Arts: Homegrown talent

Mill Valley Film Festival shines spotlight on local artists

By Mal Karman

While the 39th annual Mill Valley Film Festival will be remembered, in part, for its mega-star power, there are many talents with entries this year who are on the way up and who may be limousine luminaries sooner than we think.

San Rafael’s Jonathan Parker presents his latest feature, The Architect, which, he tells us, “is about a couple (who) sets out to build their dream house (and) hires an uncompromising modernist architect, who proceeds to build his dream house, not theirs.” Parker’s previous movies, Bartleby, The Californians and (Untitled), each won awards. The Architect, headlined by Parker Posey and Eric McCormack, screens October 13, 7pm and Oct. 14, 2:30pm.

In Kepler’s Dream, from Oakland director Amy Glazer, an 11-year-old girl is sent off to be with a grandma from hell while mom deals with leukemia. When an extremely rare book by Johannes Kepler goes missing, the child turns sleuth trying to solve a crime and a family mystery (Oct. 13, 3pm and Oct. 15, 11am).  Asked if any difficulties arose during the shoot, producer Sedge Thomson of Berkeley says, “Production delays by lightning strikes, dogs, kids and the peacocks escaped into the wild.”

Dr. Marian Diamond might seem to have gone wild herself when we see her yank a human brain out of a hatbox. But then she educates us about the mind in My Love Affair with the Brain, a documentary from the Berkeley husband-and-wife veteran filmmaking team, Catherine Ryan and Gary Weimberg. “This is a story that brings fact-based good news about our brains from a pioneer in modern neuroscience,” Ryan says. “It’s no exaggeration to say that Dr. Diamond changed science and society at large in dramatic ways, all the more remarkable because it began during an era when so few women entered science at all. [She is] a worthy role model.” Oct. 13, 6:30pm; Oct. 14, 10am and Oct. 15, 11:15am.

Mill Valley filmmaker Wendy Slick put together a tribute in a 24-minute documentary, A Love Poem for My Friend Ethel, which she describes as “kind of like Tuesdays with Morrie.”

By doing this, Slick says, “I wanted to show other baby-boomer women a role model for growing older with energy and love and great wisdom.” Ethel Seiderman founded the Fairfax-San Anselmo Children’s Center in 1973 and became nationally known as a passionate advocate for social justice for needy children and families. The short screens on the same program as My Love Affair with the Brain.

In the extraordinary, animated Borrowed Time (Oct. 14, 9pm), a grizzled old sheriff revisits a tortured memory and struggles with his will to live. This 7-minute film, directed by Andrew Coats of San Francisco and Alameda’s Lou Hamad-Lhadj, both of whom work at Pixar, and produced by Amanda Deeering Jones, was created over five years of after-hours work by a team of animators. “We hope that Borrowed Time raises awareness among the general population that animation is a medium, not merely a genre for children,” Hamad-Lhadj says.

“Elsewhere around the world it … can be used to tell any story,” Coats adds. “We feel this cultural difference limits the potential audience and range of themes in American animation.”

Napa’s Eleanor Coppola brings in Paris Can Wait (Oct. 15, 1:45pm and Oct. 16, noon), about a producer’s wife accepting a Frenchman’s seemingly innocent offer of a ride that turns into a full-court press on a flirtatious road trip. Could this idea have had some roots in reality?

Troubled teens get recycled through the justice system in Oakland filmmaker Victor Cortez’s Finding Justice: Ending the School to Prison Pipeline. “This is a short documentary that explores the possibilities of restorative justice,” he says. “[Our subject] Dennis receives a second chance through a Youth Court program that may be able to connect him to community and refine his focus on education, rather than … rerouting the trajectory of youth who end up going from juvenile detention to adult prisons over time, with no way to stay within the educational system.”

Finding Justice plays Oct. 13, 10am; Oct. 14, 5:45pm and Oct. 16, 1:30pm on the same program with Oakland documentary director Nicole Opper’s Visitor’s Day, about boys in Mexico who are homeless, abandoned or abused and have ended up in a group home in Puebla, where they are given jobs making cheese or tending goats. It is an impressive look at how one young hombre gains a sense of himself and the courage to meet once more with an abusive father.

Palo Alto’s (and Hollywood’s) James Franco offers politics from way back. In Dubious Battle (Oct. 14, 1pm) tells the story of a fruit pickers strike during the Great Depression from a novel by John Steinbeck, who wrote, “I have used a small strike in an orchard valley as the symbol of man’s eternal, bitter warfare with himself.” An ensemble cast includes Franco, Bryan Cranston, Ed Harris, Robert Duvall, Nat Wolff, Vincent D’Onofrio and Zach Braff.

In planning ahead for the fest each year, Mill Valley Film Festival Program Director Zoe Elton explains, “We look for things that are relevant to what’s happening at any given time in our history, a reflection of what’s important in our community right now.”

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