Since its inception in 1978, the Mill Valley Film Festival has been making October an especially special time to be in Marin. Many details have changed over the years. The event grew longer incrementally, starting at three days and going to 11 in 1992. Festival timing also moved from August to September to October due to the success of Jaws and Star Wars — these films sparked the “summer blockbuster” and it was necessary to move the dates accordingly.
But much remains the same, like founder Mark Fishkin’s unwavering commitment to excellence and prescience when it comes to selecting winners. Countless actors, directors and films have gone on to nab Hollywood’s highest honors after making appearances here, and this year looks to be no exception.
Here are some of the programming highlights from MVFF 44.
Featured Photo: The French Dispatch film still
Opening Night: Cyrano
When: Thursday, October 7, 6pm, Smith Rafael Film Center + CinéArts Sequoia
Cyrano (Peter Dinklage) is a gifted poet and skilled duelist who secretly loves the beautiful Roxanne (Haley Bennett) but believes himself unlovable. After she confides in him her passion for the handsome cadet Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), Cyrano ghostwrites love letters to Roxanne on behalf of the tongue-tied suitor. The Opening Night program features a screening of Cyrano and an onstage conversation with director Joe Wright.
Opening Night Gala
When: Thursday, October 7, 9pm—11pm, Marin Country Mart
MVFF kicks off with a buzzy, highly-anticipated gala celebrating the glamor of cinema and the beauty of Marin. Expect delicious local cuisine, great music and flowing spirits shared with attending special guests, filmmakers and fans.
MVFF Music: Like a Rolling Stone: Ben Fong-Torres
When: Sunday, October 10, Film 5pm | Doors 7pm | Show 8pm
Elton John, Carlos Santana, Quincy Jones, Bob Weir and Steve Martin are all part of Like a Rolling Stone: The Life and Times of Ben Fong-Torres, the new film based on his life and career. Ben will be in attendance, doing his almost infamous Elvis and Dylan impressions.
Spotlight: Denis Villeneuve
When: Wednesday, October 13, 6pm, Smith Rafael Film Center
Director Denis Villeneuve shot to international acclaim with Incendies, his star rising ever since. He received his first Oscar nomination for Arrival (MVFF 2016). With Dune, his hotly anticipated adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic novel, Villeneuve seems destined for another. The Spotlight program features an onstage conversation with Denis Villeneuve, a screening of Dune, and the presentation of the MVFF Award.
Special Screening: Passing
When: Thursday, October 14, 6:30pm, Smith Rafael Film Center (Special screening)
Friday, October 15, 2pm, Smith Rafael Film Center
Friday, October 15, 3pm, CinéArts Sequoia
Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga deliver their most powerful performances to date in this exquisitely nuanced drama centered on one form of Black resistance to the Jim Crow one-drop rule (“passing as white”), and the complexities of privilege and sacrifice that follow. MVFF will honor Passing producer Nina Yang Bongiovi (also of Fruitvale Station, Sorry to Bother You) with a 2021 Mind the Gap Award, Independent Producer of the Year. Following the screening, director Rebecca Hall and actor Ruth Negga will be in conversation with Faridah Gbadamosi.
Active Cinema: Reflection: A Walk with Water
When: Thursday, October 14, 7pm, Smith Rafael Film Center
Friday, October 15, 4pm, Smith Rafael Film Center
Hope is the surprising emotional core of Sebastopol-based filmmaker Emmett Brennan’s poetic and soulful essay on the perilous state of California’s water ecosystems. Director Emmett Brennan and camera operator Sashwa Burrous will be in attendance for an onstage conversation.
Spotlight: The Lost Daughter
When: Saturday, October 16, 6pm, Smith Rafael Film Center
Maggie Gyllenhaal (MVFF Mind the Gap Award, 2018) adapts Elena Ferrante’s 2006 novel, in which a vacationing professor’s concern for a young mother triggers an uneasy reckoning with her own volatile introduction to parenthood. Oscar-winner Olivia Colman commands in the prickly lead role, effortlessly navigating a tempestuous sea of subtext. Spotlight program features a screening of The Lost Daughter, an onstage conversation with writer-director Maggie Gyllenhaal and producers Osnat Handelsman-Keren and Talia Kleinhendler, and the presentation of the MVFF Ensemble Award.
Strands: The Velvet Underground
When: Sunday, October 17, 12pm, Smith Rafael Film Center
Who better to pay tribute to the Velvet Underground than Todd Haynes (MVFF Tribute, 2017)? The filmmaker who gave an abundance of Dylans in I’m Not There (MVFF 2007) and the glam-rock freak out Velvet Goldmine turns his attention to the V.U. in his first documentary, charting everything from Lou Reed and John Cale’s early musical collaborations to the group’s early-’70s dissolution.
Closing Night: The French Dispatch
When: Sunday, October 17, 5pm, Smith Rafael Film Center + CinéArts Sequoia
With The French Dispatch, Wes Anderson pays homage to the literary world of The New Yorker, imagining the rich history of a long-running fictional American publication in France by way of vignettes about different writers at work on their most enduring pieces. Actor Stephen Park will be in attendance for an onstage conversation.
Closing Night Party
When: 8pm-10pm, Mill Valley Lumber Yard
Cause who doesn’t love a party.