You screen, I screen, we all screen for film festivals!
It’s high time we turned off our devices and sat our butts down in an actual movie theater seat for a bigger than life experience. And there’s no better place to do just that in the North Bay than the Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF).
Presented by the California Film Institute, the annual festival is now celebrating its 45th year as it unspools acclaimed (and soon-to-be acclaimed) cinema over 11 days.
The curtains first split Oct. 6, with director Rian Johnson’s follow up to mystery movie hit, Knives Out, called Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, which not only promises intrigue and laughs courtesy of Daniel Craig’s Detective Benoit Blanc, but enough star wattage to power Marin’s grid through fall. Attending the Opening Night festivities will be Johnson, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Kate Hudson and producer Ram Bergman.
But MVFF is more than a playground for Hollywood; it’s a launching pad for many North Bay filmmakers as well. From local themes to the filmmakers themselves, MVFF boasts a number of movies not-to-be-missed. Among them is the world premiere of The Art of Eating: The Life of M.F.K. Fisher.
A feature documentary that traces the remarkable life of iconic food writer Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher (a past resident of St. Helena and Glen Ellen), the film was a dream project for San Francisco filmmaker Gregory Bezat, who explores the impact of Fisher’s ideas about food, its meaning in our lives and how her writing laid the foundation of modern food writing. W.H. Auden describes Fisher as “the best prose writer in America.” Locals might recognize interviewees like John Ash of Santa Rosa or Alice Waters of Berkeley.
Another documentary with a local angle is Elemental: Reimagining Our Relationship with Fire, directed by Trip Jennings, which will have its Bay Area premiere at the festival. With portions shot in Santa Rosa and Healdsburg, Jennings’ film looks at how Indigenous knowledge can be applied to science as a way forward to live and thrive with the elementary force, as our fire seasons grow fiercer by the year.
Sophia is a feature doc that follows the endeavors of inventor David Hanson, whose quest is to perfect the world’s most life-like AI. The film was directed by Jon Kasbe and Crystal Moselle, who, incidentally, was raised in Marin and attended Tamalpais High School.
Marin film producer Blye Faust teamed up with reporter-producer Nate Halverson, producer Amanda Pike and director Gabriela Cowperthwaite to create The Grab, a “thriller” feature documentary that reveals how governments, private investors and mercenaries are seizing food and water resources at the expense of the populations who need them most.
The North Bay is also well-represented in the shorts department. Currently a student at Archie Williams High School Communications Academy in San Anselmo, Tony Heffernan directed the short narrative film, A Date with Kino Redfield, which was shot at locations in Fairfax and depicts what can go wrong when an over-confident young man goes on a date.
Cardiff is a light-hearted tale of a young gay man and a forbidden romance in a Welsh coastal town, which was directed by Sara Smith and executive produced by Mill Valley’s own Carol Kim. Also premiering at the festival is director Grace Gregory’s short, Earthworm, which explores issues surrounding abortion, when a 20 year old experiences a waking nightmare with lasting repercussions. The film’s graphic designer, Lena Redford, was born and raised in Marin.
In director April Moreau’s Hysterical, a stand-up comedian fails to find solace in comedy, forcing her to look inward for healing in the days following a traumatic event. Jacqueline Toboni, the film’s executive producer, graduated from St. Ignatius College Preparatory and was involved with the American Conservatory Theater while she attended high school there. Emily Hanley (co-writer, lead actor) and her brother, Casey Hanley (associate producer), live in Mill Valley.
Meanwhile, Andy: A Dog’s Tale fetches laughs and levity in the form of a puppy who overcomes a series of obstacles to find his purpose in life in this locally-animated short. Director Jamy Wheless is head of IGNITE Animation Studios in Petaluma, and executive producer Jean Schulz, Charles Schulz’s widow (of Peanuts fame), is president of the board of directors at the Charles Schulz Museum and lives in Santa Rosa.
Marin County director Anthony Codispoti’s short documentary, The Baker, found a tasty subject in renowned baker Matthew Jones, who pursues the art of baking and his devotion to community in the midst of life’s complexities.
I’m a Burner is not a (yet another!) Burning Man documentary. The short doc follows Trina, a member of the Mountain Maidu tribe, who works with tribal communities to help them retain their traditional knowledge through meaningful access to their ancestral lands—including the use of prescribed burns to thin excess wildfire fuel. The film is a collaboration between San Rafael’s Nancy Kelly and Kenji Yamamoto (director and producer-editor, respectively).
The latest installment of a multiple Emmy Award-winning series, The New Environmentalists: From Malawi To Peru, features inspiring portraits of passionate and dedicated activists from around the globe (as well as narration by actor and activist Robert Redford). The short documentary comes courtesy of directors John Antonelli and Will Parrinello of Mill Valley.
In Ramini, director Subei Kyle focuses on Audrey Hitchcock’s Tomales-based water buffalo farm, known for producing Ramini Mozzarella. The Queen’s Closet follows the lives of three San Francisco drag icons: Uti (owner of Piedmont Boutique for more than 50 years), Miss Mary Lou Pearl and Andy. Directors Cameran Grace Ford, Ava Wolf and Joe Tourk all live in Marin.
“I look back on 44 years of the festival with a mixture of wonder and amazement; it’s hard to believe that we were a three-day festival in 1978. And yet, here we are on the precipice of our 45th with a program that will run for 11 days,” said MVFF founder/director Mark Fishkin, whose festival annually welcomes more than 200 filmmakers representing more than 50 countries. “We are committed to having an inclusive festival that everyone can enjoy, whether it’s a daytime matinee or a late-night feature.”