Sean Penn, Kristin Scott Thomas, Andrew Garfield, Greta Gerwig, Holly Hunter, Richard Linklater, Todd Haynes, Aaron Sorkin and Dee Rees are among the actors and directors to receive tributes and accompany awards-worthy screenings from Oct. 5-15.

The beloved Mill Valley Film Festival turns 40 this year, and as it does so, it showcases many of the best attributes of a thriving, multi-faceted 40 year old. In the four decades since Mill Valley resident Mark Fishkin launched the festival, it has grown exceedingly wise, displaying an almost eery ability to showcase films that end up garnering Academy Awards, including nine of the last 11 best picture recipients and last year’s real winner, Moonlight (and the would-be winner, La La Land).

It’s also become incredibly attractive, regularly hosting appearances by an array of Hollywood actors and directors to receive tributes, spotlights and to accompany awards-worthy screenings. With that, MVFF has grown immensely in terms of popularity, having nearly doubled its audience in the span of just seven years – up to more than 74,000 attendees in 2016.

And as is often the case around the age of 40, MVFF has even had a kid – in the form of the inaugural Doclands, a noncompetitive, five-day event that festival organizer the California Film Institute held in May to spotlight more than 20 documentaries.

Given all that, it’s only appropriate that the lineup for the 40th Mill Valley Film Festival, set for Oct. 5-15 at venues in Mill Valley, San Rafael, Corte Madera and Larkspur, was characterized by Fishkin this week as “an embarrassment of riches. I think it’s a really strong, well-balanced lineup that’s appropriate for our 40th anniversary.”

While MVFF40 consists of hundreds of films across 11 days, here are the highlights of the 40th Mill Valley Film Festival:

Opening Night: ‘Darkest Hour’ & ‘Wait for Your Laugh’ (Oct. 5)


MVFF opens with the Bay Area premiere of Darkest Hour, director Joe Wright’s story of Winston Churchill’s rise to power both as Prime Minister and as architect of the push against the imminent, inevitable Nazi invasion of Britain in WWII. Gary Oldman stars as Churchill and Kristin Scott Thomas co-stars as his wife Clementine. Scott Thomas will be in attendance on opening night at the CinéArts Sequoia in Mill Valley alongside director Wright. Following the film, the Festival will host the Opening Night Gala at Marin Country Mart in Larkspur.


While the Sequoia screening will have a decidedly solemn tone, the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael will be its polar opposite, as Wait For Your Laughdirector Jason Wise’s documentary about Rose Marie, beloved for her role as sassy scriptwriter Sally Rogers on The Dick Van Dyke Show, and her even sassier zingers on The Hollywood Squares game show, takes center stage. Organizers says the film is “fascinating, funny, and full of showbiz soul,” highlighting the epic career of one of the most brilliant comediennes of the last century.

Starting as Baby Rose Marie, a child prodigy, singing and dancing on stage before most kids could ride a bike, Marie forged intense, lasting relationships while delighting audiences from Las Vegas to Hollywood, always marching to her own beat. Wise reveals there is much more to this tough, smart woman’s 87-year entertainment career. Interviews with Peter Marshall, Carl Reiner, Dick Van Dyke, Tim Conway, and the lady herself—still going strong at 94—combine with rare footage to depict a complicated, inspirational life. Century Cinema, Corte Madera.

Tribute to Kristin Scott Thomas (Oct. 6)


An Academy Award nominee for her role in the The English Patient, Dame Kristin Scott Thomas will be presented with a Tribute, recognizing a career that has spanned decades, including films like Four Weddings and a FuneralThe Horse Whisperer, and Gosford Park, among many others, and garnered her 26 international awards.

​The event includes an onstage Q&A with Scott Thomas, a screening of Darkest Hour (see above) and a presentation of the MVFF Award. Smith Rafael Film Center.

Tribute to Sean Penn (Oct. 7)


Long connected to Marin and the Bay Area, “long-time guest and friend” of the Mill Valley Film Festival returns for MVFF40 to receive a Tribute presentation, which will feature an onstage conversation, a clip reel of Penn’s work and the presentation of the MVFF award. Penn’s career spans three decades, including five times Academy Award nominations and a pair of wins for Mystic River in 2003 and Milk in 2009. 

Penn’s career also includes a seemingly endless list of popular and acclaimed films, including Dead Man Walking, Sweet and Lowdown, I Am Sam, She’s So Lovely, Hurlyburly, 21 Grams, Taps, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, At Close Range, State of Grace, Carlito’s Way, The Assassination of Richard Nixon and The Tree of Life. As a director, Penn has crafted dramas such as The Indian Runner, The Pledge and Into the Wild, which garnered Penn a number of award nominations. Smith Rafael Film Center.

Spotlight: Dee Rees & ‘Mudbound’ Screening (Oct. 7)


​Powerhouse director and screenwriter Dee Rees exploded onto the American independent film scene in 2011 with her feature film Pariah, garnering mass critical acclaim, seven NAACP Image Awards nominations and multiple awards at the Independent Spirit Awards, Gotham Awards and GLAAD Media Awards.

In 2015, she wrote and directed the Emmy-Award winning HBO film 
Bessie, which received 12 Emmy nominations and four Critics’ Choice Awards, in addition to Directing Awards from the DGA and NAACP. Her latest film to set critics abuzz, Mudbound, premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and makes its Bay Area bow at MVFF40. MVFF40’s Tribute to Rees will feature an onstage conversation with Reees, a screening of Mudbound and the presentation of the MVFF Award. A reception follows at the Outdoor Art Club. CinéArts Sequoia​.

Tribute to Holly Hunter (Oct. 8)


Academy Award-winning actress Holly Hunter receives a Tribute at MVFF40, including an onstage conversation, a clip reel of her work and the presentation of the MVFF Award with a reception at Tiburon Tavern to follow. Hunter’s career on the stage and screen spans back to the early 1980’s winning recognition for her performance in Raising Arizona, Broadcast News, Miss Firecracker, Always, and Roe vs. Wade, as well as her Oscar-winning, beguiling and accomplished work in Jane Campion’s The Piano.

Hunter’s “refreshingly candid career in a variety of film and television roles” also includes Home for the Holidays, Living Out Loud, Crash, Saving Grace, and Thirteen, reteaming with Campion for a vividly realized turn in Top of the Lake, and most recently standing out in 2017’s The Big Sick. Smith Rafael Film Center.

Centerpiece: ‘Last Flag Flying’ (Oct. 12)


Three years after his film Boyhood won multiple BAFTA and Golden Globe Awards, and an Academy Award, acclaimed director Richard Linklater returns with a Centerpiece screening of Last Flag Flying, which tells the story of Doc (Steve Carell), Sal (Bryan Cranston) and Mueller (Laurence Fishbone), who were once an inseparable trio while serving in the Vietnam War.

Then something horrible went down, one of them took the fall, and they stopped speaking to each other. Decades later, Doc tracks down his fellow vets—Sal’s an alcoholic bar owner; former hellraiser Mueller is now a man of God—to ask for a favor: His only son has just died in combat in Iraq. He needs them to accompany him to identify the body and to join him on one last mission. The film, a sequel to The Last Detail—like Hal Ashby’s 1973 classic, an adaptation of a Darryl Ponsican novel—is a funny, talky, emotionally resonant road movie, as well as a moving, heartbreaking tribute to the bonds forged in warfare and a penetrating, performance-driven actors’ showcase that boldly asks why we fight—and how we as a nation heal from the damage done.

Linklater, the director and writer widely known for such films as Dazed and Confused (1993); Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004), The Newton Boys (1998), animated feature Waking Life (2001), School of Rock (2003), Slacker (1991), Suburbia (1997), A Scanner Darkly (2006), Fast Food Nation (2006) and many more, will be on hand at the screening.   Smith Rafael Film Center.

Tribute to Todd Haynes & ‘Wonderstruck’ Screening (Oct. 13)

Acclaimed director Todd Haynes, best known for the films Carol and the Bob Dylan-inspired I’m Not There, will be the subject of an MVFF Tribute on Oct. 13, including “an onstage conversation and presentation of the MVFF Award in recognition of a career that exemplifies the art of great directing,” as well as a California premiere screening of his latest film, Wonderstruck.

Starring Oakes Fegley, Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams and Millicent Simmonds, Wonderstruck is based on Brian Selznick’s critically acclaimed novel and tells the story of Ben and Rose, who are children from two different eras who secretly wish their lives were different. Ben longs for the father he has never known, while Rose dreams of a mysterious actress whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook. When Ben discovers a puzzling clue in his home and Rose reads an enticing headline in the newspaper, both children set out on quests to find what they are missing that unfold with mesmerizing symmetry. Smith Rafael Film Center.

Spotlight: Andrew Garfield & ‘Breathe’ Screening (Oct. 14)


An Academy Award-nominated actor, Andrew Garfield is the subject of an MVFF40 Spotlight event, featuring an onstage conversation with Garfield, a screening of Breathe, the directorial debut of Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings) and the presentation of the MVFF Award. Breathe tells the true love story of Robin (Garfield) and Diana (Claire Foy) Cavendish, free-spirited young newlyweds in the 1950s whose lives are upended when Robin is struck down by polio. Against all odds, they become pioneering advocates for the disabled community long before disabled rights were a matter of law.

Garfield continues to evolve his body of work in powerful roles and compelling narratives, including his acclaimed performances can be seen in Hacksaw Ridge, Silence, Angels in America, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Social Network, 99 Homes, and Never Let Me Go. A reception follows at the Outdoor Art Club in Mill Valley. Smith Rafael Film Center​.

Closing Night: ‘The Current War’ (Oct. 15)

MVFF will close its 40 anniversary with two films. The Current War, from director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison, Michael Shannon as George Westinghouse and Nicholas Hoult as Nikola Tesla, will have its Bay Area premiere. The trio don the brilliant, larger-than-life persona of electricity’s trailblazing pioneers in this enlightening film that skillfully weaves together personal and technological histories, in an illuminating tale of the demigods of conductivity. CinéArts Sequoia.

Closing Night: & ‘Ladybird’ & Spotlight on Gret Gerwig

The second Closing Night film is Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut Lady Bird, which stars Satires Ronan as “Lady Bird,” a senior at a Catholic High school in Sacramento, desperate to leave as she navigates the confusing world of college applications and the complex relationships in her life.
The event also serves as a Spotlight on Gerwig, a Sacramento native widely known for her work in Greenberg, No Strings Attached, Lola Versus, Frances Ha, Mistress America, Maggie’s Plan and last year’s MVFF Centerpiece film 20th Century Women. The event will feature an onstage conversation with Gerwig, a screening of Lady Bird and the presentation of the MVFF Award. The Closing Night Party at the Depot Plaza in Mill Valley follows. Smith Rafael Film Center.
In addition to all that, MVFF Music returns for a third year with a diverse series of concerts at the Sweetwater Music Hall, including performances by Huey Lewis and the News, Joe Satriani, The Manzarek Rogers Tribute Band, Wailing Souls, a “From California to Haiti” Benefit, The Mad Hannans, The Family Stone, B and the Hive, Sarah Jarosz and a Blue Celebration Honoring Paul Butterfield,  The 11-day slate also includes an array of panels, classes, workshops and virtual reality presentations on subjects like gender parity in the film industry; screenwriting workshops for teenagers; cannabis culture discussions; a retrospective master class on John Sanborn; a VR experience about trees; a talk about teen suicide; an overview of the state of VR in the industry; and an industry panel discussing the state of independent film.

MVFF40 continues its Mind the Gap initiative, committing to featuring 40 percent female directors across the whole spectrum of the Festival—world, US, docs, shorts—and 50/50 by 2020. That stands in stark contrast to just 7 percent of Hollywood films directed by women, according to festival organizers. MVFF’s Mind the Gap Summit is full-day intensive of presentations, discussions, master classes and networking, including a dive into the creative process with Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke, a panel with the team behind the film Mudbound and presentations by the filmmakers of recent top female-driven movies.

The 411: The 40th Mill Valley Film Festival is Oct. 5-15 at venues in Mill Valley, San Rafael, Corte Madera and Larkspur. MORE INFO & TIX.

Want to know what’s happening around town? Click here to subscribe to the Enjoy Mill Valley Blog by Email!