Geneva Anderson digs into art

The 40th Mill Valley Film Festival, October 5-15, 2017, will honor Sean Penn with a special tribute

Actor, director, screenwriter, and political activist Sean Penn will be honored on Saturday, October 7, with a tribute and the MVFF award at the 40th Mill Valley Film Festival (October 4-14, 2017).  The afternoon will feature an onstage conversation with Penn, who won two Academy Awards for Best Actor for Mystic River (2003) and Milk (2008), and has been nominated three more times in the same category for Dead Man Walking (1995), Sweet and Lowdown (1999), and I Am Sam (2001).  As a director, Penn has crafted powerful dramas such as The Indian Runner (1991), The Pledge (2001), and Into the Wild (2007).  Penn’s most recent MVFF appearance was in 2014 to support The Human Experiment (2014), a film that he executive produced and narrated.  Image courtesy: MVFF

The Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF 40), October 4-15, 2107, a favorite among film lovers, hasn’t released its full schedule to the public yet but has just announced that Sean Penn will be honored with a festival tribute on Saturday, 3 p.m., October 7, 2017 at the Smith Rafael Film Center.  The two-hour program will feature an onstage conversation with Penn, a clip reel of his work, and the presentation of the MVFF award.  There will be time for an audience Q&A afterwards too, which is always fascinating as savvy audience members ask direct and often difficult questions–familiar territory for Penn.  The complete MVFF schedule will be available online Monday, September 12, 2017.  For this milestone, plan on a star-studded extravaganza, a roll-out in the neighborhood of 150 films and several special musical offerings, all selected with the progressive, knowledgeable and fun-loving spirit of our Bay Area audience in mind.

MVFF founder and executive director Mark Fishkin said that Sean Penn was essential for their 40th: “Not only is Sean one of the greatest actors of this generation; he may be one of the greatest actors of many generations.  The integrity of his performances in unparalleled.  Very few actors can be as absorbed in a role as he can and that comes right from his core.  He has history with this festival.”

Sean Penn, whose film career spans three decades, lived in Ross for several years and has a long association with MVFF.  In fact, over the years, it was a treat to see him catching a movie at the Rafael.  In 2002, he presented and spoke about Jessie Nelson’s I Am Sam (2001), which he starred in with Michelle Pfeiffer and Dakota Fanning.  Penn, nominated for Best Actor Academy Award, played a mentally challenged single father struggling to raise a daughter who ends up with Michelle Pfeiffer as his attorney.

Sean Penn was a lead actor in Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 21 Grams (2003) which had its world premiere at the 2003 Venice International Film Festival, where Penn won his second Volpi Cup (Best Actor Award).  At that time, he had been nominated for three Academy Awards but hadn’t yet won any.  The film later screened at MVFF and Penn and Iñárritu captivated the audience with a revealing post-screening Q&A.

In 2003, Penn came to MVFF as the lead actor in Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s tormenting  21 Grams.  Inarritu presented the film and Penn appeared on stage with him in an intense Q&A with festival founder and executive director, Mark Fishkin.  Reception guests included the unbeatable Tom Waits and Peter Coyote; the evening was unforgettable.

At a very special pre-festival event in 2007, Penn presented Into the Wild (2007), which he both directed and wrote the screenplay for.  The film, based on Jon Krakauer’s nonfiction bestseller, was nominated for two Academy® Awards.  Penn also presented the Mill Valley Award to Emile Hirsch for his breakout performance as the impulsive young adventurer, Christopher Johnson McCandless who lived thrillingly in the natural world for two years and then died tragically of starvation in the Alaskan wilderness.

In 2009, as part of the Smith Rafael’s 10th anniversary celebration Film of My Life series, Penn presented Elem Klimov’s film Come and See (1985), which unfolds in the Soviet republic of Byelorussia in 1943 and depicts the brutality of war.  Penn explained that the film, which he considers a masterpiece of film-making, affected him deeply.

In November of 2009, Penn was also in attendance at the Smith Rafael for a special screening of Oren Moverman’s lauded debut film, The Messenger (2009), which included an on stage conversation with Woody Harrelson, who starred in the film.

Who can forget Sean Penn’s Academy Award winning performance as Jimmy, an ex-con whose 19-year-old daughter is brutally murdered, in Clint Eastwood’s 24th film, the crime drama, Mystic River.

Penn’s most recent MVFF appearance was in 2014 to support The Human Experiment (2013), a documentary that he executive produced and narrated which explored the astonishing numbers of toxic chemicals found in everyday household products and the need for tighter regulation.

Penns’ fifth film as a director,  the drama The Last Face (2016), with Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem as African aid workers who become romantically involved in Liberian and Sudanese conflict zones, garnered a string of one star reviews and was was promptly relegated to a VOD release.  You can expect some discussion at MVFF of what prompted Penn to cast two gorgeous white actors in the lead as compassionate savior/healers and ensconce them in a bloody black war.

Penn’s latest film, The Professor and the Madman (2017), directed by Farhad Safinia and produced by Mel Gibson, is based on the Simon Winchester book about the true story of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary.  Set in 1857, Gibson plays the obsessive professor, James Murray, who oversaw the dictionary’s creation, while Sean Penn plays the equally obsessive madman — Dr. William Chester Minor — who contributed 10,000 entries from an asylum for the criminally insane.  This is the first time Penn and Gibson have appeared together on screen but audiences may have to wait until a legal matter is resolved.  In late July, Gibson filed a lawsuit alleging that the producing company, Voltage Pictures (the company behind The Hurt Locker)  was in breach of contract because one it did not allow him to select a final cut of the film.

MVFF 40 Details:

MVFF 40 runs October 4-15, 2017.  Main venues this year include: CinéArts@Sequoia (Mill Valley), Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (San Rafael), Lark Theatre (Larkspur), and Cinema Corte Madera.

Full schedule online Monday, September 11, 2017.

Tickets before the festival:  CFI (California Film Institute) Passholders get first dibs in order of their pass status. Premier Patron, Director’s Circle, Gold Star, and non-pass holding CFI members can begin to purchase tickets September 12-16.

General Public tickets available September 17-October 4, 2017 online (with convenience fees of $3.75 per order) or in person (no fee) at Smith Rafael Film Center Box Office (1114 Fourth Street, San Rafael, 4 to 8 pm) or Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce, 85 Throckmorton Ave., 4 to 8 pm)

Tickets during the festival:  October 5-15, 2017 tickets will be available 1 hour before the first screening of the day to 15 minutes after the last show starts.  Rush tickets:  rush line forms outside each venue roughly 1 hour before show time.  Rush tickets are sold on a first come, first sold basis roughly 15 minutes before show time.  Patrons have a 90% chance of getting into a show by using the rush line.

September 6, 2017 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 36th Mill Valley Film Festival just opened—ARThound looks at opening night and gives top picks

Geoffrey Rush takes center stage at the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival.  He stars in “The Book Thief” which opened the festival on Thursday evening. He will be presented with the MVFF Award at Saturday night’s special “Geoffrey Rush Tribute.” He also stars in Giuseppe Tornatore’s The Best Offer which screens twice at the festival.

Geoffrey Rush takes center stage at the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival. He stars in “The Book Thief” which opened the festival on Thursday evening. He will be presented with the MVFF Award at Saturday night’s special “Geoffrey Rush Tribute.” He also stars in Giuseppe Tornatore’s “The Best Offer” which screens twice at the festival.

The Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF36) is off and running in grand style.  Tonight, there were two opening night screenings to choose from and an opening party.  ARThound is just back from the enthralling world premiere of director Brian Percival’s The Book Thief with Academy Award®-winner Geoffrey Rush as an accordion-playing foster father and Sophie Nélisse as Lisel Meminger, the young heroine.  Over seven years from inception through filming, the film is an adoption story of sorts set in Nazi Germany. Narrated by Death, it relates a spirited young girl’s relationship with her new German foster parents and neighbors just as WWII breaks out in Germany and is a remarkable roller-coaster story of inspiration, perseverance, loss, and the ability of books to liberate the soul. Following the screening at the jam-packed at the Century Cinema Corte Madera,  Brian Percival, Geoffrey Rush, Sophie Nélisse and the film’s production team appeared on stage for a discussion with festival organizer Mark Fishkin, which included an audience Q & A.  These spontaneous exchanges are a big part of the thrill of experiencing a world premiere at MVFF.

Enchanting Sophie Nélisse, a born story-teller, delighted us all with her rendition of her nonchalant audition for the part of Lisel which all began with an emailed video and ended up with a live read in Berlin.  Nélisse confided that she hadn’t read Markus Zusak’s book or even put much thought into prepping for the audition. She was an Olympic caliber gymnast who had her sites set on making the national team instead.  Once she got talking, it was easy to see why she was selected. Her bright warm energy and enthusiasm for life, much like that of Lisel,  gave us all a boost.

Geoffrey Rush, who will be presented with the MVFF Award on Saturday evening, part of the Geoffrey Rush Tribute (tickets are still available), exhibited pride and a myriad of smiles while his young co-star chatted with the audience. Rush also stars as antiquarian art auctioneer in Giuseppe Tornatore’s (Cinema Paradiso, Baarìa) first English-language feature, The Best Offer which screens twice at the festival.  Critics have praised Rush’s sensitive performance. The Hollywood Reporter wrote, “Rush brings a striking depth of character to this classic Old World mystery…”  (Both screenings are AT RUSH) I can’t wait to attend Saturday’s tribute and to experience more of his razor-sharp humor and learn more about this fascinating actor’s life and career.

The filmmakers admitted that they are actually still putting finishing touches on the The Book Thief and that MVFF was indeed the film’s very first reveal.  The release date will be November 15.  Bay Area audiences can expect to see the film out for the holidays.

The 10 day festival runs through Sunday, October 13, and eases into its first weekend with several Friday evening screenings clustered around 6 PM and 9 PM at venues in San Rafael and Mill Valley.  The programming revs up to full days on the weekend and continues full force until closing.

Many of the films and special tributes are already sold out.  For a list of films currently at rush, click here.  Below are my recommendations among the films which still have ample ticket availability as of opening night.  Several of these films are newly announced entries for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards.  If these films sound interesting, don’t dally, as they will sell out.

A Long and Happy Life (Dolgaya schastlivaya zhizn) (Russia, 2013) US Premiere

Screens: Sat, Oct 5 2:30 PM at Rafael 3 (AT RUSH) and Mon, Oct 7, 4 PM at Sequoia 1

Russian director Boris Hlebnikov’s latest film depicts the futile struggle of an idealistic young farmer, Sasha (Alexander Yatsenko), in the Russian provinces against corrupt local authorities.  Hlebnikov’s previous film, Till Night Do Us Part ( Poka noch ne razluchit, 2012), took a satirical look at the Moscow elite and now he explores graft in a small village.  The setting is the picturesque Kola Peninsula in the Murmansk region, the northern most territory of Northwest Russia, above the Polar Circle.  The film was shot on a hand-held digital camera in natural light by former Berlinale cinematography prize-winner and all-around camera-tzar Pavel Kostomarov (How I Spent This Summer (2010)).  Sasha (Yatsenko) has come from the city to run a collective farm with dreams of finally thriving.  He works hard and is well-respected by the locals who even turn a blind eye to his romance with Anna (Anna Kotova) who works for the town council.  Things get tense when he is pressured by local council bureaucrats (the provincial arm of the new Russian state) to sign over his land to them so that they can profit from redevelopment. It’s an epic story of a man who stands up for what is right and rightfully his but, as in real life, there’s the dream of a “long and happy life” and what life dishes out. 80 min. In Russian with English subtitles.

The Past (Le Passe) (France, Italy, 2012)

Screens: Sat, Oct 5, 8 PM at Sequoia 2 (AT RUSH) and Thurs, Oct 10, 3 PM at Rafael 1

This year’s Cannes Film Festival honored Bérénice Bejo (The Artist) as Best Actress for her galvanizing performance as Marie, a French woman who has summoned her estranged husband Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) from Tehran to Paris to finalize their divorce. Marie takes Ahmad to her slightly disheveled house on the outskirts of Paris, where she lives with her two daughters from a previous marriage, her fiancé Samir (Tahar Rahim of A Prophet) and his young son. Asghar Farhadi, Academy Award–winning director of A Separation, crafts another superb drama of domestic secrets and unexpected revelations. Farhadi invests this intricately layered tale with an essentially humanistic point of view, in which every character—young or old—has his or her own reasons. 130 min. In French with English subtitles.

The Human Experiment (U.S., 2013) World Premiere

Screens: Sun, Oct 6 8:30 PM Rafael 1 (AT RUSH) and Thurs Oct 10 3:30 PM at Sequoia 1

What if the greatest chemical disaster of our time wasn’t an oil spill or the threat of a nuclear meltdown but instead was constant, low-level chemical exposures affecting every single being on the planet?  In certain ways, our lives are longer, healthier, and more prosperous than those of our great-grandparents but the inexorable march of progress is exhibiting major glitches—cancer, infertility, asthma, autism and a plethora of noxious diseases are all on the rise.   The Human Experiment is the latest documentary from acclaimed Bay Area filmmakers Dana Nachman and Don Hardy (Witch Hunt).  They again team up with impassioned activist Sean Penn, this time examining the high stakes battle to protect our health from literally thousands of untested chemicals in our everyday consumer products.  Narrator Sean Penn thoughtfully guides this fascinating look into the duplicitous tactics of the chemical industry and its stranglehold on regulation efforts.  The film’s brilliant four-dog argument about how corporate power beats down and co-opts is worth the price of admission alone.  In short, we’re on our own—Even China has better regulation than we do here in America.  Yes! China is sending its dubious ingredient products here to our markets and we are snapping them up.  Unscrupulous scientists and lobbyists are carefully managing scientific evidence about the health risks of chemicals.  Sham-science conducted by product and industry defense specialists has been elevated to the status of sound science and has created confusion about the very nature of scientific inquiry.  As our confidence in science and U.S. government’s ability to address public health and environmental concerns is shaken, chemicals continue their insidious spread.

Gloria (Chile, Spain 2013)

Screens: Tues Oct 8 8 PM at Sequoia 1 and Thurs Oct 10 at 2 PM at Sequoia 2

(Chile, Spain 2013) When acclaimed Chilean stage actress Paulina García tried her hand film, starring in Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria, she walked off with Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival.  The film was just chosen to represent Chile in the in the Foreign Language race for the 86th Academy Awards. García has been called the Meryl Streep of Chile and, like our amazing Meryl, brings out an inner candescence in her characters that has everything to do exposing the nakedness of their souls. Gloria finds García playing a 58-year-old divorcee who stumbles into a dubious romance with a man her own age (Sergio Hernandez) who she meets at a singles club.  The film has been praised for its courageous and juicy middle age sex scenes.  At its heart, it speaks to a woman with a story a lot of us can identify with—a woman who’s raised her children and is financially comfortable, and who is a bit fragile but who is more or less making the best of her situation…until a man who might just be the next big love comes along and shoots it all to hell.  As the new couple try to forge a lasting bond, their pasts constantly intrude.  This uplifting film was inspired by the life of director Sebastián Lelio’s own mother and her generation in Chile.

Like Father, Like Son (Soshite Chichi ni Naru) (Japan, 2013)

Screens: Wed, Oct 9 2:30 PM at Rafael 1 and Sat, Oct 12 8 PM at Lark Theatre (AT RUSH)

Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda knows how to weave a sensitive drama and his wonderful Like Father, Like Son picked up the esteemed Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival for good reason.  The mixed up babies saga has been visited often but rarely executed in way that rips at your heart the way this tender and slow-paced telling does.  When the bourgeois Nonomiyas (workaholic architect Ryota and passive obedient mom Midori) receive news that their biological son may have been switched at birth with another couple’s boy and that Keita, the six-year-old boy they have been raising, may not be their biological child; a slow meltdown ensues that threatens their stability as individuals, as parents and as a family unit.  Keita is actually the biological child of working class suburban appliance storeowners Yudai and Yukari Saiki, who have unwittingly raised the Nonomiyas’ son, Ryusei, as their own.  As the two families arrange gatherings for their children to mingle, and begin a trial system of exchanging the boys on weekends, we see just how complex the nature vs. nurture arguments are when actually road-tested.  Should nature trump nurture? Can the tentacles of attachment really recede when you’ve raised a child from infancy? What does it mean to pass something on to your children? And what are the lessons to be learned from forced socialization with people you normally wouldn’t have anything to do with?  120 min. In Japanese with English subtitles.

The Missing Picture (L’image manquante) (Cambodia, France 2013)

Screens: Sat, Oct 12 4:45 PM at Lark Theatre and Sun Oct 13 5:30 PM at Rafael 3

Cambodian director Rithy Panh’s The Missing Picture uses simple sculpted clay figures to retell the atrocities he and others endured under the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.  The documentary won the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and was recently selected as the Cambodian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards. Panh was 13 on April 17, 1975, the day the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh and rounded up civilians and deported them to forced labor camps. There, they worked as slaves for the Pol Pot’s revolution which centralized the peasant farming society of Cambodia virtually overnight. One after another, Panh’s father, mother, sisters and nephews died of starvation or exhaustion, as they were held in a remote labor camp in rural Cambodia. In just three short years, over 25% of the country’s population was eliminated.

“Missing Picture” centers on Panh’s search for a “missing picture” via his recreated vision of the atrocities Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge committed.  These clay figures intercut with archival footage and Panh’s spoken word fill in the gaps in history and allows us to witness the human experience below the surface of this tragedy with an incredible compassion. 92 min In French with English subtitles.

Details:  The festival’s homepage is hereAdvance ticket purchase is essential as this festival sells out. To purchase tickets online for MVFF screenings, browse the film listings—the full list and scheduling information are online here.  Most tickets are $14 and special events and tributes are more.  Tickets can also be purchased in person at select Marin ticket outlets.

Rush tickets: If seats become available, even after tickets have sold out, rush tickets will be sold. The rush line forms outside each venue beginning one hour before show-time. Approximately 15 minutes prior to the screening, available rush tickets are sold on a first-come, first serve basis for Cash Only.)

October 3, 2013 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment