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Ramping Up to the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival

Ramping Up to the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival

The second half of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival continued at pretty much the same compulsive pace for me as the first, cramming in anywhere from three to six movies a day.  The lighter days reflected the more humanistic approach to festivaling that I’ve tried to achieve over the years (when I realized that movies came in boxes and could perforce be seen later) whereas experiences were unique.  

So I enjoyed several quite pleasant sit-down lunches and dinners in Toronto restaurants.  Over Italian food at Paesa, right across the street from the Bell Lightbox, Bertrand Tavernier told me about the series of Western pulp novels translated into French that he’s launching this fall under his imprint, and his wife Sara and I discussed the screenplay she’s writing with another director/screenwriter based on the fascinating expatriate dancer Loie Fuller.  

After I told Thom Powers, programer of TIFF Docs, that I’d adored “Ain’t Misbehavin,”  Marcel Ophul’s anecdotal film about his life in movies, Powers invited me to dine with Ophuls at another Italian place, the posh new Cibo, further west on King. While discussing a celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the end of the blacklist that I’d attended at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, I taught the natty Marcel the expression “a New York minute” — which is how fast I thought another blacklist could occur, despite the many speeches that day swearing it could never happen again.

Even so, I feel like Bette Davis at the end of “The Letter” — I’d still love to see the films I missed.  If you’d told me before Toronto started that I wouldn’t manage to see the new films from Claire Denis, Catherine Breillat, Jia Zhangke, Alex Gibney, Johnnie To, Jim Jarmusch — it’s too painful. Movies may “come in boxes,” as I said, but sometimes not soon enough for me.  

While perusing the program for the upcoming 36th Mill Valley Film Festival (October 3 through 13) I was pleased to see that I could indeed see a number of those movies-in-boxes  — well, now they’re DCPs — that I’d missed in Toronto and Telluride, including “The Past” by Asghar Farhadi, Roger Michell’s “Le Week-End,” Stephen Frears’ “Philomena,” and “The Missing Picture,” by Rithy Pan (TOH! interview here)

This year it opens with three films: Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska,” which skipped Toronto in its festival tour, “Sweetwater,” from local filmmakers the Miller Brothers, and “The Book Thief,” starring Festival honoree Geoffrey Rush. There’s a tribute to Costa-Gavras (with his new film, “Capital”), and another to Ben Stiller, whose “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” closes the show here, after its turn at the revitalized New York Film Festival. 

Mill Valley has become more and more interesting as a festival, both in its programming and surrounding events, over the decade or so that I’ve been attending.  It takes full advantage of its charming settings — in Mill Valley and San Rafael — where its venues are surrounded by varied restaurants and shops. Filmmakers seem delighted to attend, and they’re more approachable than in Toronto. Music events have become important, too, with parties and concerts laid on, appended to screenings such as “Sweet Blues: A Film about Mike Bloomfield,” and “Feed Your Head,” about the psychedelic music scene.  Looking at it one way, it’s in my own backyard, since plane trips are not involved.  But, on the other hand, daily 40 or 50-mile round trips are required — across the scenic Richmond-San Rafael bridge.  I just hope the free parking spots I’ve cultivated over the years are still available.

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