The final day at the Mill Valley (San Rafael) Film Festival

Sunday was the last day of this year’s Mill Valley Film Festival. I spent the day at the Rafael, but I didn’t stay long enough to catch any of the official closing films or the closing party.

Here’s what I caught:

B Truth
I kind of wish I was new to the theater. I would have loved to have asked a volunteer “Where do I go for Truth.”

As the 2004 presidential election came to its climax, CBS’ 60 Minutes news program covered a story that should have ruined George W. Bush’s chance of re-election. But an important piece of evidence turned out to be fake, turning the exposé into a mediascandal that helped Bush and destroyed several journalism careers, including Dan Rather’s. Writer/director James Vanderbilt gives us a slick, entertaining, but unexceptional movie about TV journalism in the early 21st century. It has one very big casting flaw (Robert Redford as Rather). But it tells a story that we should all know and remember.

There was no filmmaker Q&A.

This was, of course, the festival’s last screening of Truth (but hopefully not their last truthful screening). There was no Q&A after the film. It opens in theaters soon.

Panel – The Future of Film Technology
How will digital technology, immersive games, and other innovations change the nature of cinema. Angela Watercutter of Wired Magazine chaired a discussion on where we are going.

The panelists, going from left to right, were:

  • Tiffany Shlain: Emmy-nominated filmmaker and Webby Award founder
  • Christopher Coppola: Filmmaker and teacher and member of a famous cinema family
  • Shane Hurlbut: Cinematographer
  • John Gaeta: Lucasfilm designer
  • Jess Lee: InVisage president and CEO

Lee was the only one there promoting a product–a new camera technology called QuantumFilm. He screened a short film shot on a smartphone using his company’s system. The image looked soft and out of focus. He also showed some us-vs.-them comparison images, but I never trust demos done by people who have something to sell.

A few highlights from the discussion. There may be a few errors in the quotes, but none of them are substantial.

Shlain: The most exciting new advance was when they added the “photograph yourself” feature to cellphones. It’s so empowering. There’s no camera crew to intimidate you.

Coppola: Pity the artist who blames the equipment.

Hurlbut: I try to read the story, listen to what the characters say. The story will tell you what to shoot it on; what lens. You have to read the subtext.

Hurlbut: What I’m finding is the way I’m moving the camera is changing because of the physical size. I find that very exciting. Something that used to be 60 or 70 pounds is now a six-pound box.

Coppola: When you say “cut” using film, you stop everything. You can keep going and improvise with digital. Actors love that. [Coppola also claimed that he showed digital camera tests to the great cinematographer Jack Cardiff, who “liked what he saw.”]

Hurlbut: There will always be artists who stick with film; they like the look and feel of it. But what I’m not liking is the look and feel of the budgets.

Shlain: It’s changing how you create. There’s pros and cons. You can do so much on the fly now. It’s like when they were first able to move the camera; that was so radical.

Hurlbut: The quality of television has gone through the roof. I remember when you couldn’t get a famous actor on TV. But now the scripts are so good.

On the theatrical experience:

Hurlbut: Is the movie-going experience dying?

Coppola: For my seven-year-old, it already has. There’s this multi-tasking thing.

Hurlbut: It’s still my favorite way to sit in a darkened theater. That’s something I’m going to hold onto.

Gaeta: Along with church, it’s one of two places where you disconnect from Twitter and Facebook.

Shlain: People still like theater experience.

The Saga of Ingrid Bergman
This isn’t a movie, but a museum-like exhibit around the corner from the Rafael, celebrating the great actress and movie star.

I enjoyed it. Most of it was mounted photos, many of them movie stills. Captions helped outline her life and career–mostly her career. I found one error: A caption credited Alfred Hitchcock for writing and directing Notorious. He directed it, but Ben Hecht wrote it. in addition to the photos, three video screens offered mini-documentaries about stages in her life.

The exhibition runs through Thursday at 1020 B Street, San Rafael. It’s connected to the Rafael’s current Ingrid Bergman Retrospective.

A Tikkun
The last film I saw at this year’s Mill Valley Film Festival turned out to be the best. But I’m not sure how much a non-Jew would appreciate this fantasy drama set in Jerusalem’s strictest Orthodox community.

A young, male Chasid, extremely religious and prone to accidents, survives a near-death experience. He comes out of it changed in slight but (for his family) frightening ways. He doesn’t need his glasses. He refuses to eat meat. He hitchhikes late at night as a way to study the world outside his enclosed community. He even visits a brothel. Sometimes he seems holier than the more conventional Chasids; other times, blasphemous. Shot in widescreen black and white, with no background music, this very odd film is unlike anything you may ever see.

I find it to be a strange, spiritual experience. But after the movie, the man sitting next to me enthusiastically called it the best anti-religion film he’d ever seen. I guess people see what they want to see in it.

There was no filmmaker Q&A.

Will you get a chance to see it? Maybe. An American release is possible, but as far as I know, not yet confirmed.