WHAT: The 43rd Mill Valley Film Festival
WHEN: Oct. 8-18
WHERE: Streaming virtually, with some selections screening at Lagoon Park in San Rafael.
LINEUP and TICKETS: mvff.com
Movie lovers will get a virtual workout during this year’s Mill Valley Film Festival, running Thursday through Oct. 18.
The 43rd lineup commences with a drive-in screening of a 2020 adaptation of the Noël Coward chestnut “Blithe Spirit,” with the delightful Judi Dench, who is also receiving a tribute, starring alongside Dan Stevens. The fest concludes Oct. 18 with another drive-in screening of the new documentary “The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.”
Known for its likely Oscar contenders, such as this year’s “Nomadland” with Frances McDormand, as well as star-filled tributes — this time for Oakland’s Delroy Lindo and screen icon Sophia Loren — the fest also spotlights numerous works from Bay Area filmmakers.
Here are just some of the Bay Area standouts.
“Playing for Keeps”: Marin County’s James Redford reminds viewers to take a break from social media and demanding bosses already and just go out and play. That message couldn’t be more needed. Filled with examples of stressed Bay Area folks ditching the job for a bit to pursue favorite or newfound hobbies, Redford’s feel-good doc is just what the doctor ordered.
“Citizen Penn”: Alameda filmmaker Don Hardy brings two projects to the fest this year. This gripping documentary following the Bay Area’s Sean Penn and other volunteers and their tireless attempts to help Haitians after a 7.0 quake in 2010 is the highest profile one. It’s also quite revealing. Not only will you gain a better appreciation for Penn and his commitment to humanitarian projects, but also for Hardy’s dedication to bringing a positive portrait of volunteers enacting change. As part of the screening, the 10-minute short “The Way Home: The Most Vulnerable,” which focuses on Oakland’s Bay Area Services program, will be paired with it. Hardy served as a producer on the short.
“The Boys Who Said NO!”: Bay Area filmmaker Judith Ehrlich revisits the Vietnam War draft resistance and how Oakland was pivotal ground for landmark protests. Ehrlich’s documentary does a deep dive into the lives of these rebels, and includes interviews with singer/activist Joan Baez and Daniel Ellsberg and archival interviews with Muhammad Ali and Martin Luther King, Jr. Make it a must-see.
“Belly of the Beast”: Erika Cohn’s documentary is a shocking look back at the heinous sterilization of female inmates in the California prison system. Cohn focuses on two protagonists — Oakland nonprofit attorney Cynthia Chandler and Kelli Dillon, whose personal testimony and courage helped lead to reform. Cohn’s documentary sounds the alarm bell about the need to continue to overhaul the system.
“Alice Street”: A mural intended to represent the artistic and cultural landscape in Oakland runs afoul of the crushing reality of commerce in Spencer Wilkinson’s documentary. What makes this film so special is that it raises issues confronting cities throughout the nation: How to celebrate the identity of neighborhoods while meeting the demands of a swelling housing market. It’s never easy, as Wilkinson’s film shows.
“The Book Makers”: What is it about the physical presence of books that holds such devoted appeal? Bay Area native James Kennard explores that question by looking at the craftsmanship involved in creating tomes as well as hearing from book aficionados who want to protect the form from extinction. Book lovers won’t want to miss it.
“Five Years North”: The Bay Area’s Chris Temple and co-director Zach Ingrasci put a human face to the undocumented immigrant debate in this decade-in-the-making documentary. The duo splinter their time following two sympathetic people — 15-year-old Luis, who fled from Guatemala to New York City, and Judy, an ICE agent whose parents are from Cuba. The beauty of their film is that it illustrates how complicated the situations that confront both are.
“Los Hermanos/The Brothers”: Two talented Cuban-born musical artists — brothers — come together after years of being separated to perform a concert together in Bay Area filmmaking team Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider’s winning documentary. With an original score from the duo, Aldo and Ilmar López-Gávilan, this is a must-see for music fans.
“Take Me to the River New Orleans”: Speaking of music-themed documentaries not to miss, check out this one from Martin Shore. It’s filled with musical performances and interviews with the Neville Brothers, Snoop Dogg, Ani DiFranco and many more. A sequel to Shore’s beloved “Take Me to the River.”
“Never Too Late: The Doc Severinsen Story”: Johnny Carson’s musical sidekick and bandleader is still going strong in his 90s. In Kevin S. Bright and Jeff Consiglio’s illuminating documentary, the trumpet player’s fascinating life and energetic ways command the spotlight.
Two shorts not to miss:
“Fort Irwin”: Berkeley native Quinn Else’s 10-minute action/character drama is one of the most exciting shorts I’ve seen yet this year. From its quiet start to its action-packed finale, it follows an amputee participating in a military simulation. It leaves no doubt that Else is a talent to watch.
“Avalanche”: Filmmaker Heather Jack cuts through the fakeness of Hollywood with a story about a writer pitching her idea for a series to a producer. Jack’s short exposes hypocrisy in La La Land and deals honestly with a tragedy from the writer’s recent past. It’s well-acted and well-written.