What do you do if you love fantastic film-making but can’t safely enjoy it outside of the confines of your home or your car?
For the 43rd edition of its Mill Valley Film Festival, the California Film Institute says it has it all figured out, given the circumstances.
MVFF43 organizers unveiled its full lineup this week, highlighting 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. The big COVID-era difference to years past is that in lieu of red carpets and glitz, we’ll all be at home, or in our cars, as all screenings are either virtual or at the festival’s drive-in cinema, a “studio-grade outdoor cinema, with a 52-foot screen, 4K projection, and Dolby 5.1/7/1 sound” at Lagoon Park-Marin Center in San Rafael.
“Although MVFF43 will not look the same as in previous years, what initially seemed like a challenge now feels like an opportunity to bring us together in an unexpected way, during an unprecedented time,” CFI Executive Director Mark Fishkin said in his announcement. “We will continue to boast the year’s best films from all corners of the globe this year, professionally showcased in an online virtual cinema and at the studio grade, MVFF43 Drive-In Cinema at the beautiful Lagoon Park-Marin Center in San Rafael.”
That drive-in features 10 nights of screenings, as well as a full slate of DocLands films, CFI’s documentary film festival postponed from earlier this year. Due to logistical complications related to the COVID-19 crisis, MVFF43 will not include any Mill Valley presence for the first time in its history.
MVFF43’s Drive-In Cinema kicks off Oct. 8 with the world premiere of Edward Hall’s Blithe Spirit, based on the 1941 play by Noël Coward, featuring Dame Judi Dench, Dan Stevens, Isla Fisher, and Leslie Mann.
“The film is a true delight, conveying a high-energy and ‘spirited’ story that has withstood the test of time,” Fishkin said. “Featuring an abundance of wit and a bit of fantasy, it is the perfect antidote to months of sheltering in place. Join us as we once again celebrate the magic of the movies, gathered together safely, under a screen – and sky – full of stars.”
The 2020 Virtual Screenings will debut with Ariel Winograd’s wildly entertaining ride through the execution of one of the greatest bank heists in Argentinian history, The Heist of the Century (El Robo Del Siglo); Alexandre Rockwell’s Sweet Thing, a stunning ode to the magical resilience of childhood; the California Premiere of Byambasuren Davaa’s Veins of the World, which follows a young Mongolian boy as he learns grief can be a source of empowerment in his quest to honor his father’s memory; the US Premiere of The Boys Who Said No!, the third in a triptych on war, resistance, and nonviolence from Oscar-nominated Bay Area filmmaker Judith Ehrlich; and David Garrett Byars’ Public Trust, an in-depth exploration of the mounting conflict over public lands in America, which was to be the Opening Night film of the previously postponed DocLands Documentary Film Festival.
The drive-In screenings include Blithe Spirit, a spectacular Noël Coward adaptation from Edward Hall starring Judi Dench; the ultra-stylized Mainstream by Gia Coppola, a commentary on contemporary social media; Ammonite by Francis Lee starring Kate Winslet, an 1840s-set portrait of an intense relationship between a fossil hunter and a young woman sent to convalesce by the sea; The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart from legendary producer Frank Marshall; Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion winner Nomadland by Chloé Zhao, starring Frances McDormand; and a special 40th anniversary presentation of Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.
Here’s a selection of some of the virtual and drive-in screenings and tribute events:
RUTH: JUSTICE GINSBERG IN
HER OWN WORDS’ – OCT. 9-18
Near the beginning of Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Freida Lee Mock’s intimate profile of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Justice becomes visibly moved when a group of high school students presents her with a painting of herself. Unlike a portrait by a different artist some years earlier that had depicted her bigger than her actual diminutive size, this painting is an accurate portrayal. It is a revealing moment: Ginsburg wants to be seen not as larger than life, but really as she is. By relying on Ginsburg’s own words and actions, as illuminated by carefully culled archival footage and interviews, Mock covers the full breadth of Ginsburg’s life, views, and career. Furthermore, Mock succeeds in creating a compelling portrait as authentic, poignant, and powerful as the Justice herself. MORE INFO.
‘Outside Story’ – Oct. 9-18
Newly-single and decidedly-introverted editor Charles Young is having one of those days. Hungry, heartbroken, and on deadline to release a video tribute to a famous actor knocking on death’s door, Charles accidentally locks himself out of the house while paying the food delivery guy and finds himself standing on the stoop in his polka-dot socks, with a phone battery that’s on its last leg. This heartfelt and funny romp around a NYC block is made all the more endearing by a phenomenal Brian Tyree Henry (If Beale Street Could Talk, MVFF41) as Charles. MORE INFO.
Viola Davis: Tribute, Conversation &
Mind the Gap Award: Actor of the Year – Oct. 10-19
Viola Davis has rightly gained incredible recognition for her work. She’s the first Black woman to attain that great trifecta of acting: two Tony Awards, for Fences and King Hedley II; an Oscar, also for Fences; and an Emmy for How to Get Away with Murder. She is an artist of the highest order, whose brilliance as an actor and producer and whose dedication to speaking out with eloquence and wisdom on issues of equality, especially for women and Black women, have established her as one of the great performers and spokespeople of our time. She finds the heart and soul of her characters, giving them a fullness of life, a sense of their hopes and aspirations, so that we as audiences understand the human spirit more deeply. Think of Mrs. Miller in Doubt, the complexity of Annalise in How to Get Away with Murder, and her deep work as characters written by August Wilson.
Her breathtaking, powerful, sensual rendition of the title character in the upcoming Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, directed by George C. Wolfe, again confirms she is the perfect embodiment of Wilson’s work. Mind the Gap continues to shine light on issues that 2020 has laid bare—systemic racism, inequity, and the deep need to reframe narratives in film and life. Davis founded JuVee Productions with her husband to give voice to the voiceless through strong, impactful, and culturally relevant narratives. She speaks truth, she lives truth, through her embodied characters and the sustained commitment of her extraordinary life. MORE INFO.
In Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, Delroy Lindo is a Vietnam vet who returns to the country on a treasure hunt for gold. But the film’s real treasure is its cast, particularly Lindo, haunting in his portrayal of a war-damaged soul. It is only the latest triumph for the Oakland actor whose roles resonate with his wide emotional palette and attention to the smallest character detail. We celebrate this Bay Area icon with a spotlight that includes Lindo in conversation on Da 5 Bloods and his esteemed body of work. MORE INFO.
MVFF Conversation: Kate Winslet
Tribute & MVFF Award – Oct. 12
Kate Winslet was still a teenager when she blazed across screens as an adolescent killer in Peter Jackson’s 1950s-set true crime drama Heavenly Creatures in 1994, establishing herself as a formidable talent to watch. Nominated for seven Oscars, Winslet won for The Reader in 2009. She is back in period form as a 19th-century fossil hunter in Ammonite, which plays MVFF Oct. 11 at the Drive-In. MORE INFO.
‘One Night in Miami’ & Centerpiece Spotlight on Director Regina King – Oct. 13
On one incredible night in 1964, four icons of sports, music, and activism gather to celebrate one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. When underdog Cassius Clay, soon to be called Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), defeats heavy weight champion Sonny Liston at the Miami Convention Hall, Clay memorialized the event with three of his friends: Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom, Jr.), and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge). Based on the award-winning play of the same name, One Night in Miami is a fictional account inspired by the historic night these four formidable figures spent together. A Centerpiece Spotlight Program features a video conversation with Regina King and the presentation of the MVFF Award. MORE INFO.
‘Take Me to the River New Orleans’ – Oct. 14-18
Featuring the final performances of the Neville Brothers and Dr. John, Take Me to the River New Orleans goes inside New Orleans recording studios and delivers performances that span the city’s broad musical landscape of jazz, brass, soul, hip hop, and funk. In this sequel to director Martin Shore’s 2014 feature Take Me to the River, which explored the musical legacy of Memphis, the director offers us an exquisite musical travelogue of The Big Easy, with remarkably candid and reverential portraits of the artists who keep its melodic history alive, with appearances from Snoop Dogg, Irma Thomas, Big Freedia, Ledisi, Mystikal, and Ani DiFranco among many others. MORE INFO.
‘The Father’ (Oct. 14 & 18)
Directed and written by Florian Zeller, this film stars Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Coleman in Zeller’s screen adaptation of his acclaimed play, an uncanny examination of the dramatic effects that dementia inflicts upon both the person afflicted and their loved ones. MORE INFO.
Dame Judi Dench took her first steps toward becoming a living legend in 1957 when, at the age of 22, she debuted at the Old Vic as Hamlet’s Ophelia. She went on to become one of the best actors of her—or any other—generation. At 85, she stars in MVFF’s Opening Night Film at the Drive-In, Blithe Spirit. Her awards must fill a trophy room: that Oscar, a Tony, ten BAFTAs, seven Oliviers, and many, many more. Join us as we fête this Dame with her latest honor and conduct a lively discussion regarding her singular career. MORE INFO.
‘The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend
a Broken Heart’ – Oct. 17
It’s all about the harmony for the British-born, Australian-raised Gibb brothers—Robin, Barry, Maurice, and later on, Andy—who came to fame as the Bee Gees. Frank Marshall’s infectiously watchable film is a trip through their life and times, through their highs and lows. MORE INFO.