For years, the Mill Valley Film Festival has made its name on (at least) a trio of attributes: an incredibly eclectic, boundary-pushing selection of films from all over the globe; an almost eery ability to showcase films that end up garnering Academy Awards; and celebrity appearances by actors and directors to receive in-person tributes and to accompany awards-worthy screenings.
After a period of massive disruption due to the pandemic, things got relatively back on track in 2022, with a successful 45th season that saw the debut of Rian Johnson‘s star-studded whodunit Glass Onion featuring the likes actors Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Kate Hudson, and producer Ram Bergman joining Johnson at the opening night premiere at the CinéArts Sequoia. MVFF’s 10 days of cinematic mastery was bookended by Tobias Lindholm’s The Good Nurse starring Academy Award winners Eddie Redmayne and Jessica Chastain, with an Academy Award-winning performance by Brendan Fraser in Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale.
With that turbulence initially in the rearview mirror, MVFF has been navigating the impact of strikes starting in May by the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and joined by the approximately 11,500 members of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) because of long-stalled contract negotiations. On July 14, approximately 160,000 members of the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) went on strike when their contract negotiations stalled as well. The writers and actors, the foundation of the TV and film industries, have remained resolute as TV, film and streaming conglomerates seek to reduce costs on the backs of industry workers.
As a result, the lineup of films offerings at this year’s Mill Valley Film Festival are geared toward movie professionals not participating in the writer and actor strikes. Mark Fishkin, founder and director of the festival, told the Marin Independent Journal that the event will likely offer its featured directors as speakers and guests who do not have the public appearance and promotional restrictions striking actors and writers might have.
Despite the impasse, MVFF remains committed to delivering a fantastic 10 days of film, screening a whopping 148 films representing 41 countries, including 56 premieres, 86 features, and 62 shorts; 45% of all films across the 2023 Festival are directed by women.
“We are thrilled to be back for our 46th year, a testament to the enduring power of cinema and community,” Fishkin says. “We have something for everyone this year, from our incredibly moving opening night film Day of the Fight, Jack Huston’s directorial debut, and we’ll wrap up with a film that’s generating major Oscar buzz. We put together a program that is sure to spark your interest and make you feel as if you’ve traveled the world. At MVFF, we continue to believe in the magic of the theatrical experience, where empathy flourishes, bridges are built, and voices are amplified. As we begin a new chapter in this increasingly challenging world, I extend my gratitude to our loyal community for your unrivaled support. MVFF46 is our way of saying thank you to our entire community and to celebrate another year of cinematic excellence, connection, and discovery.”
“What has been really evident this year is the creative spirit that is at the root of why we do this work – its boldness and fearlessness, its commitment to an exploration of why we’re all here,” says Zoë Elton, MVFF Director of Programming. “It’s often elevating, sometimes messy, frequently surprising. As the film industry continues to shift and change and evolve, so do we as a film festival, and we’re thrilled to again showcase exceptional films that reflect the resilience of artists and storytelling itself.”
Opening Night, Oct. 5: Jack Huston’s Day of the Fight
MVFF returns to its roots as a heavyweight champion of independent filmmaking with the North American premiere of renowned actor Jack Huston’s (Kill Your Darlings, American Hustle) extraordinary writing/directing debut Day of the Fight, in black-and-white, featuring an all-star cast including Michael Pitt, Ron Perlman, Joe Pesci, and Nicolette Robinson, with Huston in attendance. As an actor, Huston is set to star opposite Nicole Kidman in the upcoming Amazon series EXPATS, the adaptation of Janice Y.K. Lee’s novel, directed by Lulu Wang (THE FAREWELL). Most recently, Huston can be seen in AMC’s MAYFAIR WITCHES, alongside Alexandra Daddario. Huston stars as Lasher, described as “a powerful, shape-shifting entity who has been bound to the Mayfair witches for hundreds of years.”
The series is based on Anne Rice’s “Lives of the Mayfair Witches” trilogy and was recently renewed for Season 2. Before that, Huston can be seen opposite Adam Driver and Lady Gaga in Ridley Scott’s HOUSE OF GUCCI, which premiered in November 2021 and received wide acclaim, including a SAG nomination in the category of “Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.”In film, Huston has appeared in THE IRISHMAN for Martin Scorsese opposite Robert De Niro and Al Pacino and opposite Alicia Vikander and Riley Keough in THE EARTHQUAKE BIRD directed by Wash Westmoreland, both for Netflix. Huston’s additional credits include Matthew Weiner’s THE ROMANOFFS on AMAZON, the award-winning film AMERICAN HUSTLE with Jennifer Lawrence (which earned him a SAG Award for “Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. MORE INFO & TIX.
Emerald Fennell to Receive Mind the Gap Award for Filmmaker of the Year Award
A screening of Fennell’s new film Saltburn, which just world premiered at the Telluride Film Festival, will take place on Tuesday, October 10, and will be followed by an engaging on-stage conversation with Fennell, who will also accept the Mind the Gap Award. This award is in celebration of the incredible inspiration she has provided through her remarkable work and unwavering dedication to her craft. MORE INFO & TIX.
Oct. 11: MVFF Centerpiece Spotlight on Director Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla & MVFF Centerpiece Spotlight on Cord Jefferson’s American Fiction
The second brings filmmaker Sofia Coppola to the stage for a conversation about her career and her latest feature “Priscilla,” a portrait of Priscilla Presley, played by Cailee Spaeny, and her relationship with Elvis Presley, played by Jacob Elordi of “Euphoria.” Coppola, the director of “Lost in Translation” and “Marie Antoinette,” will receive the MVFF award for filmmaking. September 1959. A shy, ponytailed fourteen-year-old sips her soft drink at an American-style diner on a West German air base. Who could’ve guessed this homesick and impressionable Texas transplant would soon encounter a King and become rock-and-roll’s first Queen? Director Sofia Coppola’s exquisite gift for depicting the complex psychology of young women (The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation) is in ample evidence in Priscilla, along with her extraordinary ability to express the ambiance and milieu of an era. Based on Priscilla Presley’s best-selling memoir, Elvis and Me, the film tracks Elvis’s ascent from teen heartthrob to international superstardom, while centering the drama on a young woman facing powerful challenges as she’s swept up in the turbulent wake of a mercurial and over-medicated icon. Cailee Spaeny, in a riveting performance as Priscilla, and mega-talent Jacob Elordi as Elvis lead an exemplary cast in this superb star-crossed love story. —KD Davis (Photo: Philippe Le Sourd/Associated Press) MORE INFO & TIX.
MVFF has long celebrated its ‘Centerpiece’ spotlights, whereby MVFF toasts writers and directors and invites them to sit for an extended conversation. Jefferson, a journalist and television writer making his directorial debut, based the film on Percival Everett’s novel “Erasure,” starring Jeffrey Wright. The film skewers businesses rampantly profiteering off Black creatives. Jefferson is slated to receive the MVFF award for “breakthrough directing.” He’ll be honored with the MVFF Award for Breakthrough Directing. After making a name for himself in journalism and TV, writer Cord Jefferson (The Good Place, Watchmen) proves a director to watch with this adaptation of Percival Everett’s Erasure, a satirical and thought-provoking examination of the publishing industry and how it consumes marginalized voices. Jeffrey Wright (The French Dispatch, MVFF44) delivers a compelling performance as author and professor Thelonius “Monk” Ellison, whose life is falling apart. Ousted from his college and struggling to sell books, he’s forced by a family emergency to retreat for an extended period to his hometown. There, Monk channels his frustration into writing a lampoon of the popular Black books on the market, publishing under a pseudonym and becoming, to his chagrin, an overnight success. A stellar supporting cast joins Wright, including Sterling K. Brown in a standout role unlike anything you’ve seen him in before. —Bri’anna Moore MORE INFO & TIX.
The festival’s other three spotlights also center on filmmakers, including playwright-turned-movie director George Wolfe, whose biopic captures the pivotal role that civil rights icon Bayard Rustin, a gay man portrayed by Colman Domingo, played while working with Martin Luther King Jr. Wolfe will attend and accept the MVFF award for directing for his upcoming Netflix feature, “Rustin.”
Closing Night: ‘Maestro’ – Oct. 15
Bradley Cooper and Carey Mulligan deliver stunning performances as Leonard Bernstein and his wife, actress Felicia Montealegre, in this intimate portrait of a marriage that spanned more than 25 years. Bernstein was an indispensable figure in the history of classical music, as a conductor, composer, pianist, and educator.
Certainly the dominant American conductor of the late 20th century, he accomplished as much as anyone in making “serious” music intelligible to a broad audience. With breathtaking sweep, Maestro reflects on Bernstein’s life, career, and marriage with Felicia, which endured through his many liaisons.
The film marks Cooper’s return to the director’s chair, following his triumphant A Star Is Born, and, co-scripting with Josh Singer, he’s also among its producers along with Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. Against an evolving film canvas of black-and-white and color, his extraordinary portrayal captures Bernstein’s bold and charismatic conducting style, animated by music from the maestro himself. —Richard Peterson
Spotlights & Tributes
MVFF46 will present several Spotlights and Tributes throughout the Festival. This year’s Spotlight programs include five-time Tony award-winning director and DGA award recipient George C. Wolfe, presenting the powerful Rustin; acclaimed writer and director Jeff Nichols for The Bikeriders; Wolfe and Nichols will be honored with the MVFF Award for Directing; and Academy Award-winning filmmaker Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman, MVFF43) receiving the Mind the Gap Award for Filmmaker of the Year with the beautifully wicked Saltburn.
This year’s Tribute programs include Academy-Award nominated writer-director Todd Haynes and powerhouse producer Christine Vachon who will receive the MVFF Award: Lifetime Achievements for Collaboration in celebration of their decades-long partnership in conjunction with a screening of their newest work, May December; and the Bay Area’s own Lynn Hershman Leeson who will receive the Mind the Gap Lifetime Award: Achievements – Visionary Artist Award prior to a screening of four short films under the collective title Cyborgian Rhapsody. TRIBUTE TO TODD HAYNES & PRODUCER CHRISTINE VACHON. MORE INFO & TIX.
Many local films and filmmakers are being celebrated during MVFF46, including the World Premiere of Maureen Gosling’s lively portrait of singer Barbara Dane in The 9 Lives of Barbara Dane; the West Coast premiere of Avenue of the Giants by Finn Taylor, which dramatizes the true story of Auschwitz survivor Herbert Heller; The World Premiere of Water for Life, chronicling the efforts of environmental defenders in Latin America fighting for clean water by Bay Area documentarian Will Parrinello; the World Premiere of A Double Life by Catherine Masud, which unravels the life of Civil Rights activist and fugitive Stephen Bingham and his alleged involvement with the 1971 San Quentin Prison Riots; and a portrait of local legend Carol Doda in Carol Doda Topless at the Condor, by Jonathan Parker and Marlo McKenzie. MORE INFO & TIX.
MVFF Music returns with two live music shows at downtown Mill Valley‘s historic Sweetwater Music Hall. On October 10, Performances In Honor Of An American Hero, following the world premiere of Maureen Gosling’s documentary, a special one-of-a-kind tribute concert honoring the legendary Barbara Dane including guest artists Holly Near, Willie Chambers (Chambers Brothers) and many more; and following the California premiere of Feast Your Ears: The Story of WHFS 102.3 on October 13, the party will continue with A Celebration Of East And West Coast Renegade Radio, with performances by Jesse Colin Young, Taj Mahal, members of the Firesign Theater, and a reunion of former DJs from both KSAN and WHFS radio. MORE INFO & TIX.