Mill Valley Festival reaches 40 next month with 204 films, & one of them will probably win Best Picture

The Bay Area hosts a ridiculous number of film festivals, but two of them stand above the others: San Francisco International in the spring and Mill Valley in the fall. These are the festivals where you can see the newest independent films before they get a regular theatrical release. More importantly, you can see many independent films that you will probably never get another chance to see.

This year’s Mill Valley Film Festival opens Thursday, October 5, and closes ten days later, on Sunday, the 15. During that time, the festival will screen 115 feature films (26 of them documentaries) and 89 shorts, coming from 52 countries. Out of those, 42 are either world or North American premieres.

As with this year’s Jewish Film Festival, the Mill Valley programmers went out of their way to find films directed by women. They succeeded. A full 44 percent of the films to be screened have female directors.

Here are some promising films and events:

  • If you want to go to opening night, you’ll have to choose between two films: Darkest Hour, a drama about Winston Churchill when a Nazi invasion seemed imminent, and Wait for Your Laugh, a documentary about Rose Marie, the actress and comedienne best remembered for her role in The Dick Van Dyke Show.
  • Tributes will go to Sean Penn, Todd Hayes, Holly Hunter, and Kristin Scott Thomas.
  • I’m not really sure what the difference is between a Tribute and a Spotlight, but both writer/director Dee Rees and screenwriter/actress/and now director Greta Gerwig will get Spotlights, including screenings of their latest films.
  • Richard Linklater usually screens his new films at SF International, but I guess his latest – Last Flag Flying – wasn’t ready in the spring. It stars Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, and Laurence Fishburne. Considering that his last three films were Bernie, Before Midnight, and Boyhood, I can be very optimistic.

As I write this, the Festival’s website lacks some important tools. There’s no way to search for a particular film. When you click on the Schedule button, you get a digital simulation of the printed program, not a browser-friendly schedule. There’s no alphabetical list of all films. Links to particular movies can bring you to other movies from last year’s festival. Hopefully, this will be fixed soon. Update: The site was fixed within hours of posting this article.

You can look up what films are in specific categories. These include:

  • Active Cinema: These are films that will, hopefully, inspire filmgoers to do something useful.
  • ¡Viva El Cine!: Spanish-language and Latin American films.
  • Polish Cinema: These include an animated biopic of Vincent van Gogh.
  • Stewards of the Earth: This series looks at global warming, other environmental disasters, and our relationship with other animals.

Mill Valley has a calendar-based advantage over SF International. Because it runs in early fall, it shows most of the year’s Oscar bait. For the last seven years in a row, the Best Picture winner has had its Bay Area premiere at Mill Valley (not necessarily the town, but the festival, which screens all over Marin County).

As the festival approaches, I’ll be reviewing as many of the movies as possible. Stay tuned for my micro-reviews.

One more thing: This is the 40th Mill Valley Film Festival.