Geneva Anderson digs into art

5 films from the 43rd Mill Valley Film Festival you can screen from home, starting Thursday evening

MVFF43 honors actor and producer Viola Davis with its Mind the Gap Award: Actor of the Year in an online conversation with MVFF Director of Programming Zoë Elton and special guest George C. Wolfe. The event can be streamed from October 10-18.   Davis is the first Black woman to attain acting’s great trifecta: two Tony Awards, for Fences and King Hedley II; an Oscar®, also for Fences; and an Emmy® for How to Get Away with Murder.  Her dedication to speaking out with eloquence and wisdom on issues of equality, especially for women and Black women, has established her as one of the great performers and spokespeople of our time. MVFF43 is October 8-18, 2020. 

Grab your popcorn and snuggle in. A pandemic version of the 43rd edition of the Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF43) kicks off Thursday evening with drive-in and online programming. In MVFF style, opening night offers a drive-in world premiere screening of “Blithe Spirit,” Edward Hall’s new adaptation of Noël Coward’s 1941 theatrical hit starring Dame Judi Dench as the inept spiritualist Madame Arcati. The locale is Lagoon Park in Marin Civic Center, freshly outfitted with a gigantic studio-grade screen. 

Much of this year’s festival is virtual, with five opening night choices to stream: the US premiere of Judith Ehrlich’s “The Boys Who Said No!;” the California premieres of Argentinian director Ariel Winograd’s “The Heist of the Century,” Mongolian Director Byambasuren Davaa’s “Veins of the World,” American director Alexandre Rockwell’s “Sweet Thing,” and American director David Garrett Byars “Public Trust”.  In all, MVFF43 offers 11 full days of online programming and 10 nights of drive-in screenings.  It presents 144 films, both shorts and features, from 38 countries. It runs through Sunday, October 18 with its final drive in screening, “The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” on Saturday, October 17. 

The acclaimed festival runs in tandem with DocLands, the California Film Institute’s annual documentary film festival which was postponed from May due to Covid. Despite the Covid curveball, MVFF has held on to its identity— supporting innovative film, local filmmakers and showcasing likely Oscar contenders that have already premiered at the famed Venice and Toronto film festivals.  MVFF has also kept important promises: fifty-seven percent of the films screening this year are directed or co-directed by women which means the festival hit its 50/50 by 2020 pledge goal.  

This year, the MVFF, DocLands, and Mind the Gap Awards will all be presented virtually, so home viewers can catch wonderful conversations with Viola Davis, Kate Winslet, Sophia Loren, Dame Judi Dench, Claire Dunne, Regina King, Bay Area actor Delroy Lindo, documentary filmmaker Freida Lee Mock and writer/director Aaron Sorkin. As an added benefit, most of these programs which cost upwards of $60 at the festival, are priced at $10.

Here are five films you shouldn’t miss:

Bat-Ireedui Batmunkh as Amra in “Veins of the World.”  Image: Talal Khoury

Veins of the World (Opening Night choice for online viewers)

There are many exciting roads to Asia at MVFF43.  “Veins of the World” presents an exhilarating and poignant story from a child’s point of view and its strong environmental message makes it a wonderful family film. This fiction feature debut of Mongolian director screen writer Byambasuren Davaa’s (Oscar-nominated “The Story of the Weeping Camel”) tells the story of Amra, an 11 year-old boy who lives a nomadic life in the Mongolian steppe with his mother Zaya, father Erdene, and little sister Altaa.  Life as they know it is threatened by the encroachment of international mining companies digging for gold who are destroying the natural habitat. When Amra’s father is killed in an accident, his mother wants to upend their life and move the family to the city. Amra refuses and takes up his father’s fight against the miners. Amra’s musical talent lands him on Mongolia’s Got Talent where he performs a heartfelt song that spells everything out. A wonderful journey of self discovery that explores nomadic and rapdily urbanizing Mongolia. (Opening Night Film; online screening window 10/8 – 10/18, 2020)

Brothers Ilmar Gavilán (L) and Aldo López-Gavilán (R) in a scene from “Los Hermanos/The Brothers.”

Los Hermanos/The Brothers

Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider’s new documentary, Los Hermanos/The Brothers, is a genuine masterpiece, an exhilarating and perceptive dive into the magical and confounded lives of two Cuban-born brothers—violinist Ilmar Gavilán and pianist Aldo López-Gavilán—both virtuosos. They were separated as teens when Ilmar had the chance to study violin in Moscow and later went on to establish himself in New York as a soloist and member of the Harlem Quartet.  Aldo remained in Cuba and became a leading pianist, developing his own signature sound in both the worlds of classical music and Afro-Cuban jazz. They’ve spent their lives on opposite sides of the US-Cuba geopolitical chasm. Filmed in Havana and in the US and drawing on historical performance footage and family archives, the film begins in the Obama era as the brothers reunite, briefly in Havana and then again in New York to collaborate musically. They’ve dreamed of this all their lives. Their joyful and productive reunion is shadowed by future uncertainty about tightening travel restrictions.  The film, a kind of extended road trip in the two countries, takes a palpably intimate look at the frustrating, passionate, humorous and musically inspired lives these brothers lead. It serves up delight after delight—dazzling shots of Havana and a mesmerizing score composed by Aldo López-Gavilán, performed with Ilmar, with guest appearances by Joshua Bell and the Grammy-winning Harlem Quartet.  If their names sound familiar, Aldo performed twice locally at Festival Napa Valley Festival. (online screening window 10/9 –10/18)

Investigative journalist Matt Bloomberg in a scene from the documentary “Current Sea.”

Current Sea

This environmental documentary thriller from director Christopher Smith follows Australian investigative journalist Matt Blomberg and ocean activist and former British police officer Paul Ferber to Cambodia where illegal fishing in the Gulf of Thailand has depleted the sea of fish and threatened Cambodian fishermen. As the two men team up to create a marine conservation area and combat the relentless tide of illegal fishing, they face danger and unexpected obstacles. Along the way, a new generation of Cambodian environmentalists are inspired to create better lives. (online screening window 10/9 –10/18)

A scene from Michal Sulima’s, “Piano to Zanskar.”

Piano to Zanskar

Warsaw-born Michal Sulima’s indie debut, Piano to Zanskar, is the ultimate film for MVFF’s cause and adventure-oriented audience, proving you’re never too old to do something completely insane, incredibly generous, noble, and beautiful. It follows 65 year-old piano tuner Desmond “Gentle” O’Keefe and Anna and Harald, his two eccentric young assistants, as they embark on an arduous trip by foot and yaks across the Indian Himalayas. Their mission: to deliver a 100-year-old, 80-kilogram, upright piano, from bustling London to the remote village of Lingshed, in Khalsi tehsil, India. Why? Because Lingshed needs a piano. When Desmond reassembles the instrument, it becomes the highest piano in the world and everybody is united by the magic of music. You’ll find yourself laughing and crying in equal measures at the irresistible trio that pulled this off. I often wondered where was the camera to so expertly capture the grandeur of this mountainous area, a soaring maze of passes and gorges. And the marvel of Lingshed, an isolated community stuck in centuries past because there is no road linking them to civilization. They have no need for money, cell phone or televisions. This doc took grand prize at the Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival 2019.  (online screening window 10/9 –10/18)

Vintner, Hélène Thibon in her vineyard.

Weed & Wine

This timely and beautifully crafted doc from Emmy-winning Rebecca Richman Cohen focuses on two agricultural families on different continents who have been working their land for generations. The Thibon family are winemakers from France’s Southern Rhone region while the Jodrey family grow newly legalized state-certified organic cannabis in California’s Humboldt County. Worlds apart these families have shared concerns about sustainability, climate change, adapting their businesses to change and to succession to the next generation. (online screening window 10/9 –10/18)

Details:  MVFF43 runs October 8 -18, 2020.  All tickets are sold online. Virtual — $10 general, $8.50 California Film Institute members. Drive-in — $40 per vehicle, $35 members. To browse films and buy tickets, visit

October 7, 2020 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Sonoma International Film Festival starts Wednesday—$15 tickets online now for many of the films

Leandie Du Randt and Armand Greyling in a scene from Etienne Fourie’s romantic drama, The Windmill (Die Windpomp) (2014), which has its North American premiere at the 18th Sonoma International Film Festival, March 25-29, 2015.  The romantic drama is the first South African film to screen at SIFF which offers over 90 films from two dozen countries.

Leandie Du Randt and Armand Greyling in a scene from Etienne Fourie’s “The Windmill” (Die Windpomp) (2014), which has its North American premiere at the 18th Sonoma International Film Festival, March 25-29, 2015. The romantic drama is the first South African film to screen at SIFF which, this year, offers over 90 films from two dozen countries.

On Wednesday, the curtain rises on the 18th Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF), pairing 5 nights and 4 days of film with the wine country’s exquisite food, wine and artisan beer.  Over 90 films from more than two dozen countries will play in seven intimate venues, all within walking distance of Sonoma’s historic town square which transforms into “Sonomawood” for the festivities. Alan Rickman’s A Little Chaos, with Kate Winslet, has its North American premiere and opens the festival on Wednesday evening at the historic Sebastiani Theater and Michel Hazanavicius’ The Search, starring Annette Bening and Berenice Bejo, also at the Sebastiani, closes the festival on Sunday evening.

You can’t beat Sonoma in spring—the atmosphere is quaint and relaxed; the weather is warm; the streets are popping with roses and lilacs; and the real estate descriptions on the square’s windows will fuel your dreams.   This festival is geared towards pass-holders who pay a premium ($250 to $2,500) for access to all the screenings and the famous “back-lot” tent (an all-you-can-eat-and-drink orgy) and special parties.  Tickets are also available, on a limited basis, for individual film screenings for $15 each.  Many of these include lively post-screening Q&A’s with the directors or cast and generous free samples of locally prepared gourmet treats.  This year, instead of having to go to the festival box office on the town square in person to purchase these tickets, they can be conveniently purchased online, with a small service charge, and are available for many of the films.  If individual tickets are available, there will be a “tickets” hyperlink included in the film description.  Understandably, opening and closing night films (as of this positing) are for pass-holders only.

Full festival schedule by film type is available online here.

Full schedule in calendar form is available online here.

Official Full SIFF Film Guide is available online here.

Stay-tuned to ARThound for an overview of this year’s exceptional art-related line-up.

The festival programmers know exactly what their audience wants and, along with thought-provoking documentaries, drama, art and music, SIFF always offers a number of endearing “rom-drams,” romantic dramas, from all over the world.  This  year SIFF screens its first film ever from South Africa, Etienne Fourie’s The Windmill (Die Windpomp) (2014) which originally started out as a 48 minute student film that swept the prestigious South African AFDA awards and was then developed into a full-length film.  This is one of the few films that I have seen (a screener was provided) and I recommend it highly.  The story revolves around introverted 20 year-old Henri (Armand Greyling) who comes to live with his elderly grandfather in a sleepy retirement village somewhere in South Africa.  As soon as he arrives, Henri begins to have a series of strange interactions with the quirky and affable seniors in the small community who all share one big secret.  When Henri catches the eye of exquisite and fun-loving Margot (Leandie Du Randt), he slowly opens his heart and magical things begin to happen, literally.  Opulently shot and choreographed, the film’s drama builds from an initially light and entertaining story into a complex mystery that is a passionate lament for aging.  Is it better to live forever, or for a finite time subject to all the physical and mental frailties of the human condition?  The delicate love story between Henri and Margot is heightened by Armand Greyling’s remote and introspective performance.  Hearing a film in Afrikaans is a rare treat itself. (114 min, in Afrikaans)

(Screens: Thursday 3/26 8:30 PM Sebastiani and Saturday 3/28 9 AM Vintage House.  Individual tickets available for both screenings.)

March 22, 2015 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment