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Mill Valley Film Festival closed its 28th year

Mill Valley Film Festival closed its 28th year with screenings of more than 200 films from over 50 countries on Sunday, October 16. Always an exciting Festival component, more than 175 filmmakers and actors from around the globe made the trip to Mill Valley to share their filmmaking experiences with the audiences.
“We had an exceptional slate of US and world cinema, tributes, spotlights, music events, parties and receptions for film lovers of all ages,” notes Founder/Director Mark Fishkin. “We are honored to have hosted a record number of World and US premieres (over 33) as well as Tributes to Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Michael Powell presented by Thelma Schoonmaker, Donald Sutherland, Jeff Daniels and of course the spotlight on Felicity Huffman for her extraordinary performance in TRANSAMERICA. Our audience continues to support filmmakers who take risks to make great art as well as great entertainment and our attendance is up 6% over last year. Mill Valley is unique because it has the clout of an urban festival – as evidenced by the caliber of films and filmmakers who attend each year – with the ambiance of a destination festival. Each year over 40,000 people attend festival events in Mill Valley and San Rafael to celebrate movies in the perfect environment for film.”

A Festival First - Audience Awards Launched, Winners Announced!
For the first time in its 28-year history, the Mill Valley Film Festival introduced Audience Awards as a means to help filmmakers gain additional recognition in hopes that the awards will provide momentum to films still seeking US distribution. Prior to each feature screening (excluding galas and special events), Festival-goers received voting ballots and were asked to rate the film on a 1 to 5 scale (5 being best).

AUDIENCE AWARDS WINNERS ARE:

ZOLA MASEKO’S DRUM (BEST DRAMATIC)
LISA GAY HAMILTON’S BEAH (BEST DOCUENTARY)
STEFAN SCAINI’S SPIRIT BEAR (BEST CHILDREN’S)

After the ballots were counted, the Audience Award for dramatic feature went to Zola Maseko’s DRUM, an exposé of conditions in 1950s South Africa. Producer Chris Sievernich was in attendance at the Festival, and noted that "based on the great reaction of Mill Valley’s audience, I am starting discussions with a distributor to consider a platform specialty release of DRUM.”

BEAH: A BLACK WOMAN SPEAKS, directed by Lisa Gay Hamilton, was part of the Fespaco/PRAI and Women Make Movies focus and received the Audience Award for documentary feature. The film tells of Beah Richards’ remarkable journey from childhood in the segregated South to a legendary career as an actress (GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER?), poet and activist.

A popular tradition, the Children’s FilmFest also inaugurated an Audience Award this year. Getting the nod was Stefan Scaini’s SPIRIT BEAR: THE SIMON JACKSON STORY. Both actor Mark Rendall and director Stefan Scaini were in attendance at the Festival for the US Premeiere of the film. Children’s FilmFest programmer John Morrison is currently in negotiations to bring SPIRIT BEAR back to the Smith Rafael Film Center post Festival as part of the California Film Institute’s ongoing international family film series, Beyond Borders.

As a flagship festival for the Los Angeles Branch of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), the Mill Valley Film Festival presents an award each year to short films of outstanding caliber. A BAFTA jury views the eligible films at the Festival and announces the winners on closing day. This year’s winner of the statuette is CITY PARADISE by Gaelle Denis. The two runner-up Award for Excellence certificates went to TRANSACTION by Jacques Thelemaque and John Harden’s LA VIE D’UN CHIEN.

Hit Men and Naked Women at the Festival
Things got off to a raucous start as this year’s Festival opened with two uproarious looks into worlds of sin and mystery: Stephen Frears’ nude-review charmer MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS and Richard Shepard’s hit-man dramedy THE MATADOR. Delivering a lively Q&A before heading to the opening night gala was THE MATADOR’s director Shepard and the film’s producer and star Pierce Brosnan. After the credits rolled the celebration continued as the opening night party pitted die-hard cineastes with filmmakers from around the world and gave all a chance to wine and dine with THE MATADOR team Shepard and Brosnan.

US Indies and World Premieres
Always a terrific showcase for US Indies, this year’s Festival proffered first time peeks from five American directors. On the world premiere slate were Rob Nilsson's NEED, Chris Brown's SCARED NEW WORLD, Heather Lyn MacDonald's BEEN RICH ALL MY LIFE, Abby Ginsburg's SOUL OF JUSTICE: THELTON HENDERSON'S AMERICAN JOURNEY, and Stephen Olsson's SOUND OF THE SOUL: THE FEZ FESTIVAL OF WORLD SACRED MUSIC. Also present were five rarely screened and much anticipated Indie gems - NORTH COUNTRY by Niki Caro, BRICK by Rian Johnson, Jonathan Parker’s Marin-centric satire THE CALIFORNIANS, PRIME by Ben Younger, and Anand Tucker's SHOPGIRL. Actors Claire Danes and Jason Schwartzman attended the screening of SHOPGIRL.

Festival Celebrates Global Cinema’s Diversity, Bay Area Audience’s Response
At a festival whose audience has always been known for its diverse tastes, this year welcomed a strong presence from an even greater range of international communities. Following a screening of the Stephen Olsson’s popular SOUND OF THE SOUL: THE FEZ FESTIVAL OF WORLD SACRED MUSIC, the SOUND OF THE SOUL CONCERT garnered a large Afghani presence; Ovidio Salizar’s AL GHAZALI: THE ALCHEMIST OF HAPPINESS, got a strong turnout from the local Sufi community; and a huge Russian crowd arrived for Festival screenings of Kirill Serebrennikov’s BED STORIES. Also, much buzzed-about global fare from the narrative front included the Sudan/Israel-set LIVE AND BECOME by Radu Mihaileanu. Two Iranian entries had people talking into the night: Kamal Tabrizi’s A PIECE OF BREAD and Seyyed Reza Mir-Karimi’s SO CLOSE, SO FAR. Edgy Asian fare also delighted and stimulated audiences: in particular, MOON AND CHERRY, a sexy yarn by Japan’s Yuki Tanada and Ryuchi Hiroki’s GIRLFRIEND, SOMEONE PLEASE STOP THE WORLD (also from Japan).

Hard Hitting Documentaries Wow Audiences
Always strong with documentary films, the Festival offered up some stunning international fare, including Israel’s 39 POUNDS OF LOVE, by Dani Menkin; Swedish master Stefan Jarl’s THE GIRL FROM AUSCHWITZ; and the UK production of Iraqi filmmaker Maysoon Pachachi’s RETURN TO THE LAND OF WONDERS. Also strong in the documentary category were films featuring African American experiences including SOUL OF JUSTICE: THELTON HENDERSON’S AMERICAN JOURNEY by Abby Ginsberg; Jesse Block’s BROTHERLY JAZZ about the legendary Heath brothers; Gillian Grisman’s PRESS ON about the meteoric rise of sacred steel music followed by a live concert at the legendary Sweetwater club by documentary subjects Robert Randolph and the Family Band featuring Calvin Cooke; BEEN RICH ALL MY LIFE by Heather Lyn MacDonald about Harlem’s Silver Belles; and Audience Award Winner, BEAH: A BLACK WOMAN SPEAKS. This year’s festival also looked at Native American issues with Roberta Grossman’s HOMELAND: FOUR PORTRAITS OF NATIVE ACTION, Heather Rae’s TRUDELL, and Children’s FilmFest Award Winner SPIRIT BEAR: THE SIMON JACKSON STORY.

Two Actor Tributes and One Spotlight: Sutherland, Daniels & Huffman Honored
“The Festival has a reputation for honoring actors in career defining performances,” notes Director of Programming, Zoë Elton. “Mill Valley offers audiences an opportunity to view the onscreen work of some of our most talented stars, and the tributes and spotlights provide added depth as the actors appear in person to delve into the heart of their bravura, often risky performances.”

Canadian born actor Donald Sutherland has starred in more than 100 films in his long and storied career. Interviewed onstage by pioneering Rolling Stone editor and San Francisco Chronicle journalist Ben Fong-Torres, Sutherland discussed many of his roles throughout the years and provided the audience a snapshot of his acerbic wit and wisdom. As Mr. Bennet in Joe Wright’s PRIDE & PREJUDICE, he reminded Festival audiences once again of why he is one of the most beloved of all actors, and deserving this year of a Festival tribute. He joined Wright and actor Rosumand Pike after the screening for a Q&A.

With over 45 starring roles under his belt, Jeff Daniels still manages to redefine audience expectation, never more so than when he turned up at the Festival for a tribute in his honor and a screening of his latest acting project, Noah Baumbach’s THE SQUID AND THE WHALE. Program Director Zoë Elton interviewed Jeff Daniels in his first-ever Film Festival tribute anywhere, and Daniels delighted the Mill Valley audience with anecdotal quips, Indie-filmmaking tips, and insight into his landmark performances.

An acting milestone, Felicity Huffman’s performance as a transgendered individual in Duncan Tucker’s TRANSAMERICA left audiences amazed at its bravery and honesty. TRANSAMERICA is slated to be the first film released from Indie film maven Harvey Weinstein’s company. Prior to the screening, the “Desperate Housewives” star spoke of preparing for the role in an onstage interview with KRON TV critic Jan Wahl. After the film she was joined by filmmaker Tucker for a Q&A.

Filmmaker Tributes – an Anglo and a Franco are Feted
Fetes at the festival did not end with honoring actors: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, director of such art-house favorites as AMELIE and CITY OF LOST CHILDREN, received a tribute also. Award-winning journalist Ben Fong-Torres returned to the stage for an on-stage interview with Jeunet as well as a clip reel of the Frenchman’s films. A rapt audience absorbed the director’s generous admiration for the craft. As part of the Festival’s Tribute to Jeunet, AMELIE and DELICATESSEN were screened to enthusiastic crowds. Further retrospective screenings of Jeunet’s films will be held at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center from October 17 – 21 featuring pristine prints from the director’s collection.

Michael Powell also received honors at the Festival in a touching tribute by his widow, Oscar-winning editor Thelma Schoonmaker. In an onstage interview with Smith Rafael Film Center Director of Programming Richard Peterson, and over many film clips, Schoonmaker discussed Powell’s art and its influence on her editing, and gave a detailed presentation of how her frequent collaborator, Martin Scorcese, has incorporated many of Powell’s filmmaking techniques into his own films. As part of the tribute to Powell, the Festival also screened two of Powell’s classic collaboration’s with Emeric Pressburger –- THE RED SHOES (1945) and I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING! (1948) As part of a post-festival celebration of his life, a selection of Powell’s masterworks will continue to screen at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center throughout the Fall, culminating in An Academy Salute to Jack Cardiff, the legendary cinematographer of THE RED SHOES, BLACK NARCISSUS (1947) and A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH /STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN (1946) which will all screen during the series.

Catching Early Oscar Fever
With its fall date and strong slate of Indie and international offerings, the MVFF is a great place to catch an early Oscar buzz. Featured foreign language Academy Award® submissions that were screened include Mike de Jong’s BLUEBIRD, from the Netherlands; Lajos Koltai’s FATELESS, from Hungary; Hany Abu-Assad’s PARADISE NOW, from Palestine; and Marc Rothemud’s SOPHIE SCHOLL: THE LAST DAYS, from Germany. In the spring, the Smith Rafael Film Center will continue to keep tabs on foreign language submissions by presenting the film series “For Your Consideration,” which culminates in Oscar Night America®, the only official Bay Area Academy Award® Party sanctioned by the Association of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hosted by the California Film Institute.

Academy President Sid Ganis Leads Special Panel Discussion
With commercial ticket sales slumping and exhibitors wondering where the audiences have gone, the current state of moviegoing is an oft-discussed cocktail party topic. But industry members got down to real business at the Festival’s special panel “Going Out To The Movies: Is the Romance Over?” Sid Ganis, newly elected president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, delivered his perspective as an insider deep within the industry and was joined by fellow panelists Gary Meyer, co-founder of Landmark Theatre chain and owner of San Francisco’s Balboa Theatre; Jonathan Marlow, Acquisitions Director at Greencine; Melanie Cornwell, WIRED Magazine’s Editorial Projects Director; Chris Sievernich, CEO of Armada Pictures and moderator Mark Fishkin, Founder/Director of the Mill Valley Film Festival.

Family Films Focus of Second Festival Panel Discussion
The Future of Family Films panel provided a mixture of hope for the future of family films along with some realistic assessments of how viable international films are for distribution in the US market. Ron Merck, filmmaker and producer specializing in children’s film genre, suggested that without mass marketing budgets like Disney and Pixar directed at children, international children’s films cannot compete effectively. However, Children’s FilmFest Programmer John Morrison noted that films released direct to video may provide a glimmer of hope both for audiences and filmmakers which could potentially fuel demand for US theatrical exhibition.

Cinemasports – Marin High School Team Wins First Place
The first-ever Cinemasports event at the Mill Valley Film Festival was a roaring success with twenty teams from all over the Bay Area participating in the make-a-film-in-a-day marathon. Cinemasports is the “Iron Chef” of filmmaking, in which teams have ten hours to complete a movie with a specific list of ingredients, with a screening of the completed films at the 11th hour that same night. The MVFF event was the first Cinemasports to include filmmakers as young as 10 years old, as the annual Script to Screen Young Filmmakers Workshop (part of MVFF’s annual Children’s FilmFest) took part with two teams of a dozen kids led by several Bay Area filmmaker instructors. Youth seemed to rule the day, as the winners of the Cinemasports “Best in Show” was the team from the AIM program at Mill Valley’s own Tamalpais High School. Courtesy of Cinemasports sponsor Novia, the winners won a Quick Capture hard drive valued at $1,000. The day’s event capped off with a sold out, standing-room-only screening of the day’s entries to a highly excited and enthusiastic crowd at the Masonic Hall in downtown Mill Valley.

CFI Outreach Offers Free Festival Films to Students
CFI Outreach at the Festival concluded this week with a screening of SOUL OF JUSTICE: THELTON HENDERSON’S AMERICAN JOURNEY on Tuesday, Oct 18 featuring a discussion with director Abby Ginsberg at the Federal Court House in San Francisco in association with the San Francisco Bar Association. This year, CFI Outreach provided nine free screenings to approximately 1,800 primary and secondary school children from 15 schools in Alameda, San Francisco, Sonoma and Marin counties.

Festival Closes With a Flourish
After 11 days and nights of great films, receptions, parties and music, Festival no. 28 wrapped up with panache as the closing night films brought top talent out to talk with audiences. Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s BEE SEASON saw both directors come to town, and Jeff Daniels attended for the screening of Noah Baumbach’s THE SQUID AND THE WHALE. After the lights came up and Q&As wrapped, people headed over to the Mill Valley Community Center for the closing night party, a chance to dance, eat chocolate dipped strawberries, and ask McGehee, Siegel and Daniels whatever burning questions remained unanswered.

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