This year, the California Film Institute combines two annual festivals, Mill Valley and DocLands. Of course, DocLands focuses on documentaries. As near as I can tell, Mill Valley offers the same documentaries along with a selection of narrative films. I’ll just refer to the combined events as The Mill Valley Film Festival.
Most of the films will be available for streaming throughout the festival, which goes from October 8 to October 18. You can watch most of these films at home any time during those eleven days. You can stream the films on your computer or phone, but I recommend you watch them on a television. The FAQ explains how you can get the signal to the biggest screen in your home. Special screenings and events are scheduled for specific times.
Among the scheduled events, the Festival will honor a number of filmmakers – mostly actors. Tributes will go to Kate Winslet, Judi Dench, Delroy Lindo, Viola Davis, and (it’s about time), Sophia Loren. Screenwriters rarely get honored, so it’s nice to see that Aaron Sorkin will get a spotlight; but then, it’s probably because he directed as well as wrote The Trial of the Chicago 7.
The Trial of the Chicago 7
The hard-top movie theaters are still closed, but Lagoon Park – Marin Center is being turned into a temporary drive-in theater for several screenings. Among the movies you can see under the stars are a new version of Blithe Spirit (opening night), The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart (closing night), and (of course), George Lucas’ most recent version of Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (as far as I know, it’s the 2011 edition). The festival promises a 52-foot screen, 4K digital projection, and Dolby 7.1 sound. I’m not sure how they can provide all that surround sound in the enclosure of your own car.
Here are four films I’ve been able to preview: Two family films for your budding cinephiles, a heist flick, and an historical documentary. All four will be available any time in the festival.
A- The Heist of the Century
Between the classy production value, the early-James Bond-like musical score, terrific direction by Ariel Winograd, and the incredibly brilliant robbery (which, by the way, is based on a true story), this is delightful entertainment. The movie still follows the basic plot of heist movies: A criminal gets an idea to steal a huge amount of money, he brings together a crew, they come up with a great plan that actually works, but after the heist, human weakness brings it all down. Yes, it’s predictable, but it’s still a lot of fun.
The Belgian children’s movie starts badly – the pre-teen title character appears to have just drank two double espressos. But she calms down quickly and both the movie and its protagonist gets better fast. Binti runs a very popular vlog about fashion and other things, but she and her widowed father are undocumented. Luckily, they find family, including a girl Binti’s age who wants to save the world. But the police are a constant threat. Very worthwhile.
The festival suggests that Binti is appropriate for ages nine and over. My recommendation: It’s fine for anyone old enough to read subtitles.
B Kings of Mulberry Street
Boyhood bravado, Bollywood, and some really scary criminals all come together in this South African children’s adventure. Two boys from very different segments of society become best friends while evil drug dealers menace their families. Fearless Ticky (Aaqil Hoosen) comes from a poor and large family. Portly and easily frightened Harold (Shaan Nathoo) lives with his middle-class, widowed father, who wants to keep his son away from Ticky and his kind. Of course, the two boys save the day in their own funny way. I’m not sure if the title is an homage to Dr. Seuss.
The film contains drug dealing and off-screen violence – some of which can create gruesome in a child’s mind. The film is in English, but the accents are so thick it needs, and has, subtitles. The festival suggests it for ages 11 and older; I think that’s about right.
C+ The Boys Who Said No!
This one is personal; I spent my adolescence wondering how I would avoid Vietnam. This very conventional documentary covers the most courageous of those who fought against the war – the ones who went to prison for refusing the draft. It’s a story that desperately needs telling. But director Judith Ehrlich doesn’t dive deeply enough into issues such as violence in the peace movement and how the counterculture affected the movement. (By the way, Nixon stopped the draft less than three weeks before I could have been inducted.)