They call it the launching pad for the Oscar campaign. I don't know who "they" are, but that's what they call it. Which means classy!
But cozy classy (as opposed to, you know, slickly obsequious) because that's how the Mill Valley Film Festival rolls. The fest turns 32 tonight, and all evidence suggests it has managed to hold on to both its canny programming strategy and its mellow vibe -- the latter praised in this space a couple of years ago by Michael Fox, who wrote of Mill Valley, "The sunlight feels a little softer than it does in the city, and I bask in the scent of cashmere, coffee and corduroy."
This year, it'll be handy to feel so relaxed, given 143 films to watch. Not that you'd see them all. Not that you'd even manage to touch down, cinematically speaking, in every one of the 41 represented countries. But you could try.
Or you could just keep it indie-local, with the Mission-made comedy Sorry, Thanks, by Dia Sokol; local filmmaker Rob Nilsson's Imbued, a close-quarters downtown drama starring Stacy Keach; North Bay mainstay John Korty's documentary Miracle in a Box: A Piano Reborn, about an East Bay artisanal piano restoration company at work; Saint Misbehavin': The Wavy Gravy Movie, which should be self-explanatory; and Tenderloin, a drama shot there by director Michael Anderson; among several others.
Of course the MVFF also affords an easy way to be part of the buzz machine for studio-sanctioned films due soon in theatrical release, such as The Boys Are Back, An Education, Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire, The Horse Boy and The Road. Plus, famous and quasi-famous people will make personal appearances: Clive Owen (with The Boys Are Back), Uma Thurman (with Motherhood), Woody Harrelson (with The Messenger), and director Jason Reitman (with Up In the Air). Coraline director and animator Henry Selick will discuss his work, and Seymour Cassel will talk about the actor's craft with Rob Nilsson.
So whether this time-tested fest is a harbinger of awards-season prestige or just a welcome final nail in the coffin of a rubbishy moviegoing summer is up to you. For your consideration, as it were.
The Mill Valley Film Festival runs from October 8-18, 2009, at multiple venues. For tickets and information, visit 2009.mvff.com.