With the onset of fall, Bay Area moviegoing options start to multiply like crazy. The Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF), October 6-16 2016, is hard to beat. The 39th edition offers a line-up of 200 films—winners from Cannes, Berlin, and Toronto as well as an eclectic mix of features, documentaries, shorts, world cinema and films with a Bay Area stamp—all selected for our discriminating Bay Area audience by programmer Zoe Elton and her seasoned team. The legendary festival kicks off on Thursday evening, October 6, with two of Hollywood’s hottest fall films—La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s (Whiplash MVFF 2014) love letter to dreamers, artists, and Hollywood with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone and Denis Vileneuve’s (Sicario) riveting and thoughtful drama, Arrival, starring five time Oscar-nominee Amy Adams as a linguistics professor who communicates with aliens in a bid to save the planet. Actually, in a move to satisfy everyone’s tastes, there are four films screening on Thursday evening, so add Mick Jackson’s Denial starring Rachael Weiss and Rob Nilsson’s Love Twice to the mix but they are not being billed as opening nighters. Special Tributes will honor Academy Award winning actress Nicole Kidman in a program that includes a screening of her new film with Dev Patel, Lion, and acclaimed filmmaker and author Julie Dash, who will appear in conversation following a screening of her recently restored Daughters of the Dust (1991). The festival closes with Jeff Nichols’ Loving, which tells the real life story of the struggle, imprisonment and 1960’s Supreme Court battle Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) Loving experienced in one of America’s early interracial marriages.
The festival unfolds in San Rafael, Corte Madera, Larkspur and Mill Valley. For North Bay residents, getting there and parking is considerably more time efficient and cheaper than it is in San Francisco. If you want to go, pre-purchase your tickets now as this popular festival tends to sell out before it starts. There is ample choice right now but not for long. I recommend seeing films where the filmmaker or actors will be in attendance. Also, check the new program guide for Smith Rafael Film Center. Several of the festival films are screening there within the next two months and it doesn’t make sense to pay a premium to see them at the festival and wait in long lines unless there are special guests attending that make it worthwhile.
ARThound’s top picks:
Neruda/Spotlight Gael Garcia Bernal—Mon, Oct 10
The foreign film line-up is especially strong this year. Chilean Director Pablo Larrain’s Neruda, Chile’s foreign language Oscar nominee, takes center stage in a special Spotlight presentation honoring Mexican actor-director-producer Gael Garcia Bernal. The drama is set in 1948 and Bernal plays a police inspector who is charged with finding the fugitive Communist politician and poet, Pablo Neruda, when he goes underground. In Larrain’s capable hands, the film morphs into a soulful exploration of Chile’s historical dance with heroes and villains and Bernal as the inspector becomes a key figure, obsessed with finding Neruda who has managed to make him his pawn. Bernal will appear in an onstage conversation covering his extensive career.
The Salesman—Fri, Oct 7 and Wed, Oct 12
I can’t remember when the festival last hosted an Iranian filmmaker but, over the year’s, we’ve reveled in their creativity, courage and unparalleled story-telling. This year, acclaimed Academy Award and Golden Globe winning writer-director Ashgar Farhadi (A Separation) will appear in person to answer questions after the two screenings of his new Tehran-set drama The Salesman. The film picked up Best Screenplay and Best Actor awards at Cannes and was selected as the Iranian nominee for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. The Salesman is the suspenceful story of a young Persian couple who are part-time actors in Tehran in the Arthur Miller play Death of a Salesman. Their relationship is strained after they move into a new flat and the wife is attacked while she is taking a shower. The flat’s previous occupant, a woman who was allegedly involved in prostitution, is never seen but her presence grows as the film progresses. At Cannes, Shahab Hosseini, the husband, won the award for Best Actor.
Lamb—Sat, Oct 8 and Tues, Oct 11
A rarity for MVFF is an Ethiopian film, in Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia. Writer-director Yared Zeleke’s first feature, Lamb, was the first Ethiopian film ever named an official Cannes selection. The 37 year-old director made Variety magazine’s “10 Screenwriters to Watch” list for 2015. The story revolves around an Ethiopian boy who loses his mother and moves in with relatives and becomes attached to a pet lamb, Chuni, as a way of dealing with loss and grief. He also takes up cooking which is unacceptable to his uncle who considers it girl’s work. The story hits close to home for the director. When he was just 10, Zeleke’s own father was imprisoned by the Derg regme (the ruling military Communist regime that was in power in Ethiopia from 1974 to 1987) and his mother remarried and he went to live with his grandmother. Ultimately, Zeleke was reunited with his father and they lived together in the US but the happy days he had with both loving parents together were long gone. Filmmaker in attendance for both screenings.
Frantz—Fri, Oct 7 and Fri, Oct 14
French director François Ozon (Swimming Pool, 8 Women, Under the Sand) always stirs me with subtle demonstrations of his artistry and deep understanding of human nature. His latest film, Frantz, a romantic drama set in the aftermath of WWI in the small German town of Quedlingburg, is a layered portrait of grief. The story evolves from a strange graveside encounter between a young German woman (Paula Beer) grieving her fiancé and a Frenchman, Adrian (Pierre Niney), who also visits the fiancé’s grave to leave flowers. He claims to have been friends with her fiancé and, slowly, she begins to develop feelings for him. Shot in black and white, with brief interludes of color, the film is a loose adaptation of Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 drama Broken Lullaby which itself was based on a play by French playwright Maurice Rostand. Niney, whose elegant face would have inspired Michelangelo, won a Cesar award for his outstanding performance in Jalil Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent (2014).
Mom and Other Loonies in the Family—Sat, Oct 15 and Sun, Oct 16
Hungarian director Ibolya Fekete’s Mom and Other Loonies in the Family revolves around a 94 year-old grandmother with dementia who relates her life story to her daughter. It’s a heartwarming recounting, told through flashbacks over four generations of crazies. She was a mother on the run who moved twenty-seven times—and the film spans all of the 20th century, meandering through epic moments in Hungarian and world history. Her “present” is a time that is infused with struggles, declining health and the confusing intervention of past events. Her past was committed to keeping the family together at any cost. The story is based on the filmmaker’s own family and stories related to her by relatives. Characters appear in archival footage and in well-known Hungarian films as if they were actually in those films. Eszter Ónodi shines as the reliable yet somewhat whimsical woman who moved too many times and just wants to stand on her own two feet. Her ninety four-year old demented self is played by Danuta Szaflarska who credibly plays the role by reverting to childlike responses.
Green is Gold—Sat, Oct 8 and Sun, Oct 9
I have a weakness for films that are set in Northern, California, where I grew up. Sonoma State University graduate Ryan Baxter’s first feature, Green is Gold, is set in rural Sonoma County and is a family bonds over pot business story that picked up the Audience Best Fiction Film award at the Los Angeles Film Festival for its poetic filmmaking and emotional truth. Ryan Baxter, the writer, director, editor and star, plays the older brother, Cameron, a black market potrepneur ( a real word I picked up at the Heirloom Festival) who is forced to take care of his younger brother, Jimmy (his real life brother, Jimmy Baxter) when their dad is imprisoned. Cameron tries to put some distance between the kid and the cannabis business, which involves considerable risk but high payoffs, but, soon Jimmy is knee deep in buds and the two find themselves embarking on a dangerous pot delivery journey that will either leave them rolling in dough or six feet under. Ryan Baxter, actor Jimmy Baxtor, and rest of cast and crew in attendance at both screenings.)
Unleashed—Wed, Oct 12 and Thurs, Oct 13
What if your pets turned into full-grown men? I couldn’t resist the whacky premise behind Finn Taylor’s Unleashed, which has a thirty-something software app designer Emma (Kate Micucci) settling into her life in San Francisco when her cat, Ajax, and her dog, Summit, disappear only to reappear in her life as full-grown men (Steve Howet and Justin Chatwin). All their four-legged memories are fully intact and they vie for her affection in their very specific cat and dog styles.
Details MVFF 39:
The 39th Mill Valley Film Festival opens on Thursday, October 6 and runs through Sunday, October 16, 2016. Buy tickets online now at http://www.mvff.com/. Most tickets for films are $14 and special programs starts at $25.
The 38th Mill Valley Film Festival starts tonight and runs through October 18─here are ARThound’s favs
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:
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)
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)
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)
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 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:
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:
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
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)
SEPCIAL DAYS: OPENING NIGHT
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.
TRIBUTE AND SPOTLIGHT EVENTS
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. www.mvff.org
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. www.mvff.org
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. www.mvff.org
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. www.mvff.org
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. www.mvff.org
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 mvff.com. Additional information: www.mvff.com or call 877.874.6833
33rd Mill Valley Film Festival, October 7-17, 2010–a stellar weekend of cinema ahead, virtually at our doorstep
There’s still time to catch the 33rd annual Mill Valley Film Festival which runs through Sunday night with a flurry of screenings and closing events. For those of us in Sonoma County, still reeling from the recent closure of our beloved Rialto Lakeside Cinemas, this is a fantastic opportunity to see the launch of new films that are bound to become significant and other quieter gems than will leave us basking in their glow. Like Mill Valley itself, the 11-day festival has a laid-back vibe but is ranked among the top 10 nationally–selling over 40,000 tickets and welcoming more than 200 top filmmakers from around the world. This past week’s guests have included Alejandro Gonzalez Inartitu, Julian Schnabel, Edward Norton and Annette Benning. The closing weekend promises a superb mix of dramas, comedies, compelling documentaries, programming for children, and on stage Spotlight interviews.
Last week, I spoke with co-founder Zoe Elton, who has been director of programming since the festival began 33 years ago. Elton worked with a team who viewed film submissions from over 4o countries and whittled it down to the 143 films that are presented. What does she look for? “I call it ‘informed intuition,’ said Eltman. “I have trained myself to really look at films, not in a film criticism kind of way, but I try more to see what the filmmaker’s intention is and how successful they are in fulfilling that, at getting to the core truth of what they are exploring. When a film starts, you get an idea, a jolt, right out of the gate, whether it’s working on its own terms or not. In terms of topics, we look at what the consensus is that is coming out of films themselves about what is important and we let that speak. It’s fascinating how in looking at films from over 40 countries, you can actually see these connective threads of important issues.”
Co-founder and Executive Director Mark Fishkin confirmed “We’ve been very lucky that we’ve shown really important films that date way back to (1987) “Walking on Water,” the pre-release title for title for “Stand and Deliver,” which went on to become the highest grossing independent film of its time and, more recently, “Precious ”—films that really established themselves in the genre. Over the years, we have built real trust with our audience and with filmmakers. And, in this box office return-oriented environment, the festival becomes very significant because it allows you to see films that you might not see anywhere else.”
Friday night kicks off of with Swedish filmmaker Stefan Jarl’s much-awaited documentary “Submission,” inspired by the results of a blood test that Jarl took that revealed an alarming number of industrial chemical toxins in his blood. Years ago, Jarl began fascinated with shooting a documentary about how humans manipulated nature and how nature strikes back. In “Submission,” Jarl interviews prominent scientists to find out just what problems this build-up of chemicals in the human body can cause. He brings in his pregnant friend, the Swedish actress Eva Rose, who is also tested, to explore the lingering unknown impacts on unborn children. American musician Adam Wiltzie from the band Stars of the Lid made the music and calls the film “a horror movie for the 21st century.” (Friday, October 15, 6:30 PM and Saturday October 16, 4:45 PM Rafael Theatre, San Rafael)
Are middle-aged women invisible? A loaded question if ever there was one. With such a concentration of accomplished and vibrant older women in the Bay Area, we sometimes seem to forget—or do we?– that, for women, aging also means negotiating many transitions related to society’s norms about sexuality, vitality and relevance.
“Julia’s Disappearance” (Giulias Verschwinden) is a German coming of age comedy starring actress German actress Corrina Harfouch. One the very day Julia turns 50, she suddenly realizes that things have shifted, not so much in her but in the way she is perceived and that in turn, impacts the way she acts (out). The film has its North American premiere at Mill Valley. Subplots revolve around age– smitten teens and Julia’s rebellious 80 year old mother. (Friday October 15, 9 PM, Rafael Theatre, San Rafael)
On Saturday’s must-see list is Director Julie Taymor’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s last play “The Tempest” starring Helen Mirren as a gender-switched sorcerer Prospera, the exiled ruler of Milan, who has been banished to an island with her daughter, Miranda. Prospera schemes and plots revenge by conjuring up a storm that traps those who wronged her onto the island where she presides and hatches a scheme to steal back the throne for her daughter. (Saturday, October 16, 8:45 PM, Sequoia Theatre, Mill Valley)
Ineke Houtman’s film “The Indian” (De Indiaan), has its North American premiere on Sunday and is part of the Children’s FilmFest. It tells a (fictionalized) story close to hearts of many international adoptees and adoptive parents—how to handle the inevitable situation that emerges when your child understands that he is from another culture, is different from his adoptive parents and wants to know more about who he really is. Eight year old Koos Steggerda desperately wants to look like his adoptive Dutch father but that’s going to be a tall order for the small dark-haired boy Peruvian boy who is Indigenous. One day, by accident, Koos meets another Peruvian boy in the market and at that moment he meets and sees his own face, a life-changing moment for any adoptee. (Sunday 12:15 PM, Rafael Theatre, San Rafael)
Sunday also includes two important documentaries.One of the greatest real courtroom dramas in history “Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today,” shows how the international prosecutors built their case in the early 1940’s against the top Nazi war criminals using the Nazis’ own films and records. The trial established the “Nuremberg principles,” laying the foundation for all subsequent trials for crimes against the peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
The back story behind this film’s 2009 restoration is fascinating. In 2006, producer Sandra Schulberg, granddaughter of former Paramount studio chief B.P. Schulberg, got a grant to write The Celluloid Noose, a forthcoming book about her father Stuart Schulberg and uncle Budd Schulberg’s hunt for Nazi film and photo evidence that was integral to the Nuremberg trial (which convened in 1945). In 2009, she completed (with Josh Waletzky) the restoration of her father’s filmthe restoration of her father’s film and why it never released in the U.S. remains a mystery. The Mill Valley screening will be the West Coast premiere of this critically important documentary. (Sunday, October 17, 2 PM, Sequoia Theatre, Mill Valley)
Ever wonder how effective Peace Corps missions are over the long run? Niger 66, A Peace Corps Diary by award-winning filmmaker Judy Irola has its world premiere at Mill Valley and looks back on a critical Peace Corps mission in Niger that Irola participated in. In the summer of 1966, a group of 65 idealistic Peace Corps volunteers headed for Africa and landed in the dusty, heat-scorched desert of Niger. They stayed for two years working in agriculture, digging wells and starting health clinics for women and their babies. In 2008, five of them returned to Niger for three weeks to revisit the country and witness how their work had improved the lives of the people there. Irola captured the poignant experience from village to village. (Sunday, October 16, 2:30 PM, Sequoia Theatre, Mill Valley)
The festival concludes on Sunday night with two screenings that will be hard to choose between.
In “The Debt,” a group of Israeli Mossad agents– Ciaran Hinds and Tom Wilkinson and Helen Mirren–search for a Nazi war criminal
they failed to capture 30 years earlier. Mirren’s character lied about killing him so when he surfaces, she has to cover her tracks. The unbearable weight of this secret she has carried has unforeseen consequences. The film is directed by John Madden, who achieved great success with “Shakespeare in Love.” (Sunday, October 17, 5 PM and 5:15 PM, Sequoia Theatre, Mill Valley)
In “127 Hours,” Bay Area native James Franco, plays Aron Ralston, a hiker whose solo trip in remote Southern Utah goes tragic when he is pinned under a bolder that falls on him and he decides to cut off his arm. The film was directed by Academy Award-winning director Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”) and based on Ralston’s harrowing story Between a Rock and a Hard Place. After the screening, Franco will take the stage for an onstage Spotlight interview with Danny Boyle.
(“127 Hours” screens Sunday, October 16, 5 PM, Rafael Theatre, San Rafael) Franco will be at a reception at Frantoio Restaurant & Olive Oil Company at 1:30 PM. (152 Shoreline Highway, Mill Valley) ($85 for the reception and Spotlight interview following “127 Hours”; $30 screening and Spotlight interview) Franco also stars in “William Vincent” about a Manhattan-dwelling outsider who slips into the shady New York crime world. (“William Vincent” screens Saturday, October 16, 9:30 PM, Sequoia Theatre, Mill Valley and Sunday, October 1617, 4:30 PM, Rafael Theatre, San Rafael)
Tickets: Prices vary for screenings and closing events. Check for availability and additional screenings at http://www.cafilm.org