by Mal Karman
Believe it or not, the 38th Mill Valley Film Festival, which wrapped on Sunday with a closing night bash at Terrapin Crossroads, is now older than the median age in this country. While we predicted that Eddie Redmayne would win the Academy Award for Best Actor and told him so at last year’s festival, we won’t stick our necks out quite that far this time. But do look for Brie Larson to at least get trumpeted for a nomination for her role in Room.
Not unprecedented, but still a bit of a longshot because of his age, 9-year-old Jacob Tremblay deserves a nom for supporting. To prep for the part as a young woman imprisoned for years with her little boy in a backyard shed, the disarmingly articulate Larson, whose agent told her that she would never get the role, says, “[I] trapped myself in my house for a month, with no TV, no junk food, no Internet, out of the sun, meditating a lot. I worked with trauma specialists, about what would happen to her mind, where survival is the main focus of the brain. I talked with doctors and a nutritionist about the effects of this imprisonment …
“It was complicated,” she continues. “It did seem insurmountable at first. I had to find her, look at who she was up to 17 when she was abducted. I wrote three diaries, for when she was 10, 14, and 15 or 16—my way of delving into an adolescent mind worrying about her body, wishing mom would let her get highlights. I tried to understand the frustration of what this woman would have to go through day after day.” Room won the MVFF Audience Favorite, Gold Award for 2015 U.S. Cinema. Look for it on Oscar night.
You can call us crazy (and you’d probably be right) but on the ninth day of the festival, we walked into Marcel Ophuls’ four-hour and 20-minute The Sorrow and the Pity, then dragged ourselves directly to the wacky Icelandic comedy Rams and, finally, practically crawled into a screening of Truth, a mere eight-plus hours of nonstop viewing. And, yes, we have an eye exam next week. The soon-to-be (on November 1) 88-year-old Ophuls appeared on stage for a tribute and an exchange with the audience, and spontaneously broke into song with “San Francisco, open your Golden Gate.” That was a bit of a curiosity for a man who candidly admitted to us that, on three occasions, he tried to kill himself. “It’s the only way you can escape from life,” he said. “But as I didn’t succeed, I am here. You learn, as you get older, to become more interested in yourself. And that animals are preferable to people.”
When Carey Mulligan met us on the red carpet she had tears in her eyes. We were about to ask if we were that frightening, but she explained that the California air had sent up alarm bells for her allergies. The British-born actress, who has the lead in Suffragette, about women’s fight for the right to vote in England, surprised us with the news that her career got off to a bumpy start. First, her parents “were not wild about my going to drama school. I applied secretly to three and snuck away to audition, but I got rejected at all three. My mum and dad busted me and it was awful!” Then, after landing her first role (in Pride and Prejudice), she says, “I didn’t know what I was doing and I was freaked out acting in scenes with [legendary] Judi Dench. [Director] Joe Wright came up to me and said, ‘Carey, you actually need to do something.’ But I had nothing to do except giggle and run around and call room service. I thought all roles would be like this.”
The hand-me-down clothes and toe-crunching shoes she wore in Suffragette could have easily dispelled that fantasy. Director Sarah Gavron says, “Carey prepped for this by going to work in a laundry and didn’t wash her hair for three weeks. And those clothes are made to be uncomfortable. I’d been trying to get this film done for 10 years and had Carey in mind right from the start.” (Really? Mulligan would have been but 20 a decade ago.) “We were told it would take almost a month to hear whether she would take on the part, so I went off on holiday. Two days later, I got a call she wanted to see us, so I flew back, talking to her for 15 minutes feverishly and without taking a breath until she stopped me and said, ‘I’ll do it.’ We built the cast (including Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep) around her. There has never been a screen version of this issue. It is still relevant, there are still gender gap issues today.” (Suffragette was the first film to ever receive an OK to film in the UK’s House of Parliament.)
Gandalf the Grey, otherwise known in real life as Sir Ian McKellen, jumped into the vat of estrogen by suggesting that he engage with audiences on the topic of women with whom he has worked, among others Ava Gardner, Judi Dench, Jane Seymour, Bridget Fonda, Greta Scacchi and Annette Bening. The last-minute McKellen Harem program, as we like to call it, proved a risqué success.
There was so much estrogen surging through this 11-day showcase with more than 40 films, exhibits and panels referencing the gender gap, salary gap, power gap and recognition gap that women face in the workplace today, we just have to wonder why Gap (clothing store) did not tear off its underwear to become a sponsor. Had any of us been in doubt about the fest’s focus on the female, we had only to look at a few of the film titles: The Girl in the Book, the Girl King, the Danish Girl, Black Girl, Bunny New Girl and The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow.
Tiburon’s Robin Hauser Reynolds took home a MVFF Audience Favorite Gold
Award in Active Cinema for her Code: Debugging the Gender Gap while San Anselmo’s Eli Adler and San Rafael’s Blair Gershkow captured an Audience Favorite, Gold Award for documentary filmmaking with their Surviving Skokie. Berkeley director Rob Nilsson, who has been landing films in the Mill Valley Film Festival since the festival was in its toddler years and this season premiered his Permission to Touch, jokes that sometimes he feels he is running a pyramid scheme, getting the funding for his next film just in time to use the money to complete his last one. Swiss German director Barbet Schroeder asked his mother to get out of her house in Ibiza for a month so he could shoot Amnesia there. Since the film screened here, she apparently agreed to go.
The 38th edition of the annual autumn event drew more than 68,000 to the festival’s venues in Mill Valley, Larkspur, Corte Madera and San Rafael. That’s a lot of movie-loving people moving through Marin.