Mill Valley Film Festival Preview

I’ve managed to preview three (well, two and a half) features that will screen at the Mill Valley Film Festival. Here’s what I thought of them:

A Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine
If a film makes me cry, it gets an A. This documentary about the imagehorrific, homophobic murder of a young gay man had me all but audibly sobbing. In 1998, Matthew Shepard was savagely beaten, tortured, tied to a fence, and left to die. In telling his story, Director Michele Josue wisely focuses on his friends and–more importantly–his parents. The result is deeply sad, but also inspiring, because you meet so many decent, loving human beings.

Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine will screen at the Sequoia Friday, October 4, at 6:30, and at the Rafael Sunday, October 6, at 8:30. The Friday screening, simultaneous with a screening in Washington D.C., will be its world premiere.

B+ Beside Still Waters
Six high school friends now in their 20s gather for a party in the aftermath of an accident that robbed one of them of his parents. They drink, talk, drink, pair off for sex, drink, drive recklessly, and drink some more. Yes, it’s a imagemillennial variation on The Big Chill and The Return of the Secaucus 7–it even has the new boyfriend character that none of the gang knows. But a good story can be done more than once, and the vivid characters are both believable and fun. In the film’s best scene, editor Nick Houy cuts quickly between three conversations about the previous night’s escapades, allowing us to hear the same story from female and male points of view. What it lacks is the sense of lost political innocence that drove the other films. The result feels both funny and sad…and rewarding. You can say the same about life.

Beside Still Waters will screen at the Sequoia on Saturday, October 12, at 6:30 with director/co-writer Chris Lowell in attendance, with a party afterwards at the Tiburon Tavern. It will screen again at the Rafael Sunday, October 13, at 2:15.

Toxic Hot Seat 
I only saw the first half–and a bit more–of this activist documentary, so I’m not giving it a grade. From what I saw, Toxic Hot Seat is imageunsettling, disturbing, and scary. It makes its point very well. Directors James Redford & Kirby Walker take a hard look at the cancer-causing fire retardants used in our furniture,  arguing that whatever advantages they give us in fire reduction are minimal compared to their long-term damage. The filmmakers allow opposing experts to have their say, but the movie is clearly on the side of getting rid of these chemicals. I wish I could have seen the rest of it.

Toxic Hot Seat  will screen twice, both times Saturday matinees at the Sequoia. The first screening, at 5:00 on October 5, is sold out, although there may be rush tickets. The second screening is on October 12, at 2:00.