The Mill Valley Film Festival, which opens Thursday, Oct. 3 with the fact-based, racial injustice drama Just Mercy, smoothly integrates (no pun intended) several paradoxes. For starters, the litany of star-fueled Oscar hopefuls—The Two Popes, A Hidden Life, Waves, Harriet, Marriage Story, Dolemite Is My Name, Frankie, The Irishman, The Aeronauts, The Report and the closing night films Ford v Ferrari and Motherless Brooklyn) comfortably coexists with an even longer list of Bay Area indies (including the world premieres of Rob Nilsson’s Arid Cut and Jeanne C. Finley’s nonfiction Journeys Behind the Cosmodrome).
Meanwhile, the flash-bulb visits of global stars Laura Dern, Kristin Stewart, Shia LaBeouf, Barbara Rush, Stellan Skarsgard, Olivia Wilde, Robert Pattinson, Lena Olin and Edward Norton somehow won’t overshadow the “Behind the Screens” panels and workshops designed to advise and support aspiring filmmakers. Nor will that glamorous array of couture-clad thespians diminish the impact of the shocking social-justice documentaries that dot the MVFF program.
The greatest paradox (or irony?) of MVFF, and pretty much every festival, is that the most provocative and meaningful movies seem to fly under the radar. Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid’s Berlinale prizewinner Synonyms and Bosnian director Ena Sendijarevic’s Rotterdam triumph Take Me Somewhere Nice highlight this “category,” along with Russian director Kantemir Balagov’s Cannes breakthrough Beanpole and Iranian director Taghi Amirani’s obsessively researched documentary Coup 53 (co-written and edited by the peerless Walter Murch).
One final paradox that MVFF, or should we say Mill Valley, somehow reconciles is the tug-of-war between summer and fall. The early October sun still burns with force, while the air nips with autumn’s teeth. It’s perfect movie-going weather.