Rescheduled, rejiggered and reimagined, the fall movie calendar nonetheless looks a lot like it does in a normal year: Festivals lined up like planes on a tarmac, with new releases dotting the horizon. It’s getting to be desperate days for theaters, but film fans are still well supplied.
Mill Valley Film Festival
Streaming and drive-in
The pandemic has torpedoed two signature elements of Marin County’s laidback extravaganza: the live concerts at Sweetwater linked to music-based films and the red-carpet parade of Oscar-hopeful stars. The latter, at least, has been safely transposed online, which means you can take in interviews with genuine giants from your couch.
The stargazer alert includes tributees Dame Judi Dench (Blithe Spirit), Italian immortal Sophia Loren, Viola Davis, Anthony Hopkins (The Father) and Kate Winslet (Ammonite). The other honorees are Regina King (One Night in Miami), local thespian Delroy Lindo, Irish actress and writer Clare Dunne (Herself) Aaron Sorkin and Frieda Lee Mock (Ruth: Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words).
MVFF is embracing the in-person, drive-in model to a far greater degree than any other local festival since COVID-19 hit. The 52-foot screen at Lagoon Park in Marin Center will host the world premiere of Blithe Spirit on opening night, the North American premiere of Gia Coppola’s Mainstream, Chloé Zhao’s highly touted Nomadland, Braden King’s The Evening Hour, Francis Lee’s Ammonite and The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart on closing night. And a Star Wars movie from 1980, if you missed it the first—or ninth—time around.
One MVFF staple unaffected by the pandemic is the presence of several notable local documentary filmmakers. Erika Cohn (The Judge) constructs Belly of the Beast around stalwart survivor-turned-activist Kelli Dixon and Cynthia Chandler of the Oakland-based human rights organization Justice Now. Their persistence and courage leads to legislation outlawing the despicable practice of California Department of Corrections-sanctioned surgical sterilization. Belly of the Beast also opens Oct. 14 at the Roxie virtual cinema.
On a lighter, brighter note, Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider (Havana Curveball) deliver a double album of Cuba libre with Los Hermanos/The Brothers. Violinist Ilmar Gavilán has lived in the States and performed around the globe for years, while his younger brother, pianist Aldo López Gavilán Junco, thrived in Havana. President Obama’s enlightened cultural-exchange policies set the stage for a joyful U.S. tour featuring Aldo’s blood-pumping compositions that meld jazz, classical and Latin music.
Judith Ehrlich’s 2000 doc, The Good War and Those Who Refused to Fight It, was a revelatory account of conscientious objectors to World War II. The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (2009), the riveting whistle-blower saga she made with Rick Goldsmith, revisited one of the highest-profile examples of civil disobedience in U.S. history. Ehrlich’s impassioned capstone, The Boys Who Said No! Draft Resistance and the Vietnam War, features organizer David Harris and singer-activist Joan Baez then and now. The doc has its world premiere at MVFF accompanied by a Q&A.
Of special note to local filmmakers and film buffs, MVFF’s starry lineup of panel discussions, dubbed Behind the Screen, is free to anyone with an RSVP. The tempting topics include the evolution of Black women’s roles onscreen, rethinking classics (towards a more democratic global canon) and the ever-popular state of the film industry.