One way that regional film festivals enhance their line-ups is by touting their impact on the awards race. For example, the Bay Area's venerable Mill Valley Film Festival, which just concluded an 11-day run, boasts that it has "cemented its place as the West Coast's premiere launching pad for the awards season." Aspen, Hawaii, Santa Barbara and Palm Springs are other key fests that piggy-back on awards season effectively as attention-grabbers for local Academy voters.
The lucky attendees at this year's California Film Institute's MVFF in San Rafael nabbed early looks at several Oscar-track films for 2012. The festival opened with the US premiere of "Silver Linings Playbook," with director David O. Russell and star Bradley Cooper appearing for a Q & A; the film took home yet another Audience Award, as did closer "Life of Pi," whose director Ang Lee talked about his translation of Yann Martel's global bestseller. Lee, accompanied by Fox brass Jim Gianopulos and Elizabeth Gabler, also garnered Variety's inaugural International Filmmaker of the Year Award. And "On the Road" producer Rebecca Yeldham discussed Walter Salles and Jose Rivera's adaptation of the Jack Kerouac classic.
The festival also paid tribute to actor John Hawkes for his moving performance in Ben Lewin's "The Sessions" as poet-journalist Mark O'Brien, a man confined to an iron lung after having polio as a child; he was accompanied by Lewin and co-star Helen Hunt, who plays his sex therapist. Also tributed were actor-directors Billy Bob Thornton ("Jayne Mansfield's Car") and Dustin Hoffman ("Quartet") and filmmaker Mira Nair, whose "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" won the international Audience Favorite Award.