Saul Auslander (Géza Röhrig), a Hungarian Jew Sonderkommando at Auschwitz-Birkenau who is forced to assist the Nazis with the killings of Jews and the gruesome disposal of bodies afterwards.  In exchange, he is given some special privileges.  When he spots a young boy’s body that he believes is his son, he sets out to give him a proper burial.  The film captures the organization and chaos of the camps like no other film has and, at its core, it is the story of one man’s brave rebellion and humanity.  The camera rarely leaves his face in which there are worlds of grief.  The story is based on the actual testimonials, the so-called Scrolls of Auschwitz.  (László Nemes, Hungary, 2015, 107 min)   image: MVFF

Amnesia Centerpiece Presentation, October 13:

Crafted from events in his mother’s life, Swiss filmmaker Barbet Schroeder’s “Amnesia” stars German icon Marthe Keller as a German expat hiding out in idyllic Ibizia whose cage is rattled by a young German man who is her new neighbor and it's not just because he falls in love with her. Image: MVFF

Crafted from events in his mother’s life, Swiss filmmaker Barbet Schroeder’s “Amnesia” stars German icon Marthe Keller as a German expat hiding out in idyllic Ibizia whose cage is rattled by a young German man who is her new neighbor and it’s not just because he falls in love with her. Image: MVFF

An interesting take on a Nazi story and moral culpability by Swiss director Barbet Schroeder. Amnesia is set in picturesque Ibizia and the story involves a younger man’s attraction to an older woman, who is hiding the fact that she is German, and much more, from him.  The young DJ tries to crack this hard nut by peeling away her layers.   Writer/director Barbet Schroeder in attendance (Barbet Schroeder, Switzerland, France, 2015 96 min)

At RUSH but keep your eyes out in Bay Area theaters for─

The Assassin (Nie Yinniang) (Hou Hsia-hsien, Taiwan, 2015, 105 min) spectacular Ibizan landscape (Thurs 10/8 6:16 PM; Sat 10/17 8:30 PM─both screenings at Rush)

Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015, 118 min) (Sun 10/11 5:30PM; Wed 10/14 4 PM──both screenings at Rush)

The Dressmaker (Jocelyn Moorhouse, Australia, 2015, 118 min) (10/16 7PM; 10/18 11AM─both screenings at Rush)

Details:   MVFF38 is October 8-18, 2015.  Screening venues include: Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael); Century Larkspur (500 Larkspur Landing Circle); Lark Theater (549 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur), Century Cinema (41 Tamal Vista Blvd, Corte Madera); CinéArts@Sequoia (25 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley), Throckmorton Theatre (142 Throckmorton Ave, Mill Valley) and other venues throughout the Bay Area.

Online ticket purchase is highly recommended (click here to be directed to film descriptions, each with a “Buy Ticket” option. (Online purchases have a $1.75 per film surcharge).  There are also several box offices for in person purchases, offering the advantages of getting your tickets on the spot, no service fee, and picking up a hard copy of the catalogue—


Smith Rafael Film Center 1112 Fourth Street Sept.19-Oct 7, 4–8 pm (General Public)


Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center, 85 Throckmorton Ave, October 7, 11 am–3:00 pm; Oct 8-18, 10 am to 15 min after last show starts

Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center 85 Throckmorton Ave October 1, 11:00 am–3:00 pm October 2–12, 10:00 am to 15 minutes after last show starts

October 8, 2015 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The 15th Sonoma International Film Festival opens this Wednesday with a stellar line-up of cinema, food, and wine in gorgeous Sonoma

Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis in "The Lady," which opens the 15th Sonoma International Film Festival this Wednesday. Yeoh plays Myanmar prodemocracy activist and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Photo: Magali Bragard@2011 EuropaCorp-Left Bank Pictures-France 2 Cinema.

This Wednesday, the curtain rises on the 15th annual Sonoma International Film Festival, pairing 5 nights and 4 days of nearly nonstop screenings— 123 new films of all genres from more than 30 countries— with great gourmet food and wine.  Highly anticipated by its loyal film-savvy audience, who see an average of 5 or more films each, this festival takes place in seven venues within walking distance of Sonoma’s charming town square and has a lot to offer both locals and destination visitors. “What gives our festival a very personal feeling is the chance to mingle with filmmakers and actors in our Backlot tent and at screenings and we absolutely deliver on the best in the film, food and wine,” said festival director Kevin McNeely on Monday.

Christopher Lloyd whose latest film is "Last Call," will be presented with an Award of Excellence, honoring his distinguished acting career. Photo: courtesy Last Call

Tribute to Christopher Lloyd:  This year’s festival will honor acclaimed actress Christopher Lloyd with an Award of Excellence on Thursday April 12th, 2012, at 8:30 p.m. at the Sebastiani Theatre, after the World Premiere of Last Call.  Lloyd, now 74, began acting at the age 14 and rose to prominence in the 1980’s as Jim Ignatowski in the popular TV show, Taxi.  Lloyd is best known for playing Emmett Brown in the Back to the Future trilogy and Uncle Fester in The Addams Family and its sequel Addams Family Values and Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  Throughout his career, he has acted on stage and in the summer of 2010, he starred as Willy Loman in a Weston Playhouse production of Death of a Salesman.  

John Waters performs "This Filthy World" at the 15th Sonoma International Film Festival, April 11-15, 2012. Image: courtesy SIFF

Last Call is a classic raunchy buddy comedy with a heart of gold—underachieving siblings Phil and Danny O’Donnell are forced to run the family pub to save their eccentric uncle Pete (Christopher Lloyd) from jail time and financial ruin.  The only problem is that Pete, a crazy off-the-boat Irishman, has already alienated most of the clientele, nearly run the bar into the ground and created an almost impossible situation.  The boys rise to the occasion, instigating a number of hilarious schemes, from turning the pub into a strip club to a high school speakeasy, just to keep it afloat.  Christopher Lloyd, along with fellow cast member Clint Howard (brother of Ron Howard), will be joined by producers Greg Garthe and Spence Jackson for a Q&A after the screening.   Following that, there will be a montage of Lloyd’s work and presentation of the Award of Excellence by Festival Director Kevin McNeely.

John Waters:  On Saturday evening, the festival welcomes innovative American filmmaker, actor, stand-up comedian, writer and artist John Waters, now 65, with a special tribute dinner and Waters’ one-man vaudeville show “This Filthy World,” at the Sonoma Veteran’s Memorial Building.  Waters is best known for creating Pink Flamingos (1972), Hairspray (1988), Cry-Baby (1990), and Serial Mom (1994).  “John Waters exemplifies some of America’s most unique filmmaking beyond mainstream storylines. said Festival Director Kevin McNeely.  “His ability to portray extreme characters with both darkness and humor is a testament to his extreme talent.”  (The dinner is 6 to 8 p.m. and the show is 8:15-9:15 p.m. on Saturday, April 15, 2012 at the Sonoma Veteran’s Memorial Building.)

The Film Line-Up:

The festival kicks off on Wednesday evening with three screenings, all at 7 p.m:  Luc Besson’s biopic,  The Lady, at the Sebastiani Theatre; Jill Sharpe’s documentary, Bone, Wind, Fire,  at the Sonoma Museum of Art and Orlando Arriagada’s  documentary, Beyond the Miracle, (Detras del Milagro) (2010, 52 minutes).  Thematically, you can go in any direction your taste takes you.  This festival has something for everyone.  I am focusing on films that tell great stories that you aren’t likely to see screened anywhere else.

The Lady (2011, 132 minutes) is the film to see for its timeliness and compelling drama.  Fresh from a landslide election to parliament last week, the heroic Myanmar prodemocracy activist and Nobel laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, now 66, is the subject of The Lady.  Michelle Yeoh, one of Asia’s best known actresses, stars in this intimate chronicle of the exhausting and exhilarating life of Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest before her release last year.  The Lady follows Suu Kyi starting in 1988 when she returned to Myanmar, formerly Burma, to care for her ailing mother and soon became iconic in the battle against the military dictatorship.  The story focuses on her family life—her marriage to British academic Michael Aris (David Thewlis) and their two sons.  Aris, an Oxford professor, strongly supported Suu Kyi’s decision to stay in Myanmar, raising their children and playing a pivotal role behind the scenes in campaigning for her Nobel Peace Prize.  This decision, for the greater good, entailed years of separation and was a tremendous burden yet it was mutually agreed upon and seemed to cement their courageous love.  This is inspirational film that will send chills down your spine and as you witness this courageous lady in action.

Jill Sharpe's "Bone, Wind, Fire," explores three iconic artists―Frida Kahlo, Georgia O'Keefe and Emily Carr―at highs and lows of their lives. Sharpe combed through thousands of pages of their personal diaries hoping to give viewers access to the thought lives of these women. Image courtesy: National Film Board of Canada

If you have the patience to wait and see The Lady when it comes to your local theatre—and it will come—then Jill Sharpe’s Bone, Wind, Fire  (2011, 48 minutes) is a beautiful contemplative documentary that pays homage to three iconic artists—Frida Kahlo,  Georgia O’Keefe and Emily Carr.  The film just snagged Best Canadian Film award at FIFA  (Montreal’s International Festival of Films on Art) and is an intimate and evocative journey into the hearts, minds and eyes of three of the 20th century’s most remarkable artists.  Each woman had her own response to her environment, to the people that surrounded her and to the artistic or practical challenges she faced in wringing beauty and truth from her particular time and place.  Bone Wind Fire uses the women’s own words, taken from their letters and diaries, to reveal three individual creative processes in all their subtle and fascinating variety.  ( Screens 7 p.m. Sonoma Valley Museum of Art.  Plays with short film Hotstuff.)

The main character in Romanian-born Radu Mihaileanu’s poignant and funny feature film The Source (La source des femmes)(2011, 135 min) is a very undemocratic arid mountain village in North Africa (the Atlas mountains of Morocco) in which women, young and old, fetch water, day in and day out, while the men sit back and watch.  Frustrated by this, a young bride―actually, an outsider from the South―played by the French-Algerian actress Leila Bekhti, works on her entourage, and urges the other women to strike: no more sex until their men go to work.  The opposition she faces is from both men and women, especially her mother-in-law.  Breathtaking cinematography and beautiful choral music.  What this film, released just as the Arab Spring protests were taking place, shows is that revolution starts at home, with the evaluation of  long-standing customs and attitudes.  And, of course, that human heart too can suffer from being arid. (Screens Sunday, April 15, 2012 at 6:30 p.m. at Sebastiani Theatre)

Lunafest—shorts by, for and about women

Lunafest is an annual traveling film festival of award-winning shorts by, for and about women.  This year, it features 9 films—stories of reflection, hope, and humor—that will travel to over 150 cities and benefit organizations like the Breast Cancer Fund.  All of the shorts sound fascinating but Saba Riazi’s The Wind is Blowing on My Street  tells a simple story with poignant implications, especially for the young Iranian lead actress in the film who appears in the credits as simply “anonymous.”  This veiled young woman can’t wait to come home and rip off her head scarf.   When she accidentally locks herself out of her apartment and her scarf is whooshed away in a gust of wind, the reality of living in contemporary Iran sets it.  The Iranian filmmaker who made it lives in New York and attends film school at NYU but she did a short stint in Iran’s film industry before leaving.  The program starts with a reception at 5:30 p.m. Friday, April 13, 2012 at the Sonoma Museum of Art and the screenings begin at 6:30 p.m.)

New: “La Quinceañera Film Fiesta”

The weekend’s programming kicks into high gear Friday with concurrent screenings in all venues across town.   New this year, in honor of the festival’s 15th birthday, is a festival-within-a festival, “La Quinceañera Film Fiesta” honoring Spanish-language filmmakers from across the globe Friday evening and two full days, Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.  There is a kick-off party with live mariachi music on Friday in the Backlot tent.   All films will be presented in Spanish with English subtitles at the Sonoma Charter School.  Ticket prices for each film will be $1, with childcare provided.   The mini festival was organized by Claudia Mendoza-Carruth, who has pulled 15 films from Argentina to Spain, including Orlando Arriagada’s  documentary Beyond the Miracle (Detras del Milagro) (2010, 52 minutes) which tells the story of four of the 33 Chilean miners who spent 69 days, 688 meters underground in 35°C heat in the hellish mine, Los 33.  Director Orlando Arriagada will be in attendance. (Screens: Wednesday, April 11- 7:00pm Women’s Club. Friday, April 13- 3:00 pm, Sebastiani Winery Barrel Room.  Plays with two short films by Carlos P. Beltran, Pasion and Voluntad & Paz.)

Chico y Rita (Chico & Rita) (Fernando Trueba, Tono Errando, Javier Mariscal, Cuba, 2010, 94 min)  is a musical Cuban film set in 1948 Havana which follows a jazz pianist and singer enthralled in a romance that unfolds against the backdrop of the Cuban revolution.  As the couple escape Cuba and travel to New York, Las Vegas and Paris to follow their dreams, all set Latin jazz, they discover that they really do need each other to make their music.  The film captures a defining moment in the evolution of jazz and earned an Oscar nomination for “Best Animated Feature.”

America….Ella se Atrveio (America…She Dared) (Sonia Fritz, 2011, Puerto Rico, 90 minutes) follows a thirty year-old mother, America, from her remote Caribbean village to Manhattan, where she seeks refuge after her abusive lover takes her daughter from her.  (Screens Friday 8:30 p.m., Sonoma Museum of Art and Sunday 4:30 p.m., Sonoma Charter School.  Filmmaker Sonia Fritz in attendance.)

Music, Music, Music

This festival always offers exceptional music documentaries and this year, there are two that are essential viewing—Kevin MacDonald’s Marley, which plays Saturday evening, and Judy Chaikin’s  The Girls in the Band, which plays Friday and Sunday afternoons.  Violinist Kenji Williams will also give a live performance on Friday and Saturday evenings as he accompanies his film Bella Gaia.

Jamaican reggae-superstar, Bob Marley, who died of cancer in 1981 at the tender age of 36, is the subject of Kevin MacDonald’s Marley (2012, 144 min), the new highly buzzed-about bio-pic about Marley which has the blessings of his son, Ziggy, his widow, Rita, and the long-estranged original Wailer, Neville  “Bunny” Livingstone.  The filmmaker, who also directed the Oscar-winning documentary One Day in September (1999) and The Last King of Scotland (2006), told New York Times writer John Anderson that said he set out to “interview anyone who was alive and intimate with Marley.” (NYT 4.6.2012)  Aside from children, partners and musicians, Marley introduces a new character, Dudley Sibley, a former recording artist and janitor who lived with Marley for 18 months in the back of the Jamaican recording studio, Studio 1, where young Marley started out.

This year, Judy Chaikin’s  The Girls in the Band (2012, 81 minutes) does for jazz what Lynn Hershman Leeson’s  !Women Art Revolution (2010)  did for women artists —through intimate interviews with three generations of women jazz artists, she explores the hidden significant history of women in jazz.  The film starts off with women from the 1930’s and 1940’s, the golden age of big band and swing, who relate their triumphs and struggles in a very sexist and racist environment.  Roz Cron, Clora Bryant, Billie Rogers, Peggy Gilbet and Viola Smith, Vi Red, Melba Liston and others all grew up around music and wanted to pursue it professionally but were barred from all-male bands.  Many of these women formed or joined all female groups and the film tells their poignant stories.  And the proof of their talent is in their music clips, which roar.  (Screens: Friday April 13, 2:30 pm, Sebastiani Theatre, and Sunday, April 15, 3:30 pm, Sebastiani Windery Barrel Room. Judy Chaiken will be in attendance.)

Violinist Kenji Williams has collaborated with some of the most respected artists and scientists of our times and will perform live at the two screenings of “Bella Gaia,” which uses NASA shots of planet earth to create a stunning portrait of our planet. Image courtesy: Kenji Williams

Bella Gaia (Beautiful Earth) (2012, 50 minutes) is an awe-inspiring film and live music performance created by award winning filmmaker, composer, and violinist Kenji Williams.  The film incorporates stunning scientific visualizations by NASA and successfully simulates space flight, taking the audience on a spectacular journey around endangered planet Earth.  Bella Gaia showcases a thought-provoking stream of current scientific data about our changing ecosystems while also celebrating the amazing beauty and cultural heritage of humanity, delivering an unforgettable experience—all guided by the hypnotic, ecstatic music of Kenji Williams performed live. (Screens 6 p.m. Friday, April 13, 2012, at the Sonoma Community Center and 6 p.m. Saturday, April 14, 2012, at the Sebastiani Theatre.)

A native of Oaxaca, Mexico, Paulina Rodriguez, is featured in John Beck’s “Harvest.” Paulina was "la jefa" - the boss of a rare all-female picking crew that toiled through the soggy, challenging 2011 wine-grape harvest in Sonoma County. Photo: Charlie Gesell

Cinema Epicurea  Food and wine is where SIFF stakes its claim.  John Beck’s Harvest, a new wine documentary follows the 2011 wine grape harvest in Sonoma, picking up viewers and dropping them in the vineyards at 2 a.m. to see night picks orchestrated by tiny headlamps, 24/7 machine harvesting and how a few inches of rain can destroy a promising cluster of grapes.  Beck, who delighted audiences with Worst in Show (2011), has cast his intimate DSLR lens on five tight-knit family-owned wineries―Foppiano, Robledo, Rafanelli, Harvest Moon and Robert Hunter―along with an amateur home winemaker and a rare all-female picking crew from Mexico assembled by Bacchus Vineyard management, through what many would call “the toughest harvest” in their lifetime.  The pick, known as “La pisca” by the Mexican crews, involved long days and nights among the vines.  Stories that come to life under Beck’s direction, include that of Reynaldo Robledo of Robledo Family Winery, the first winery to be owned by a former migrant farm worker, and the all-female Mexican crew assembled by Bacchus Vineyard Management.  (Screens Friday, April 13, 2012 at 5 p.m. and Saturday, April 14, 2012 at 3 p.m. at Sebastiani Winery, 389 4th Street East.  Attendees at the Friday’s premiere will be served wine from the wineries in the film. )

Wine, Food and “Backlot”

Anyone who has been to Sonoma knows that this is a community that savors life along with the finest of food and wine. This ambiance infuses SFIFF too.  “The Backlot,” the festival’s culinary hub, is a one-of-a-kind hospitality tent on the North side of Sonoma’s City Hall that is open to all pass holders.  Here, they can mingle in a chic lounge environment while enjoying the best wine country vintages and culinary delights.  You’ll also notice at many of the screenings that staff is on hand giving out generous samplings of treats like yogurt, ice cream and snack bars.  To celebrate the festival’s opening on Thursday, April 12, 20120, Bistro Boudin of San Francisco will present gourmet cuisine with premium Sonoma Valley wines.  Click here to see a complete list of event, food & beverage and winery partners for SIFF15.

Closing Night Festivities: The festival closes on Sunday, April 10th, with an Awards Ceremony in the Backlot Tent at 8 pm.  Winners of the Jury Awards in all film categories including Features, Documentaries, World Cinema, Shorts, and Animation will be announced.

Festival Details:

Festival Passes and Tickets:

Star Pass $700 each/$1,325 for two.  Access to Festival Films and panels with “Fast Lane” entry for priority seating; access to all receptions and post-film parties; all Spotlight Tributes; “Big Night” Party; entry to special VIP Food & Wine area of Backlot.

 Premiere Pass $30/$625 for two. Access to all films and panels with priority film entry before Festival Pass holders; Opening Night Reception; entry to celebrity Spotlight Tributes; Closing Night 1st film screening and Awards Party

 Festival Pass $175 each/$320 for two.  Access to all regular films and panels & Closing Night Awards Party.

Weekend Pass: Saturday & Sunday ($110 each) Access to all films and panels on Saturday and Sunday

Two-Day Pass: Friday & Saturday ($100) Access to all films and panels on Friday and Saturday.

 Single Film Tickets:  $15 general entry tickets can be purchased at box office.  Arrive 30 minutes before screening and wait to be seated.

3 films for the Price of 2! $30:  good for entry to three single films, redeemable any time during the Film Festival.

Venue Locations:

Sebastiani Theatre – 476 First St. East
New Belgium Pub at The Woman’s Club – 574 First Street. East
Mia’s Kitchen at Sonoma Community Center – 276 E. Napa Street, Room 109
Murphy’s Irish Pub – 464 First Street East
Sebastiani Winery Barrel Room – 389 Fourth Street East
Sonoma Valley Museum of Art – 551 Broadway
Sonoma Veteran’s Memorial Hall – 126 First Street West

Vintage House– 264 First Street East

April 9, 2012 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 34th Mill Valley Film Festival starts Thursday, October, 6, 2011—ARThound looks at the lineup

Glenn Close opens the acclaimed Mill Valley Film Festival this Thursday in “Albert Nobbs,” where she tackles the role of a woman who has skirted poverty in mid-19th Century Dublin by dressing and working as a man. Close is also the subject of a festival Tribute event on Saturday night. Photo: Patrick Redmond

In the world of film and film festivals, each season has its delights.  While there may be as many as a dozen mini-fests set to launch in the Bay Area, October always belongs to the Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF).  Now 34 and considered in the top lists of festivals worldwide, its organizers and programmers —Mark Fishkin, Zoë Elton, Janis Plotkin (to name a few)—have hit on a winning formula.   The 11 day festival will  present some 120 films that include Academy Award hopefuls, tributes, emerging talents, documentaries, children’s programming, and world cinema.  MVFF34 all takes place north of the Golden Gate at CinéArts@Sequoia, Mill Valley, and Christopher B, Smith Rafael Film Center, San Rafael, and other convenient Marin locales.

Singing the Praises of WOMEN—actresses, directors, thematically

“When we looked at what seemed strong, it became quite apparent at Cannes that there was an incredible wealth of excellent performances by women,” said Zoë Elton at the festival’s September press conference.  “We have a lot of these Oscar worthy women in the festival.”   The lineup includes films featuring Glenn Close, Michelle Yeoh, Tilda Swinton, Susan Sarandon, Ellen Barkin, Michelle Williams and emerging actresses like Elizabeth Olsen and Antonia Campbell-Hughes.  Ironically, one of the two opening night films, Albert Nobbs, is a gender-bender drama starring Glenn Close as a woman who has skirted poverty in mid-19th Century Dublin by dressing and working as a man—a shy butler.  Close, well-known for her performances in films such as Fatal Attractions (1987) and Dangerous Liaisons (1988) is attending the festival and is the subject of a special Tribute event on festival’s second night.

The programming also reflects a strong interest in the portrayal of women in various cultures.  A number of films weave mythology and ritual with the complex contemporary reality of women’s lives. Moroccan director Mohamed Mouftakir won the Golden Stallion (top prize) at this year’s FESPACO (2011) for Pegasus, the story of a young Moroccan woman (Sadia Ladib) who is found on the streets, wounded and with no memories of her past–but with visions, flashbacks, evidence of trauma, and the belief that she has been impregnated by “The Lord of the Horse.”  The fragmented plotline which echoes David Lynch and Iranian director Mohammad Rasolof  (The White Meadows, 2009), weaves her journey to self with the experiences of her therapist, Dr. Zineb, who is treating her and on her own psychic quest. (Screens Friday and Sunday)


The festival opens Thursday evening with two films that are sure bets to be included among the top independent releases of 2011.  Albert Nobbs, starring Glenn Close, who will attend, will be screened at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center at 7 p.m.  Jeff  Who Lives at Home will have its U.S. premiere at CinéArts@Sequoia in Mill Valley at 7 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.  This film, which won’t hit the theatres until March 2012, stars Jason Segal and Ed Helms with Susan Sarandon and Judy Greer.  It is the story of Jeff, a sympathetic 30-year old unemployed pot head who lives in his mother’s (Susan Sarandon) basement and rewatches Signs while nurturing anxiety about clues the universe is dropping about his destiny.  The story all transpires over an afternoon of misadventures culminating in a fate-directed universe rattling ah-hah moment.  Directors Jay and Mark Duplass will also be in attendance.  After the screenings, the Opening Night Gala kicks off at the Mill Valley Community Center at 9 p.m. and goes until midnight.


Closing Night will feature a special screening of The Artist starring Jean Dujardin (Cannes Best Actor),  Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller and Missi Pyle. Directed by Michael Hazanavicius, who is expected to be in attendance, The Artist is an endearing black and white homage to the world of silent film that tells the story of a silent-film star resisting the transition to sound set in 1927 Hollywood.  Just as his star wanes, another’s starlet’s rises who represents Hollywood’s new direction.  After the film, the Closing Night Party will take place at Albert Park/San Rafael Community Center from 7-10 p.m. 

Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis in “The Lady,” which screens this Saturday at the 34th Mill Valley Film Festival. Yeoh plays Myanmar prodemocracy activist and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and will be the focus of a special Spotlight program. Photo: Magali Bragard © 2011 EuropaCorp – Left Bank Pictures – France 2 Cinéma


In addition to honoring Glenn Close’s career, MVFF34 is celebrating actress Michelle Yeoh and West African director Gaston Kaboré.  On Saturday, October 8 at 7:30 p.m. a Spotlight honoring Michelle Yeoh, one of Asia’s best known actresses, will take place at the Smith Rafael Film Center with a Q&A and screening of her new film, The Lady, already generating quite an Oscar buzz.   The Lady is an intimate chronicle of the life of Myanmar prodemocracy activist and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi who spent 15 years under house arrest before her release last year.  The Lady follows Suu Kyi starting in 1988 when she returned to Myanmar, formerly Burma, to care for her ailing mother and soon became iconic in the battle against the military dictatorship.  The story focuses on her family life–her marriage to British academic Michael Aris and their two sons.  Aris, an Oxford professor, strongly supported Suu Kyi’s decision to stay in Myanmar, raising their children and playing a pivotal role behind the scenes in campaigning for her Nobel Peace Prize.  This decision, for the greater good, entailed years of separation and was a tremendous burden yet it was  mutually agreed upon and seemed to cement their courageous love.  Yeoh attends MVFF with Luc Besson, the film’s internationally acclaimed director and producer.  (click here to watch trailer)  After the program, the evening will continue with dinner at Frantoio Ristorante & Olive Oil Company in Mill Valley.

The first weekend of the Festival culminates on Sunday, October 9 at 4:30 p.m., with an MVFF Tribute to West African director Gaston Kaboré, honoring his remarkable career and contribution to African film including an onstage conversation and rare screening of his 1982 classic  Wend Kuuni (God’s Gift), the endearing story of a mute boy found in the bush and adopted by Mossi villagers whose love and tenderness help restore his voice.  Afterwards, the evening continues with dinner at Acqua Mill Valley, catered by Delicious! Catering. 

ARThound’s top five:

Coriolanus:  Actor Ralph Fiennes makes his directorial debut a modern adaptation of William Shakespeare’s war tragedy “Coriolanus” set in war-torn Bosnia with chilling urban battle scenes.  Fiennes also stars as Caius Martius, or Coriolanus, a powerful general at odds with the City of Rome, a role that Fiennes played on the London stage.  Coriolanus is a riveting drama about the relationship of authority, power, and the emotions that drive them and should play well reconfigured in the hotbed of the Balkans.  Martius meets his old enemy Tullus Aufidius (a very macho Gerard Butler) on the battlefield and returns to Rome as a hero.  Reveling in his triumph, he is elected to the governing consul but is soon opposed by the citizenry.  His anger at the public’s disfavor leads to his expulsion, and in desperation he turns to his sworn enemy Tullus, with whom he takes revenge on the city.  Vanessa Redgrave is Coriolanus’s iron-willed mother and Jessica Chastain is his trophy wife.  Directed by Ralph Fiennes (UK, 2011) (122 minutes).   Screens: Friday, October 7, 2011 at 9 p.m. at Sequoia Theatre, 25 Throckmorton Street, Mill Valley and Saturday, October 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael, CA.  Tickets: $13.50.

Granito: How to Nail a Dictator:   Documentary filmmaker Pamela Yates has passionately been involved in investigating genocide and war crimes for over 25 years.  Her 1984 film, When the Mountains Tremble, made when she was just out of college, is one of the only documentary records of the brutal Guatemalan civil war between the U.S.-backed military junta and the indigenous peasant revolutionaries who were systematically killed in a scorched earth campaign.  A few top generals, notably Efraín Ríos Montt and Kjell Eugenio Laugerud García, were behind that slaughter of an estimated 200,000 Mayan and the disappearance of another 40,000 indigenous persons and Ms. Yates interviewed these leaders in 1982.  Granito tells the story of how some 25 years later, Yates was asked to join a team of forensic experts and lawyers and Mayan survivors in a human rights case against Guatemala’s former juntas and how her first film footage became the evidence that led to the indictment of Montt in Spain’s national courts for his attacks on Maya.  The powerful and idealistic film uses the connected stories of five people─they are the “granito,” or tiny pieces of sand─whose destinies all collide around that distant Guatemalan war, to weave an epic tale of justice.  Though somewhat narrowly focused, the film is monumental.   It is also an inspirational look at the career of a brave filmmaker who has dedicated every ounce of her being to seeing that justice is served.  (US, 2011, 104 min)  Screens: Friday, October 7, 2011 at 6:30 p.m. at the Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael, CA and Sunday, October 9, 2011 at 5:45 p.m. at the Sequoia Theatre, 25 Throckmorton Street, Mill Valley.  Directors Pamela Yates and Paco de Onis will be present at both screening and will conduct a post-film discussion and Q & A. Tickets: $13.50.

In Gao Xiongjie’s “The Butcher’s Wife,“ which has its North American premiere at the MVFF34, the struggle between a new-married Chinese couple about what they should expect from life is a tragic critique of China’s rapid modernization and the tremendous pressures it creates on those not living in urban areas. Image courtesy: MVFF

The Butcher’s Wife:  North American Premiere (China, 2011, 119 min)(Mandarin with English subtitles)  Epic in scale, this new drama tells the intimate story of a newly-married young couple in rural China facing big life decisions against the gripping backdrop of modernization that threatens to leave all but urban dwellers behind.  Months have passed and Liang, a kind and simple butcher, and his wife Qiao have not consummated their marriage because she fears pregnancy will squash her dream of entering college and starting a new life in the city.  She’s already failed the exam three times and feels intense pressure to start the life she imagines she will have.  Lang can’t bear the situation and wants intimacy and, humiliated, sends his wife to stay with her mother.  Qiao leaves for the big city to get her dream underway and it quickly turns into a nightmare.  The fictional film, a parable for any rapidly modernizing society, draws us into the hard and fractured lives of a young couple, both unfulfilled and both with reasonable expectations, for which there seems to be no easy answer.  Through its intimate portrayal of the aspirations and anguish of two individuals, the film asks us to consider what really matters most in this life and what it means when achieving that is not possible.  (contains graphic images of pig slaughter)  Directed by Gao Xiongjie.  (China, 2011, 119 min)(Mandarin with English subtitles) Screens: Friday, October 7, 2011 at 8:30 p.m. at the Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael, CA and Sunday, October 9, 2011 at 3:45 p.m. at the Sequoia Theatre, 25 Throckmorton Street, Mill Valley.  Tickets: $13.50.  

Argentinean Director Paula Markovitch’s “The Prize” coaxes an emotionally rich performance from Paula Galinelli Hertzog, as Ceci, a 7 year-old girl on the run with her mother from Argentina’s repressive military regime. The film won the prestigious Silver Bear award for outstanding artistic achievement at the 61st Berlinale (Berlin International Film Festival). Image courtesy: MVFF

The Prize:  Argentinean Paula Markovitch’s impressive autobiographical feature debut is about vivacious 7 year-old Cecilia, (Paula Galinelli Hertzog) who is asked to keep a big secret about her family but can’t possibly understand the implications of that secret.  It’s the 1970’s and Ceci and her mom are living out of suitcases at a desolate and ramshackle abandoned beach town, hiding from Argentina’s repressive military and what will come to be called its “dirty war.”  If asked, Ceci is instructed to tell people only that her mom is a housekeeper and her dad sells curtains.  Ceci soons befriends her schoolmate, Lucia, but it becomes very difficult for her to particpate in activities like writing a school essay about her family and, when she does, she comes close to jeopardizing everything.  Paula Galinelli Hertzog delivers an astounding performance as a young girl trying to understand what she can believe in the adult world and struggling to feel secure in the certitude of her mother’s love when everything else seems to be shifting.  (Mexico/Germany/France/Poland, 2011) (103 minutes) In Spanish with English subtitles. Screens: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 8:30 p.m. at the Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael, CA and Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 5:45 p.m. at the Sequoia Theatre, 25 Throckmorton Street, Mill Valley.  Tickets: $13.50.

Old laws clash with the modern world in Joshua’s Marston’s “The Forgiveness of Blood” staring Albanian actor Tristan Halilaj as 17 year-old Nic who is trapped inside his home in rural Albanian because his family is embroiled in a blood feud. Beautifully photographed on location by cinematographer Rob Hardy. Image courtesy MVFF.

 The Forgiveness of Blood:  A mesmerizing drama from Justin Marston, the producer of Maria Full of Grace (2004) shot entirely on location in rural Albania that explores that small Balkan country’s insular clan culture through the story of a teenage boy and his sister.  When Mark (Refet Abazi) gets embroiled in a land rights squabble that escalates to his killing his neighbor, legal justice takes a backseat to Balkan oral code of the Kanun.  This traditional Albanian law, pre-dating the 15th century, states that when a murder is committed, the family of the deceased are warranted to get retribution by taking the life of a male in the offending clan’s family.  Mark goes into hiding but his 17 year-old son, Nik (Tristan Halilaj),  is essentially doomed to indefinite confinement at home, the only place considered safe ground.  Nic leaves his high school life of video games and flirting and becomes a volatile and stir-crazy prisoner at home while his resourceful 15-year-old sister, Rudina (Sindi Lacej), takes over her family’s bread delivery business but is soon knee deep in threats herself.   As Nic feels increasing pressure to find a solution to this blood feud, his actions escalate such that his entire family is jeopardized.  In Albanian with English subtitles, the film boldly contrasts the resurgence of antiquated traditions with the lives of young people in the country’s first post-totalitarian generation, whose bright future is put at risk by these practices.   Directed by Joshua Marston (2011) (109 minutes)  Screens: Thursday, October 13, 2011 at 4 p.m. and Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 12:15 p.m. at Sequoia Theatre, 25 Throckmorton Street, Mill Valley.   Tickets: $13.50.

Details:  Presented by the California Film Institute, the 34th Mill Valley Film Festival runs October 6-16, 2011 at the CinéArts@Sequoia (25 Throckmorton Avenue, Mill Valley), Chrisopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael) and other venues.  Tickets are $13.50 (CFI Members, $11), unless otherwise noted, and may be purchased online at  Additional information:  or call 877.874.6833

October 5, 2011 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment