Some of the films, actors and directors featured at the 42nd Mill Valley Film Festival, set for Oct. 3-13 in Mill Valley, San Rafael and theaters throughout Marin. Courtesy images.
Once Mill Valley’s little hometown secret, the Mill Valley Film Festival has long since graduated to being a landmark stop on Hollywood’s festival circuit. As organizers unveiled the lineup for MVFF’s 42nd edition today, it quickly became clear that its star continues to rise, with an array of star-studded
marquee screenings of likely Academy Award contenders and a whirlwind of spotlights, tributes, special premieres and appearances that will leave cinephiles’ heads spinning. In total, MVFF42 will screen 111 features and 98 shorts, including 13 world premieres, 10 North American premieres and 10 U.S. premieres.
“As different as they all are, the films at MVFF have a few things in common: They entertain and have something to say in creative ways; they connect us all as people, despite our differences; and the emotions and ideas they express are universal in nature,” MVFF founder and executive director Mark Fishkin wrote in introducing the lineup.
Here’s a roundup on the 42nd Mill Valley Film Festival:
Opening Night: Just Mercy – Oct. 3
In Monroeville, Alabama–To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee’s lifelong home—African American Walter McMillian, played by Oscar winner Jamie Foxx), was sentenced to death for killing a white woman in 1988. A real-life, modern-day Atticus Finch in the form of recent Harvard Law grad Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) challenged a corrupt, racist system to free an innocent man. The standout cast includes Brie Larson, Tim Blake Nelson, and Rob Morgan. Both Fox, Nelson and Morgan are expected to appear. The 136-minute film screens at 7pm at both the CinéArts Sequoia & Smith Rafael Film Center, with the MVFF42 Opening Night Gala to follow at Marin Country Mart in Larkspur. Here’s the trailer:
Closing Night: Ford v. Ferrari & Motherless Brooklyn
James Mangold directs Academy Award winners Matt Damon and Christian Bale in this energetic, fully loaded biographical drama based on the remarkable true story of automotive designer Carroll Shelby and fearless driver Ken Miles. Ford v Ferrari details how an eccentric, underdog team of engineers battled corporate interference, the laws of physics, and their own personal demons to build the revolutionary GT40 race car for Ford Motor Company. Their purpose? To challenge the dominating race cars of Enzo Ferrari at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans competition in France. The 152-minute screens on Sunday, Oct. 13 at 4:30pm at Smith Rafael Film Center. Mangold is expected to appear. Here’s the trailer:
Edward Norton steps into the director’s chair with an adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s acclaimed 1999 novel of the same name, an intricate, noir-ish story set in 1950s Brooklyn. When a deceptively routine case for a detective agency proves deadly, the team of gumshoes—led by Lionel Essrog, a man with Tourette’s syndrome and an uncanny photographic memory—dives head-first into their investigation, uncovering a dangerous coverup and high-ranking corruption within the elected city planning committee of Brooklyn. Norton’s A-list cast includes Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbathaw-Raw, Cherry Jones, and Willem Dafoe. The 144-minute film screens at the CinéArts Sequoia on Sunday, October 13 at 5pm. Norton is expected to attend. Here’s a trailer:
Director Trey Edward Shults’ (Krisha, It Comes at Night) centers on the complicated family dynamics of three couples whose lives and loves hang in the balance. Catherine (Renée Elise Goldsberry, Altered Carbon) and Ronald Williams (Sterling K. Brown of This Is Us) have worked hard to build a comfortable life in Miami for their children Ty and Emily. When Ty’s girlfriend makes a decision that will permanently impact their futures, Ty reacts, with tragic consequences. The story shifts to Emily and her growing intimacy with classmate Luke (an understated Lucas Hedges). Saddled with the weight of unhealed family wounds, the two offer each other comforts neither can find at home. With a score by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Waves is an unflinching and delicately-crafted portrait of family and forgiveness. The 135-minute film screens on Wednesday, October 9, at 7pm at the Smith Rafael Film Center and again on Friday, Oct 11, 11:30am Sequoia. Here’s the trailer:
Mind the Gap Award: Anna Serner
Recognized internationally as one of those in the forefront of the charge towards gender equity in film, Anna Serner has put her money where her mouth is. She was one of the first to commit to financing women’s and men’s films equally in her role as CEO of the Swedish Film Institute. A renowned speaker on this topic, Serner has commissioned several studies, including the recent “The Money Issue,” which is the theme for this year’s Mind the Gap Summit. In 2016, Serner presented the 50/50 by 2020 initiative at the Cannes Film Festival. The movement has spread, inspiring the 50/50 Pledge launched at Cannes in 2018, signed by numerous international film festivals including MVFF. In honor of Serner’s work, MVFF42 has an Eye on Sweden focus and will be presenting Serner with the Mind the Gap Award at the screening of Gabriela Pichler’s Amateurs on Friday, October 4, 6:30pm at the Smith Rafael Film Center.
Spotlight: Olivia Wilde
Actress-producer-director Olivia Wilde soared onto the Hollywood scene in the early 2000s, starring in Alpha Dog, TRON: Legacy, Cowboys & Aliens, Butter, Drinking Buddies, Better Living Through Chemistry, and Her, among others, and recently received widespread acclaim for her directorial debut, Booksmart, a timely coming-of-age, whip-smart feminist comedy. Next up: a role in Clint Eastwood’s next feature and directing and starring in her sophomore film, a psychological thriller called Don’t Worry, Darling. This presentation will delve into the process of developing Booksmart and explore her distinguished acting career and her personal activism. Wilde will discuss her experience as a first time director and how her experience working with other directors— among them, Oscar winners Ron Howard, Stefan Ruzowitzky, and Paul Haggis—as an actor shaped her approach to Booksmart. Screening and Spotlight event is on Friday, October 4 at 8pm at the Smith Rafael Film Center.
Spotlight: Robert Pattinson & The Lighthouse
Robert Pattinson’s meteoric rise to stardom, launched by the juggernaut Twilight series, saw him opt to stretch his professional skills, leverage his status, and successfully embrace independent projects with a wide array of challenging roles from cinema’s finest auteurs including David Cronenberg (Maps to the Stars), Claire Denis (High Life), Werner Herzog (Queen of the Desert), James Gray (The Lost City of Z), and the Safdie brothers (Good Time). The Lighthouse is director Robert Eggers’ anticipated follow-up to The Witch, enlisting Pattinson and Willem Dafoe for a Gothic thriller set on a tumultuous isle off the coast of New England. Shot on stunning black-and-white 35mm film and loosely inspired by the writings of Herman Melville and poet Sarah Orne Jewett as well as the diaries of late-19th century lighthouse keepers, Eggers sets the stage for a wildly impressive acting showdown between two powerhouse artists, who deliver riveting full-bodied performances that rank among the best of their careers. The 110-minute film screens on Saturday, October 5 at 7:30pm at the CinéArts Sequoia. Here’s the trailer:
Tribute: Alfre Woodard, Clemency
Woodard is one of the most versatile and accomplished actors of her generation. Splitting her time between diverse roles on the big and small screens, her film credits include her Oscar-nominated turn in Cross Creek, Passion Fish, Love & Basketball, and 12 Years a Slave. Woodard won her first Emmy for Hill Street Blues and graced TV screens with recurring roles on True Blood, Luke Cage, and Desperate Housewives. In director Chinonye Chukwu’s Clemency, Woodard plays prison warden Bernadine Williams, who has presided over many executions. When a presumably innocent cop killer is slated to die, she finds herself reaching a breaking point. This death-row drama—the Grand Prize winner at Sundance—is one raw nerve look at the toll that taking a life takes on everyone involved. The event features a screening of the 110-minute film, an onstage conversation with Woodard and the presentation of the MVFF Award on Sunday, October 6 at 5pm at the CinéArts Sequoia.
Spotlight: Kristen Stewart, Seberg
Kristen Stewart’s star was on a steady rise prior to the Twilight series pushing her career into overdrive, having appeared in numerous films since age 8, including Panic Room and Into the Wild. Stewart’s post-Twilight career has seen her achieve international acclaim, in films like Certain Women, Personal Shopper, Lizzie, JT LeRoy, and Clouds of Sils Maria, for which she won a César Award. In Seberg, Stewart transforms into tragic screen legend and fashion icon Jean Seberg, an American actress who became an instant international film darling following Godard’s Breathless and whose progressive political ties to the Black Panther party made her a person of interest for the FBI. Echoes of both the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements rattle beneath every sumptuous frame of Rachel Morrison’s (Mudbound) cinematography, as Seberg tries to stay afloat amid a Hoover-era surveillance operation run by a promising rookie agent. In English and French with English subtitles, director Benedict Andrews’ 96-minute film screens on Monday, October 7 at 7pm, followed by an onstage conversation with Kristen Stewart and the presentation of the MVFF Award.
Tribute: Director Michael Apted, 63 Up
British director and producer Michael Apted is one of the most prolific and dynamic directors of his generation, known for the ongoing Up documentary series and lauded narratives Enigma, Coal Miner’s Daughter, and Nell. Up, Apted’s evolving masterwork has now reached its ninth installation: 63 Up. Unique in the annals of cinema and cultural history, 7 Up was created for British television in 1964, intended as a program that looked at education in the class system in England. Apted has revisited the group of young people he documented at that time every seven years—with varying degrees of cooperation as these kids grew up. The 138-minute film screens on Tuesday, Oct. 8 at 6:30pm, followed by a Tribute program featuring an onstage conversation with Apted and the presentation of the MVFF Award.
Mind the Gap Masterclass: Laura Dern
In a career marked by remarkable performances, from her indelible beginnings in Marin-based Smooth Talk (MVFF 1985) to her 2014 Oscar®-nominated role in Wild (MVFF Award 2014), Laura Dern is having a particularly incredible year. In this onstage conversation, Dern delves into her art as an actor, looking particularly at her most recent works. This year has seen: a reprise of her role as the deliciously intense, crazy-protective mom and tech honcho Renata Klein on Big Little Lies, a role which already won her both an Emmy and a Golden Globe; the compassionate but tough divorce lawyer in Noah Baumbach’s sublime Marriage Story (see below); and the ultimate mother of daughters, Marmee, in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. What’s notable in all these roles is that Dern has become the master of supporting roles—not just in awards jargon sense, but as an actor at the top of her game who delivers rich performances that demonstrate why she is such a revered and beloved actor: The program, set for Saturday, October 12 at 3pm at the Smith Rafael Film Center, will include the presentation of the Mind the Gap Award for Actor of the Year.
Spotlight: Director Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story
Writer-director Noah Baumbach is known for populating his films with a rich, eclectic mix of Hollywood stars and beloved character actors who vividly bring his characters to life. And with key players Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Merritt Wever, and Julie Hagerty in the mix, Marriage Story is no exception. Baumbach returns to the themes of his acclaimed The Squid and the Whale, offering another alternately funny and deeply moving snapshot of a marriage in its final stages. With divorce proceedings in full swing as the film opens, a married couple have promised to keep their separation amicable, but hurtful admissions and verbal spats quickly sour those ambitions. The 136-minute film screens on Saturday, October 12 at 6:30pm at the Smith Rafael, and Baumbach will receive the MVFF Award on behalf of the ensemble cast of Marriage Story—with Dern and others in attendance.
Tribute: Barbara Rush
A space-traveling scientist in When Worlds Collide, a mother fighting for her family in Nicholas Ray’s groundbreaking 1950s substance abuse drama Bigger Than Life, and a delectably diabolical villainess in the 1960s Batman TV series—these are just a few of the characters played with panache by acclaimed actress Barbara Rush. Few in Hollywood have had as diverse a career on both the big and small screens. Rush has excelled in genres as varied as drama, science fiction, westerns, horror, and comedy, and was featured in some of America’s most beloved television programs from the 1950s through the 1980s. She starred opposite legendary leading men like Paul Newman and James Mason and worked with celebrated directors including Douglas Sirk, Nicholas Ray, and Edward Dmytryk to name just a few. MVFF presents a tribute to Rush featuring trailers from some of her best-known Hollywood films and hear from Rush herself about her storied and eclectic career on Sunday, October 13 at 2pm at the Lark Theater.
In addition to those highlighted above, MVFF42 also features a quintet of special premieres (from top left): Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo
with Danny Trejo in person; The Great 14th: Tenzin Gyatso, The 14th Dalai Lama in His Own Words
by local director Rosemary Rawcliffe; Palm d’Or winner Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest film The Truth
starring Susan Sarandon and Kate Winslet; and British actor Simon Bird’s directorial debut Days of Bagnold Summer
MVFF42 also features screenings of a pair of landmark restorations: Thousand Pieces of Gold, director Nancy Kelly’s beloved masterwork, a harrowing and inspiring tale of resilience, survival, and unexpected romance, as well as The Unbearable Llightness of Being, Philip Kaufman’s sweeping adaptation of Milan Kundera’s classic novel, once thought to be unfilmable. Kaufman and actress Lena Olin are expected to attend the event, set for Saturday, October 12 at 5pm at the Smith Rafael Film Center.
MVFF42’s regular screenings also include The Irishman, Martin Scorsese’s epic, 210-minute mafia tale of Frank Sheeran maintains ties with the Bufalino crime family and claims to have killed fellow Teamster Jimmy Hoffa.
The 411: The 42nd Mill Valley Film Festival is Oct. 3-13 at venues in Mill Valley, San Rafael, Corte Madera and Larkspur. Advance ticket packages and passes are on sale now. CFI members can purchase single tickets in advance of the general public beginning Sunday, September 8. General Public single tickets on sale Saturday, September 14. MORE INFO & TIX.
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