Geneva Anderson digs into art

MVFF41 starts Thursday—¡VIVA EL CINE! showcases 15 award-winning Latin American and Spanish language films with many special guests

Special guests make a film come alive.  Cuban actor Héctor Noas will attend MVFF41 as part of ¡Viva el Cine!  Noas plays Russian cosmonaut Sergei Asimov in Ernesto Daranas Serrano’s drama Sergio and Sergei, set in 1990 Havana, and based on a real incident.  Photo: Ernesto Daranas

The forty-first edition of the Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF41) kicks off Thursday (Oct 4) with two big opening night films—Matthew Heineman’s bio-pic, A Private War, starring Rosamund Pike as tenacious Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin and Peter Farrelly’s drama, Green Book, which takes us on a tense 1962 concert tour in the American South with Mershala Ali (Moonlight, MVFF2016) as black jazz pianist, Dr. Don Shirley, and Viggo Mortensen as Tony Lipp, his Italian-American chauffeur and bodyguard.  Starting full force Friday and running for 10 days, MVFF41 delivers an exciting line-up of the very best and latest in American indie and world cinema, with more than 300 guests in attendance. Special events—Centerpiece and Closing Night Presentations, Spotlights, Tributes, Special Premieres, the Mind the Gap Summit, Behind the Screens Panels  and intimate parties and receptions—bring the films to life, fostering engaging discussion about issues and art.

The festival’s wonderful ¡Viva el Cine! series, programmed by MVFF Senior programmer Janis Plotkin with the help of Claudia Mendoza Carruth, turns five this year.  The line-up has doubled to include 15 award-winning Latin American and Spanish language films and there’s even a new ¡Viva el Cine! Launch Day that brings a fiesta to the Smith Rafael Film Center.  With films from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Spain and the US, the series’ spellbinding storytelling and special guests make it an increasingly influential forum for the exploration of history, culture and identity.

¡Viva el Cine! Launch Day: Sunday, October 7

Coco / Walt Disney Pictures / Pixar Animation Studios


It all begins Sunday morning at the Smith Rafael Film Center with a family-friendly fiesta with live mariachi music, Day of the Dead face painting, fresh churros and hot chocolate. At 11 am, on Smith Rafael 1’s big screen, is the first Marin-ever screening of Coco, the Oscar-awarded, Pixar family favorite in Spanish with English subtitles, so that all children attending can both listen and read it.

Running concurrently in Smith Rafael 3, is the acclaimed coming of age drama, Too Late to Die Young (Tarde para morir joven), directed by Chilean Dominga Sotomyer, who will be in attendance.  This is Sotomayer’s second feature film and its set in 1990 Chile, with three main characters, ages 10, 16 and 16, who experience the pain of unrequited love and begin in their own ways to relate to the complexities of their parents’ world, all against the back-drop of a society reeling from Pinochet.

In Alonso Ruizpalacios’ Museo, Gael Garcia Bernal, plays thirty-something veterinary student, Juan Nuñez, who takes a job at the Anthropology Museum in order to support his marijuana habit.  He learns enough about the museum to come up with a plan to rob it with the help of his best friend. Image: Courtesy Alejandra Carvajal

At 2 p.m., Mexican Director Alonso Ruizpalacios will be in attendance for the screening of Museo, an art heist thriller with Gael García Bernal, based on the 1985 robbery of more than 100 Mesoamerican and Mayan artifacts from Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology.  Winner Best Screenplay award at the Berlin International Film Festival.

At 8 pm, Argentinian director Luis Ortega’s fourth feature, the engrossing biopic, The Angel (El ángel), presents a dramatized true story of angelic-looking, baby-faced young sociopath, Carlos Robledo Puch, aka “The Death Angel,” who in the 1970’s embarked on a murder spree across Argentina.

Centerpiece:  Roma,  Monday, October 8

A scene from Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma. Image: courtesy MVFF

Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, his first film shot in Mexico, since Y tu mamá también (2001) is a meditative masterpiece on the meaning of family that screens as the festival’s Centerpiece.  Cuarón will be in attendance for an extensive on-stage conversation about this film, awarded the Golden Lion in Venice for best film and Mexico’s foreign language Oscar submission.  Set in 1970’s Mexico City, Roma follows the life of a quiet live-in indigenous housekeeper, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), and the upper middle class family that employs her.  Through a series of small moments, both humorous and poignant, there’s a slow build to mounting crisis for both Cleo and her employers.  Gorgeously shot in black and white.  Every scene and every woman seem steeped in personal memory and deep reflection.  Roma is Cuarón’s follow-up to Gravity (2013), awarded Academy Awards for directing and editing.

Harvest Season: World Premiere, Sat, October 13

Napa Valley Latina viticulturist, Vanessa Robledo, is profiled in Bernardo Ruiz’s Harvest Season.  Image: Roberto “Bear” Guerra

¡Viva el Cine! also includes films produced in the U.S. that are relevant to Latinos’ experiences here.  Benardo Ruiz’s documentary, Harvest Season, set and filmed in the Napa valley, has its world premiere at MVFF41 on Sat, October 13.  Through four stories, the film addresses the Latino and Mexican-American entrepreneurs and activists involved in the production and harvest of the grapes that go into premium California wines, small players with fascinating insights.  Shooting began in December 2015 and continued during the 2017 harvest, one of the most dramatic grape harvests in decades.  Filmmaker David Ruiz, Producer Lauren Capps, and subjects Vanessa Robledo, Maria Robledo, Angel Calderon and Gustavo Brambila will be in attendance. Screens: Sat 10/13 and Sun 10/14.


6 must-see films:

For recommendations, I went to Claudia Mendoza Carruth, who helped program ¡Viva el Cine!  She is well-respected for initiating and running the Sonoma International Film Festival’s Vamos Al Cine  and she regularly attends Havana’s Festival Internacional del Neuvo Cine Latinoamericano (or Havana Film Festival). (Read ARThound’s review here)  This year, she brought some of the best films from the Havana festival to MVFF and is especially excited to screen the Cuban film Sergio and Sergei with Cuban actor Héctor Noas to MVFF for an audience discussion.

“I’ve always marveled how Cuba, with all its limitations can produce such incredible cinema,” said Carruth. “It’s always been thought that it was difficult to impossible to bring Cuban films and actors here.  It’s not easy, but my attendance every year at the Havana Film Festival has enabled me to see the immense scope of films that come out of this island and the region and make connections.  I hope to really help develop MVFF’s programming.”

Sergio and Sergei

In Sergio and Sergei, Cuban actor Tomás Cao plays a ham-radio buff and downtrodden professor of Marxism in Havana who unexpectedly makes a connection with a Russian cosmonaut stuck in space. Image: Ernesto Daranas

One of the first films to come out of Cuba that has outer space effects, Ernesto Daranas Serrano’s Sergio and Sergei, is a story of human communication between Earth and the Russian Mir space station.  The engaging and very funny satirical drama is set in 1991, during a period of economic hardship for both the unraveling USSR and Cuba. Sergei (Héctor Noas) is stranded satelliting Earth on Mir space station, unable to descend and, by chance, communicates with Sergio (Tomás Cao), a ham-radio buff and professor of Marxism in Havana who is unable to support his family. A friendship forms as both men realize they share feelings of geopolitical isolation.  The film is shot in Havana.  Héctor Noas in attendance.  Screens:  Tues 10/9 and Wed 10/10.

Los Adioses

Mexican actress Actress Karina Gidi plays feminist writer Rosario Castellanos in Natalia Beristáin’s Los Adioses. Image: courtesy MVFF

Mexican filmmaker Natalia Beristáin’s second feature, Los Adioses, is a superbly acted portrait of Rosario Castellanos, one of Latin America’s greatest 20th century writers.  A poet, novelist, and essayist, Castellanos was an early supporter of women’s rights in postwar Mexico when the society was extremely patriarchal.  Her style was vulnerable, revealing, self-searching.  She struggled with balancing how to be happy in a love relationship, how to be a mother and, at the same time, how to work and assert her thoughts about the struggles of being a woman into her work.  Actress Karina Gidi, who plays the older Rosario, took home the Best Actress trophy at the Ariel Awards, Mexico’s equivalent of the Academy Awards®.  Screens: Tues 10/9 and Thurs 10/11

Virus Tropical

In Virus Tropical, Colombian-Ecuadorian cartoonist Power Paola takes ownership of her life story, working with Colombian director and artist, Santiago Caicedo, to adapt her 2011 graphic novel to an animated film with exquisite, emotive black and white drawings. Image: Courtesy of Timbo Estudio/Santiago Cacedo/Powerpaola

Colombian-Ecuadorian cartoonist and Power Paola (the pen-name of Paola Gaviria) is well-known for addressing themes of sexuality, feminism, family and personal identity in her graphic novels (Por Dentro, Todo Va a Estar Bien).  Her animated autobiographical film, Virus Tropical, is an adaptation of her 2011 graphic novel of the same name.  This coming- of-age tale, set in middle class Quito, Ecuador, and Cali, Colombia, is focused on family dynamics from the perspective of Paola, a very self-aware young girl, who is the youngest child in a close-knit family of three girls.  There are intimate scenes from family dinners where she is picked on, moments of pain and loss as she confronts the shock of her father’s suddenly moving back to Colombia and reflective moments such as her sister’s wedding.  It took Paola roughly five years to create the 5,000-plus detailed black-and-white line drawings that comprise the novel. Video artist and animator Santiago Caicedo, who previously worked with Paola on the short film Uyuyui! (2011), has beautifully transferred these to the screen.  Filmmaker Power Paola in attendanceScreens: Sat 10/13 and Sun 10/14

Amalia, the Secretary

Colombian actress Marcela Benjamin in a scene from Colombian director Andrés Burgos’ comedy, Amalia the Secretary (Amalia, la secretaria, 2017).  Image: courtesy MVFF

Colombian Director Andrés Burgos has hit the sweet spot with his comedy Amalia, the Secretary (Amalia, la secretaria, 2017) played to pitch perfect rigidity by Marcela Benjamin.  The story is about Amalia, who runs the office by taking passive-aggressive swipes at everyone who crosses her path until she meets Lazaro, a maintenance temp who so intrigues her that she creates more and more work for him by breaking things. “It’s so rare in Latin America to have a very well-crafted comedy that has people doing belly laughs,” said Claudia Mendoza Carruth. “One of my favorite scenes involves Amalia, this very very rigid woman, attempting yoga.  The way her character evolves and she asserts herself in almost every situation is really special.”  Director Andrés Burgos in attendance.  Screens:  Thurs 10/11 and Fri 10/12


Birds of Passage

A still from Birds of Passage. Image: Quinzaine

Birds of Passage (Pájaros de verano), a crime epic, co-directed by frequent collaborators Cristina Gallego and Ciro Gallego, portrays the slow and steady destruction of a close-knit native family who gets caught up in the marijuana export business in the 1970s, and the beginnings of Colombia’s burgeoning narco-trafficking industry. The film, selected as the opener for Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, is a bit of ethnographic thriller as well introducing the Wayúu, Native Americans who live in North part of the country, in the deserts of the north-western Guajira peninsula, that many people, even native Colombians, know very little about.  At its heart, this is a family story that involves power, legend, culture, money, greed and the difficulty of honoring ancestors and customs in an increasingly modern world.  Cristina Gallego has accolades as a producer and this is her directing debut, while Ciro Guerra has global acclaim. His Embrace of the Serpent, co-produced by Guerra, (2015, MVFF38) won the Directors’ Fortnight prize at Cannes and was the first Colombian film to be nominated for the foreign language Oscar.  Screens: Wed 10/10 and Thurs 10/11



Japanese actor Joe Odagiri as Japanese-Bolivian medial student, Freddy Maemura Hurtado, in a scene from Junji Sakamoto’s biopic Ernesto (2018), screening twice at MVFF41. Photo: @2017 ‘Ernesto’ Film Partners

It’s a rare that one encounters a portrait of Che Guevara from a Japanese perspective.  Junji Sakamoto’s biopic Ernesto (2018), a very rare Japan-Cuba co-production, tells the story of idealistic Japanese-Bolivian medial student, Freddy Maemura Hurtado (Japanese superstar Joe Odagiri), who travels to Cuba in 1962 to become a doctor but instead joins Che Guevara’s guerilla army.  He becomes a very serious revolutionary who idolizes Che and becomes vehemently anti-war and outraged with American aggression in the Cuban missile crisis. The films traces Hurtado’s life from the time he sets foot in Havana in 1962 to his violent end in the jungle. Shot mainly in Cuba.  Screens: Thurs 10/11 and Fri 10/12



For full descriptions of ¡Viva el Cine!, click here.  MVFF41 is October 4-14, 2018.  For full schedule and to purchase tickets, click here.  Advance ticket purchase of films is essential as they sell out.

October 3, 2018 Posted by | Film, Wine | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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