Yes, there was even film-related news happening outside of Toronto and TIFF, and it originated right here in San Francisco. Glenn Close’s new film, Albert Nobbs, is among two releases favored to be among top major independent releases of 2011 that will open the 34th edition of the Mill Valley Film Festival. It’s a picture that founder and executive director Mark Fishkin referred to during the announcement this morning as one that “only comes along every 10-20 years.”
Jeff, Who Lives at Home, the story of a 30-year old unemployed stoner on a collision course with destiny, starring Jason Segel, Susan Sarandon, Ed Helms and Judy Greer, rounds out the opening night co-screenings scheduled for October 6 in San Rafael and Mill Valley.
We attended the lively press briefing this morning at the Dolby Laboratories HQ here in San Francisco for an update on what to expect over the 11-day run — it seemed like just yesterday we were seated here in this boom-bastic, cozy theater watching a screening of eventual best picture winner The King’s Speech.
And there is plenty to like, yet again.
In its 34rd year, this is a festival that feels comfortable in its own skin; the absence of hyperbole, over-the-top antics that we sometimes see at these kick-offs was very much welcome. Instead, the emphasis was on quality film, as evidenced by a lineup that demonstrates the importance of Mill Valley to the world of film. Because of its timing — the beginning of October — many consider it to be the launching pad for many an Oscar campaign.
By the Numbers and Elton John
MVFF34 will feature 11 World Premieres, 9 North American Premieres and 10 US Premieres. Increasingly, the festival is seen, in the words of executive programming director Zoe Elton (and to squash the rumor here and now: no, her aunt is not Elton John), as “the great Fall triangle of non-competitive festivals” which also includes New York, and Telluride.
Global Representation and Oh, Canada!
More impressive still is the diversity of the line-up which sports films from all over the world including Africa, China, France, Australia, Great Britain, the Middle East, Scandinavia.
The inner Ottawan in me wonders, where’s Canada?
Themes and Kevin
A couple of interesting themes and at least one emerging film-making trend, most notably: strong women, the use of handheld cameras, and the name of the year, “Kevin” (it will all be come clear once the fest begins next month).
According to Zoe Elton, when organizers (which included Mark Fishkin and Richard Peterson) were in Cannes, they “noticed excellent performances by woman,” including: Michelle Yeo (Crouching Tiger) in The Lady, Tilda Swinton (Adaptation) in We Need to Talk Kevin (and do we ever), Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn. Fortunately film-goers will be pleased to know that each of their latest indie releases are included in this year’s schedule. “Women Directors” leads the special interest categories by a long shot with no less than 33 entries.
Handheld is big. In fact, Jeff, Who Lives at Home (see below), features extensive use of handhelds with rapid zooming reminiscent of The Office. Even more proof of the trend, is its use in a new generation of free wheeling films from South America all of which were secured for MVFF: The Prize (Mexico), Miss Bala (Mexico), Beyond the Road (Brazil), and Country Music (Chile).
Here’s something also unique. Closing night features a screening of a — brace yourself XBOX360 generation — silent film. That’s right, a non-talkie! The Artist, picked up by the Weinsteins, was reportedly (although not without controversy) the talk of Cannes. According to Fishkin, “it moves about 90mph.” Elton added that it features the best performance by a Jack Russell that she’s ever seen.
Speaking of TIFF, Pina to play in 3D
Pina, a documentary about dance and movement, had its world premiere in Toronto, and will also be shown at MVFF… in 3D. The word is the film features “luscious texture” and that it’s a remarkable combination of movement, gesture, speech, and music. But the really big question: will it feature blue people?! I will assuredly dig to the bottom of this unfolding technological story.
Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs
It was a morning of signs. Again, I point to Jeff, Who Lives at Home, a fun comedy that screened here this morning (see below for more on that); I should point out that you’ll only get two shots at seeing this one, and definitely recommend it. This indie won’t hit theaters until 2012 so see it at the festival if you can.
But the other sign was Glenn Close. Talk about serendipity. Just a few days earlier, my wife Loni and I were randomly navigating Netflix on the big screen and happened upon a tiny little series called Damages (yes, we kind of missed the boat on that). We were mesmerized by Close’s performance; at times channeling just a tad of her wicked Fatal Attraction performance, mixed together with Streep’s The Devil Wears Prada business smarts. So- as season and a half flew by in just a few days. MVFF is the kind of festival that attracts classy talent (Annette Bening, Tom Hooper, Danny Boyle and James Franco all made memorable, down-to-earth appearances last year) and Close will be a perfect addition this year (she’s expected to attend).
For Fans of Theater…
Local filmmaker Austin Forbord’s (Oakland) documentary about San Francisco theater will screen twice at MVFF. Stage Left: A Story of Theater in San Francisco features appearances by Herbert Blau (Actor’s Workshop), R.G. Davis (Mime Troupe), Robin Williams (“nanu nanu!” and SF resident), Robert Woodruff, Oskar Eustis and Tony Taccone.
For Fans of Wine…
Don’t miss Portrait of a Winemaker: John Williams of Frog’s Leap by Deborah Koons Garcia (widow of the late Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia).
Bay Area Film Screenings at MVFF34
Penultimate (short), Director: Paul Meyers
Saturn Rising (short), Garry Bowden
To Say Goodbye (short), Jason Headley
Floyd of the Android (animated short), Jonathan Lyons
The New Environmentalists (documentary), Will Parrinello, John Antonelli, Tom Dusenbery
Portrait of a Winemaker: John Williams of Frog’s Leap (documentary), Deborah Koons Garcia
Sunshine (short), Doug Nichol
Swimming in a Dream (short), Jim Sugar
Transition Town Totnes (documentary), Deborah Koons Garcia
Heist: Who Stole the American Dream? (documentary), Frances Causey
Stage Left: A Story of Theater in San Francisco (documentary), Austin Forbord
What Happened Here? (documentary), Rob Nilsson
Jeff, Who Lives at Home (US 2011, 84 mins)
Although we can’t officially review this film yet (it’s on Hold for Review), I can say that it was a bit of a hoot. There’s at least one (maybe even two!) Porsche scenes that many of us guys can relate to.
The performances are stronger than your average “stoner” flick: Jason Segel, known for the television series How I Met Your Mother – his career appears to be taking off; and everyone will recognize Ed Helms from The Office. He’s got manic detachment down cold. And, of course, legend Susan Surandon is her usual solid (non-aging) self. — Clint.