When the Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF) gets underway this year on October 5th, it will mark a bit of a milestone as it will be turning the BIG 4-0. As such, special celebrations are to be expected, not least of which is the stellar line up of films. From big Hollywood to small, obscure foreign films and everything in between, San Francisco Bay Area movie goers can expect a plethora of cinematic delights to choose from. When Mark Fishkin established the Festival 40 years ago, it was a modest affair with just a few films featured over three days. Today, it is recognized as one of the world’s best festivals spanning over eleven days and showcasing some 200 filmmakers, both domestically and internationally.
The Festival will open with, “Darkest Hour,” director Joe Wright’s story about Winston Churchill’s rise to power and starring Gary Oldman in the title role. The festival centerpiece is Richard Linklater’s (“Boyhood”) “Last Flag Flying” starring Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne. Closing night films are “The Current War” by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and actor Greta Gerwig’s (“Frances Ha”) directorial debut movie, “Lady Bird.” In between those prestigious selections, are plenty of indie, art house, foreign films and documentaries. One such example of the latter that I recommend is “Kim Swims.” This is an intriguing and inspiring story of Kim Chambers an incredible self-made marathon swimmer determined to be the first woman to cross 30 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge to the shark infested waters of the Farallon Islands. Director Kate Webber got full access to Kim’s build up to the big day, and captured all the emotion and strength of the historic swim.
Unique to MVFF is its commitment to gender equity in the industry with the third year of Initiative Mind The Gap: Women | Film | Tech, a festival-wide celebration and call to action, focused on the intersection of film and tech. This includes and concludes with Mind The Gap Summit at the Outdoor Art Club (OAC) on Saturday, October 7th. It is commendable that the MVFF is committed to the goal of 40% female directors and female-centric stories to be integral the Festival, including World, US, Docs, Shorts. As programmers explain, three criteria are tracked: “women directors, women creatives (directors, writers, producers) and story.”
Tributes planned for this year’s Festival feature Kristin Scott Thomas, Sean Penn (a former Marin resident), Holly Hunter and "Mudbound" director Dee Rees. All these special tribute nights include receptions, clips and/or an entire film, and on stage conversations with the honorees. The tributes are done as fundraisers for the festival and tend to sell out quickly. Although the festival has its fair share of tributes and parties, in addition to an abundance of screenings, it is known for being more casual and non-competitive than most others of its caliber.