Mill Valley Film Festival

It’s not Cannes, but in 28 years, the Mill Valley Film Festival has earned a great deal of local respect. It doesn’t have quite the size or status of the San Francisco International Film Festival, but it’s way ahead of everything else in the neighborhood.

This year the festival runs from October 6th through the 16th (which is bad news for me, as it collides with professional deadlines and the Jewish High Holidays). During those eleven days, it will screen over 150 films and videos from more than 40 countries, including big Hollywood entertainments and obscure documentaries. Several films will examine African and African-American performing artists. Among the filmmakers honored with tributes are Donald Sutherland, Jeff Daniels, Amelie director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and the late, great British director Michael Powell.

As usual, there are mini-festivals within the big one. VFest, which used to be short for Video Festival, now means Vision Festival, with an emphasis more on pushing the envelope than on electronic cinema (although I very much doubt that anything shown at VFest was shot on film). The Children’s Film Fest is self-explanatory.

Speaking of film festivals, I’m no longer listing every program on every day of every local festival in my weekly schedules. It’s just too time-consuming. Instead, my schedules will include links to the complete schedules on the festival web sites, and list only the programs I wish to tell you about–most of them noteworthy rather than recommended for the simple fact that I haven’t actually seen them.

Speaking of which, here are said films for this week:

Noteworthy: The Dreams Of Sparrows, Castro, Friday afternoon. A documentary on American-occupied Iraq, made largely by Iraqis. Part of the Arab Film Festival, and repeated in Berkeley next week.

Noteworthy: The 400 Blows, Randall Museum, Friday night. When I saw François Truffaut’s first feature back in college, it blew me away. But I haven’t seen this story of an alienated youth on the verge of delinquency in over 30 years and I don’t trust my memory enough to give it a wholehearted recommendation. Part of Art & Film’s Cineclub series, this DVD screening is actually intended for teenagers, but anyone willing to take part in the discussion afterwards is welcome.

Noteworthy: Sabah, Castro, Friday evening, and Camera 12, San Jose, Sunday evening. Canadian cross-cultural romance that pits tradition and modernity. Part of the Arab Film Festival.

Recommended: The Constant Gardner, 4 Star, open-ended run starts Friday. Fernando Meirelles does John le Carré, taking on the greed of international corporations (and the governments that serve them) while also serving up an effective thriller and a heart-wrenching love story. Ralph Fiennes is terrific as a mild-mannered British diplomat looking into the murder of his wife (Rachel Weisz, seen only in flashbacks, in the performance that will put The Mummy behind her forever). A very good movie, but it would have been a great one if only someone had given cinematographer César Charlone a tripod. Note: This description was added late on September 23; hours after the newsletter was sent out.

Recommended: American Graffiti, Washington Sq. Park, San Francisco, Saturday night. Once upon a time, George Lucas was capable of making an entertaining (and extremely profitable) movie without action or special effects. Warning: This is a DVD presentation.

Noteworthy: The Cutting Edge – The Magic of Film Editing, Orinda Theater, Friday and Saturday afternoon. If I could chose one film at the Orinda Film Festival to see, it would be this documentary about the art of film editing. Film restorer Robert A. Harris recommends it highly.

Noteworthy: Musical Interlude, Friday afternoon. Two of these three short movies about music sound promising. “Performance in Passing” looks at street performers–specifically those who work around BART. And “Visual Lyrics” examines sign-language interpreting at a folk festival. Part of the Orinda Film Festival.

Noteworthy:Cinemasports, Orinda Theater, Saturday night. Filmmaking as a race against time. Saturday morning, contestants are given instructions on what their short videos are to be about. Saturday night, the movies are shown before a paying audience. Part of the Orinda Film Festival.

Recommended: To Be or Not to Be, Stanford, Saturday through Tuesday. The Nazi occupation of Poland hardly seems like great comedy material–especially for a movie made when it was front-page news. But Ernst Lubitsch pulls it off in this story of Warsaw actors outsmarting the “master race.” The movie stars Jack Benny in his one great film performance, and Carole Lombard in her last. On a double-bill with It Should Happen to You.

Noteworthy: Bahibb al-Sima, Castro, Sunday morning. A comedy about movie-loving boy that managed to offend both Muslim and Coptic Christian religious leaders? Sounds like something worth seeing. Part of the Arab Film Festival.

Noteworthy: Shouf, Shouf Habibi!, Camera 12, San Jose, Sunday night. Dutch comedy about a Moroccan family’s troubles assimilating (and not assimilating) into western culture. Part of the Arab Film Festival.

Noteworthy: Diary of a Teenager, Camera 12, San Jose, Monday afternoon. This Egyptian film about a sexually active teenage girl in an extremely puritanical society confronts hymen restoration surgery–apparently a common operation but not a talked-about subject in a culture that puts a high value on virginity. Part of the Arab Film Festival.