While on the surface the 42nd Annual Mill Valley Film Festival may seem like global cinematic showcasing, per usual, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find a festival that is as committed to the community and highlighting social issues as well as films and quality programming. And by community I mean more than just the town of Mill Valley and the county of Marin. Organizers are reaching out to and including the whole of the Bay Area and focused on a world of diversity.
Festival director and founder, Mark Fishkin, expounded on the ideal of diversity and its integral element to the festival. “The best hope for sustaining and growing a diverse climate for indie and arthouse films are festivals like Mill Valley, along with not-for-profit, mission-based community theaters. These are places that attract audiences hungry for a wide-ranging menu of films with ideas that express a strong viewpoint, that are art, that reflect diversity. By diversity, I don’t just mean race, ethnicity and gender, although that is, of course, part of it. But I also mean that film is a panorama and MVFF reflects that.”
Included in that panorama are over 100 films, falling into numerous categories such as American Indies and big Hollywood, world cinema/ subtitled foreign films, family friendly films, documentaries and much more. The latter listing are typical categories often found in film festivals, especially international ones such as MVFF. What is not so usual are sections like special free screenings curated for students from Marin, Oakland and San Francisco and the “Focus On” series. These feature screenings and programs include Focus l Queer-Queer-ish- diverse stories of queer representation found in a genre-twisting array of films, and Focus l Resist Revolt Reform- Rockin, raucous, and revealing reflections on society and culture, captured through the wide-angle and long lenses of established and emerging international filmmakers.
Equally important and ground-breaking is the festival’s gender equity initiative, Mind the Gap program, which “amplifies and champions work by women filmmakers.” Organizers launched the program five years ago with a goal of 50/50 by 2020. By this they mean to incorporate 50% of female directors across the festival categories by next year. Maybe to their own surprise they came close to securing that goal a year ahead. In 2019 they are already at 48%, putting them a mere 2% shy of their lofty, yet laudable commitment. Three years ago when the program launched at that year’s festival, it was on the heels of the Harvey Weinstein allegations. Last year during the festival start, the Brett Kavanaugh hearings were just getting underway. Now more than ever, there is no shortage of significant women’s stories and fabulous and fierce female directors’ works to showcase and pay tribute to.
This year’s Mind the Gap summit is titled The Money Issue: Money and Power, Money and Financing, Money and Pay Equity. It will feature all day intensive session of panels, presentations and networking. Closing out the program is a screening of the new documentary called “No Time To Waste” and award presentation to its subject, Betty Soskin-Reid, an author, composer, historian and public speaker. If all that weren’t enough, Reid still holds down a job she loves as a park ranger serving at the Rosie the Riveter World War 2 museum in Richmond, California.
At 98 years old, she is the oldest National Park Ranger in the United States. Her weekly talks there are legendary and usually booked months in advance. As someone who has witnessed her talks at the museum/National Park and elsewhere, read her autobiography, and had the honor of quality one-on-one time with this dynamo, I can attest to her kind demeanor, indomitable spirit and her impassioned message of equality. She is a treasure of the Bay Area, and very worthy recipient of the Mind the Gap Trailblazer of the Century Award. Also being honored is Laura Dern as Actor of the Year, and Anna Serner as Visionary Leader of the Year. Serner is the CEO of the Swedish Film Institute.
The programs highlighted above are but a few of many, many more that make up the ten day festival. Movie-goers have a plethora of cinematic options at the MVFF, with lots of screenings attended by the directors and talent. It is even known for being a hub for Academy Award campaigning due to its proximity to Los Angeles. Glitz and glamour aside, one has to wonder if the real stars of the MVFF isn’t the community.