The marquee at the Rafael for the event, at left, and Paul Greengrass and Rafael Director of Programming Richard Peterson, at right.
The 41st Mill Valley Film Festival got off to an overwhelmingly powerful, poignant start on Tuesday, two days earlier than its opening night but no less rousing than that event promises to be.

​Festival organizers had landed a pair of screenings of Paul Greengrass‘ latest film, 22 July, which chronicles a horrific, two-pronged terrorist attack in Norway on that date in 2011, but Greengrass was unable to attend MVFF during the event. So MVFF organizers brought the acclaimed director to the Smith Rafael Film Center two days earlier than opening night for a film screening, a post-screening Q&A and to give Greengrass the MVFF Award.

The film falls within Greengrass’ widely praised string of films that recreate recent historical events, including United 93, Bloody Sunday and Captain Phillips. “Paul is the consummate film artist. And he is one of the filmmakers that deserve our trust  when it comes to telling these stories with the humanity and the people within them,” said MVFF Director of Programming Zoe Elton before handing Greengrass the MVFF Award. 

22 July tells the story of a day in Norway in which a right-wing terrorist killed 77 Norwegians, bombing a government building in Oslo before driving 25 miles to Utøya, an island where students had gathered for a summer youth camp, and going on a murderous spree. While that horrifying day in Norway’s history dominates the film, its heart lies in the aftermath, as Norway’s leaders seek to steady its democracy.

Greengrass closely follows three characters: a recovering youth’s therapy and PTSD, then-prime minister Jens Stoltenberg urging transparency, and the defense attorney committed to his client’s rights (but not his cause). In doing so, he builds to the terrorist’s trial, during which some of the surviving youth testify against him. 

“It’s a troubling film but I hope and believe it’s an inspiring film,” Greengrass said as the credits rolled, rattling off examples in which “alt-right” or neo-nazi figures have gained power in places like Sweden, the United States, Germany and elsewhere. “We’re living in difficult and unprecedented as a result of some of the forces unleashed by globalism. The democracies of the west are becoming unmoored.”

“But this film is ultimately about how Norway fought for its democracy,” he added. “Norway faced these problems in 2011. It’s relevant to all of us. Norway in 2011 is all of us today and tomorrow. It’s like looking through a microscope and seeing the DNA of our times.”

MVFF Founder Mark Fishkin told the audience that 22 July “epitomizes what the Mill Valley Film Festival is all about.”

“What has happened in the world just since our 40th Mill Valley Film Festival last year is extraordinary on issues like the environment, immigration, gender equality and countless other themes that need to be talked about,” he added.

The 411: The 41st Mill Valley Film Festival runs Oct. 4-14 at venues in Mill Valley, San Rafael, Corte Madera & Larkspur. 22 July screens on Saturday, Oct. 7 at 7pm at the Rafael and Tuesday, Oct. 9 at 8:45pm at the Sequoia. MORE INFO & TIX.