Saturday at the Mill Valley Film Festival

I spent Saturday at the Sequoia, where I caught three films in the Mill Valley Film Festival.

They were all very good, and each was better than the one before it.

She Started It

We all know about tech industry sexism. Nora Poggi and Insiyah Saeed’s documentary follows five young women (concentrating on two of them) struggling to create new companies in a competitive world run almost entirely by men. Consider Vietnamese immigrant Thuy Truong, whose company creates a popular iOS app but can’t attract financing. Since this is a documentary, there’s no guaranteed happy ending. But there is a sense that Thuy, and the other subjects, will succeed.

I give She Started It a B+.

After the screening, a full ten people–filmmakers and subjects–stood up for Q&A. Some highlights (edited for brevity and clarity):

  • Choosing these five: We chose people with enough business traction so that there would likely be a story.
  • On why so much was centered on two of the five: Part of it is the access you get. We wanted to show the struggle. It’s really hard for an entrepreneur to show that. Brienne was so successful there was nothing to say.
  • Making the film was very much like creating a startup. The filmmakers had to raise money and sleep on other people’s floors. “They’re living the movie.”

She Started It will screen one more time as the Festival: Wednesday, October 12, 10:00am. It may get a theatrical or television release in the future.

Green Is Gold

A 13-year-old pothead moves in with his adult brother, who lives in the backwoods and grows pot for a living. Clearly not the best way to raise a troubled adolescent, but they bond and the older brother teaches the younger one a lucrative yet dangerous trade. A funny, touching, suspenseful story about victimless crime. The shaky, handheld photography seems annoying at first, but eventually makes sense as you realize the instability of their life together.

I give Green is Gold an A-.

After the screening, writer/director/editor/star Ryon Baxter led a group of his collaborators in a Q&A. Among the filmmakers were his real-life kid brother, Jimmy Baxter, who played the fictitious kid brother in the movie.

  • On conceiving the story: I was inspired by someone I shared a jail cell with–for a non-violent, marijuana-related crime.
  • We’re the only actors we could afford.
  • On the use a handheld camera: That’s what we could afford. The camera had to be either locked down or handheld. We couldn’t afford a Steadicam.
  • Producer Anthony Burns on the size of the budget: Less than a million dollars and more than a dollar.

There’s one final screening of Green is Gold at the Festival, but you’ll have to act fast. It’s today, Sunday, at the Rafael, at 6:30. It’s sold out, but tickets may be available at rush.

However, the film has been picked up by Samuel Goldwyn Films, so it will probably get a theatrical release.

Katie Says Goodbye

Olivia Cooke gives a stellar performance in this bleak small-town drama. Only 21 when the film was shot, she finds reservoirs of emotion and character subtleties that would be impressive in an actor twice her age. I think she’s going to be the Michelle Williams of her generation.

Here she plays Katie, living in a rundown trailer park and working as a waitress to support herself and her all-but-worthless mother. To make ends meet, she turns tricks on the side. Her only warm relationships are with her boss (the always wonderful Mary Steenburgen), and a fatherly truck driver who’s also one of her regular johns (Jim Belushi in the only likeable performance of his I’ve seen).

Then she falls in love with the new guy in town (Christopher Abbott). He’s strong, rarely talks, and is difficult to read emotionally. Her world is already on edge. With all of her secrets, true love can only make things worse.

I give this one an A.

After the film, writer/director Wayne Roberts, along with several of his collaborators (but not Cooke) stepped up for Q&A. Some highlights:

  • On a male filmmaker creating a story about a woman: I wanted to be moved. I find that hard with a male protagonist.
  • On working with Cooke: First of all, she’s brilliant. I gave her a very detailed backstory. We had a lot of discussion, but she’s very intuitive. We met three weeks before we got on the set.
  • On getting Mary Steenburgen: Mary’s agent loved the script.
  • On the size of the budget: Not nearly enough.
  • On the film’s bleakness: It was by intention. But ultimately, it’s about hope. Katie doesn’t need redemption. She doesn’t need anyone else.
  • On the trilogy:
    Katie Says Goodbye is the first film in a planned trilogy. I’m not exactly sure how that will work. The second film will be a dark comedy with no characters from the first. Katie will appear in the third film.

You have one more chance to see Katie Says Goodbye at the festival…maybe. It’s screening at the Rafael Monday, October 10, at 3:30. The presentation is sold out, but you may be able to buy tickets at rush.

As far as I know, no distributor has picked up this film. But I truly hope one of them does.