If you think film festivals are only about films, you’ve obviously never been to the Mill Valley Film Festival. It offers an intimate small town, yet hip community vibe, and is known for its unique mixed media entertainment, including music and art as well as plenty of high brow and little known movies. Couple that with an exceptional location, in Marin County, which is literally a few minutes from San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s all-access to one of the area’s and industry’s best kept secrets. Although the MVFF has long been a favorite of locals, it also makes for a unique destination that can double as a vacation for those traveling from further away. When you’re not taking in the festival offerings or popping into the City, Mt. Tamalpais is steps away for some of the country’s best hiking, and wine country is nearby while in the midst of harvest. Additionally, Berkeley and Oakland, with all those towns have available (Go Warriors!) is also only minutes away over the Richmond Bridge.
At 41 years old, the Mill Valley Film Festival is showing no signs of mid-life crisis or fatigue. This year’s line-up from October 4-14, is stellar, with an impressive collection of films, directors and actors in every category. Additionally, organizers seem to be shoring up their commitment to the environment, diversity and gender equality, with categories dedicated to world cinema, humanitarian/activism, and films with female leadership and focus. Mind The Gap is MVFF’s initiative to foster and champion the works of women filmmakers with their unique perspective and cultural influence. Organizers express their determination to one day see and showcase true gender equality throughout the festival and the industry. “The festival is committed to programming 50/50 by 2020 – 50% women directors across all Festival sections by 2020.”
Active Cinema has now become a staple of the Festival, showcasing films that inspire social activism and illicit positive change, domestically and globally. Organizers admit its an aspect of the Festival they staunchly committed to. “Highlights include: Charm City in association with Ritter Center; From Baghdad to the Bay in association with the international Rescue Committee, Horizons Foundation, LGBT Asylum Project and Human Rights Watch; Harvest Season in association with La Luz Center; Stay Human in association with Do It For The Love; Time For Ilhan in association with Marin County Young Democrats; Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn? In association with Investigative Reporting Program at the Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley and the Center for Investigative Reporting.”
Because this is a full service entertainment sort of festival, attendees have access to music as well as movies. For the fourth consecutive year, the Sweetwater Music Hall has hosted an array of musical artists throughout the entirety of the festival. Musicians include: Freddy Jones Band, Jarvis Cocker introducing Jarv is…, Holly Near with Tammy Hall and Jan Martinelli, Michael Franti, Black Zeppelin, the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, Half Pint, and Honus Honus. And this wouldn’t be a proper Northern California film festival without cannabis in the mix. You heard right, cannabis. For the MVFF there is a special pass dedicated to films, music, etc. with an emphasis on that highly coveted substance, which is legal in California. The Cannabis Pass, which is available as a package purchase, is a collection of feature films, documentaries, music and panel discussion with that special element as theme.
Mixed in with all of the above and then some, is the Festival’s bread and butter- carefully curated films covering a wide breadth of categories and genres. From family films, animation to U.S., world cinema, shorts and the robust section called Valley of the Docs. Given the Festival’s selections for its opening, centerpiece and closing features, along with special presentations, MVFF maintains its status as a world class festival, while continuing to attract highly acclaimed filmmakers, talent and Oscar voting members. The movies selected for Opening Night festivities are “A Private War” (UK) starring Rosamund Pike, and “Green Book” (US) starring Mahershala Ali and Vigo Mortensen. “A Private War” director, Matthew Heineman and star Rosamund Pike will be guests at the screening, as will director Peter Farrelly and actor Mahershala Ali be at their respective screening.
After garnering much buzz and awards from the Venice Film Festival is the movie “Roma” by Alfonso Cuaron (“Y Tu Mama Tambien”, “Gravity”). Roma is the festival’s Centerpiece selection, and as soon as you see it, you’ll understand why. “Roma” has been the darling of the film festival circuit throughout the year. This stunner from Mexico is hauntingly beautiful and intensely personal. Although it’s eventually slated for a Netflix release, it is better suited for and highly encouraged to be seen on the big screen. This is a “must-see” for film aficionados and festival goers. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any better, organizers pull out one of the year’s most anticipated films for their Closing Night selection. “If Beale Street Could Talk,” by 2017 Oscar Award winning director Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”) presents his adaptation of James Baldwin’s beloved novel. Beale Street is said to be just as gorgeously shot as “Moonlight,” and with an equally poetic feel and tone. Mr. Jenkins will be on hand at the dual screenings to take questions from the audience.
All in all, a good time is expected to be had by all fortunate to join in the festivities just North of San Francisco in picturesque Marin County. Things kick off on October 4 and go through the 14th, with tickets still available online. Even if some of your picks may be snatched up already, officials encourage would-be moviegoers to access rush lines, which is available for all presentations. For more Festival details or to purchase tickets online use this link: https://www.mvff.com/