Arts & Entertainment

Mill Valley Film Festival: Some must-see films to check out

By October 2, 2019 No Comments
Need a fun girls night out film? Try "39 1/2" from San Francisco filmmaker Kara Herold during the Mill Valley Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of Mill Valley Film Festival)

Celebrities and movie fans will once again flock to the Mill Valley Film Festival starting this week.

Respected for its expertly curated program of movies and events as well as its ability to attract well-known stars — a slate this year that includes Robert Pattinson, Alfre Woodard, Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart, to name but a few — the festival also showcases new works with Bay Area connections.

The festival opens Thursday, Oct. 3,  with “Just Mercy,” a fact-based drama in which a newbie attorney (Michael B. Jordan) takes on the racially charged Alabama death row case of a man (Jamie Foxx) convicted in the killing a white woman. Foxx plans on attending, along with co-star Tim Blake Nelson and Rob Morgan.

Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx star in “Just Mercy” on opening night Oct. 3 of the Mill Valley Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of MVFF)

For closing night, there will be two films — the race car drama “Ford v Ferrari” with Christian Bale and Matt Damon, and Edward Norton’s adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s acclaimed noir novel, “Motherless Brooklyn.” “Ford” director James Mangold and “Brooklyn” star, writer and director Norton plan on attending. 

In between, there will be 12 world premieres, 11 North American premieres and 17 U.S. premieres. This year, nine films will screen at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

To help you find a few of the  Bay Area-connected films to fit your mood or genre, we’ve come up with these suggestions.

For cinematic geeks:

• “Phil Tippett: Mad Dreams and Monsters”: The stop-motion animation wizard, a Berkeley native, gives fans an insider view of the making of some of the best known sci-fi films, including the iconic Cantina scene from “Star Wars.” (Oct. 6, Larkspur, Oct. 13, the Lark)

“Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound”: Some of the Bay Area’s most prestigious filmmakers — Ryan Coogler, Sofia Coppola and George Lucas — are featured in this fascinating documentary from Midge Costin, focused on the history and the creativity involved with bringing sound to life. It’s a gem. (Oct. 5, the Rafael, Oct. 7, Sequoia)

For something sexy

• “Show Me What You Got”: Pleasant Hill’s Svetlana Cvetko captures the moodiness of the French New Wave movement with this sensual, B&W romantic drama featuring three hot adults — one woman, two men — becoming a threesome. It’s strikingly shot and has more going on than you’d first think. (Oct. 6, Larkspur)

Pleasant Hill director Svetlana Cvetko’s “Show Me What You Got” is playful, but meaningful. (Photo courtesy of MVFF)

For something inspirational

• “The Great 14th: Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama In His Own Words”: The story behind the making and near loss of Berkeley filmmaker Rosemary Rawcliffe’s radiant, intimate documentary, receiving a world premiere, is rather miraculous. Rawcliffe’s Berkeley business was burglarized in July of nearly everything; fortunately a copy of this lovely tribute was found. That’s good for us since it features rare archival images of the spiritual leader along with his sage words that provide comfort in an at-odds world we live in. (Oct. 10 and Oct. 12 at the Smith Rafael Film Center)

• “No Time to Waste: The Urgent Mission of Betty Reid Soskin”: At 98, the East Bay’s Soskin is not only the nation’s oldest living U.S. forest ranger, but a highly regarded celebrity historian at the Rosie the Riveter World War II/Home Front National Historic Park in Richmond and beyond. Carl Bidelman’s short documentary captures what makes Soskin — recovering from a recent stroke — such an important figure, someone who provides an uncensored history of the Bay Area and  the mistreatment of people of color. Soskin receives the fest’s Mind the Gap Trailblazer of the Century award. (Part of the Mind the Gap Summit, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Outdoor Art Club & Sweetwater Music Hall)

U.S. Forest Ranger Betty Reid Soskin, shown with Michelle and Barack Obama, is the focus of a documentary, “No Time to Waste: The Urgent Mission of Betty Reid Soskin.” (Photo courtesy of the Rosie the Riveter World War II/Home Front National Historic Park)

• “Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo”: Trejo’s moving journey from a former San Quentin inmate to a hard-working character actor celebrates second chances in life. Brett Harvey’s documentary doesn’t shirk away from the hard stuff, and Trejo’s candor is refreshing — and inspiring. (Oct. 6, Smith Rafael Film Center with Trejo and Harvey in attendance) 

A comedy for a girl’s night out

• “39 1/2”: San Francisco filmmaker Kara Herold ventures out of the documentary world and into the narrative feature  territory with this funny and bittersweet semi-autobiographical tale about an S.F. filmmaker wanting to have a child. It melds live action with animation, and is a delight. (Oct. 5, Smith Rafael; Oct. 13, Larkspur)

Documentaries that will enlighten

• “The Story of Plastic”: The nuts and bolts on how to recycle the smart way are only part of  the allure of this informative, eye-opening documentary — receiving a world premiere. Deia Schlosberg directs, and a Berkeley recycling expert is featured in it. (Oct. 6, Sequoia; Oct. 8, Rafael)

• “The Lure of This Land”: Alexandra Lexton basks in the beauty of Belize while talking to a number of expats about what drew them to this land. (Oct. 5, Lark, Oct. 11, Rafael)

“Journey to Hokusai” shines light on the painstaking work of woodblock print artist Tom Killion. (Photo courtesy of MVFF)

• “Journey to Hokusai”: Corte Madera’s Chikara Motomura shines a light on an artist’s pursuit to better learn how to print by hand, a form perfected by his 19th-century icon. The documentary about artist Tom Killion’s journey to and in Japan is receiving a world premiere. (Oct. 4, Larkspur; Oct. 6, Rafael)

• “What Do You Believe Now?”: Sarah Feinbloom revists the spiritual territory covered in her 2002 documentary “What  Do You Believe?” Here she reposes that same question 17 years later to the same group, now teens. World premiere. (Oct. 6, Sequoia, Oct. 9, Rafael)

• “You Say You Want a Revolution?”: Filmmaker Emily Harris dives into the ’60s to address the evolution of the resistance movement. The world premiere features Bay Area residents. (Oct. 6, Sequoia, Oct. 8, Rafael)

For those seeking a unique experience

• “Arid Cut”: The Bay Area’s Rob Nilsson, one of our most prolific, experimental filmmakers, returns with a story about an aunt and nephew — both living on the fringes of society — searching for a relative in an area that no one can pinpoint. (Oct. 12, Rafael)

* For tickets and a full schedule (Oct. 3-13), visit mvff.com. Tickets cost from $8-$16.50, with some special events costing more.