Mill Valley Film Fest sets packed lineup, despite strike

Mill Valley Film Fest sets packed lineup, despite strike

While this year’s Mill Valley Film Festival might not draw as many A-list celebrities as in years past due to SAG-AFTRA strike limitations, Marin County’s annual glitzy showcase of buzzworthy indie films still offers an undeniable cinematic punch.

So much so that the fest, which announced its program this week, will open next month with a boxing-themed drama “Day of the Fight,” actor Jack Huston’s B&W feature debut. Starring Michael Pitt, Ron Perlman and Joe Pesci, it receives a North American premiere on Oct. 5 after having premiered at the Venice Film Festival.

The MVFF runs Oct. 5-15 at  venues in Mill Valley, San Rafael, Larkspur, Berkeley and San Francisco, with a lineup boasting 148 films representing 41 countries, including 56 premieres, 86 features and 62 shorts. Some 45% of all films in the 2023 Festival are directed by women.

One again, the lineup is jammed packed with awards contenders — including two Academy Award submissions for best international feature (Chile’s “The Settlers” and Germany’s “The Teacher’s Lounge” ) along with seven world premieres and a number of works pertaining to the Bay Area and created by Bay Area artists.

The bulk of the program was unveiled this week, a notable exception being the closing night feature, which will be announced at a future date.

Highlights include two high-profile (in other words, awards buzzy) Centerpiece selections. One iif

The first is Cord Jefferson’s “American Fiction,” the journalist’s and TV writer’s ambitious feature directorial debut, based on Percival Everett’s inventive novel “Erasure.” It stars Jeffrey Wright and skewers rampant businesses profiteering off Black creatives. Jefferson is slated to receive the MVFF Award for Breakthrough Directing.

The second Centerpiece Spotlight brings filmmaker Sofia Coppola to the stage for an illuminating conversation about her career and her latest feature “Priscilla,” a raved-about portrait of Priscilla Presley (Cailee Spaeny) and her relationship with rock icon Elvis (“Euphoria’s” Jacob Elordi). The director of “Lost in Translation” and “Marie Antoinette” will receive the MFF Award for filmmaking.

The fest’s three other Spotlights also center on filmmakers, including playwright turned movie director George C. Wolfe, whose biopic captures the pivotal role that civil rights icon Bayard Rustin (Colman Domingo), a gay man, played while working with Martin Luther King Jr. Wolfe will be attending and accepting the MVFF Award for Directing for his upcoming Netflix feature, “Rustin.”

Fans of “Promising Young Woman” won’t want to miss the screening of Emerald Fennell’s latest shocker about privileged lives, “Saltburn.” It stars Elordi and Barry Keoghan of “The Banshees of Inisherin” as two chums — one sinfully rich and the other not — who sojourn at a decadent family estate. Fennell, who is an actor in addition to filmmaker, will be presented the MVFF Mind the Gap Award for being the Filmmaker of the Year.

The other Spotlight shines on indie auteur Jeff Nichols, the filmmaker who hasn’t made one bad film in his entire career. He brings his much-anticipated “Bikeriders” to the festival. The based on a true story drama concerns a Chicago biker gang called the Vandals and features a dynamite cast including Jodie Comer, Austin Butler and Tom Hardy. And, yes, Nicholas regular Michael Shannon appears  in it too.

As for the directors’ nights, Bay Area favorite Jimmy Chin and his directing and producing collaborator Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi come to the area to present their first narrative feature, the inspiring Netflix dramatization about brave and tenacious swimmer Diana Nyad and her athletic pursuit to become the first person, at age 64, to swim from Cuba to Florida minus the cover of a shark cage. “Nyad” stars Annette Bening and Jodie Foster. Also being honored is up-and-coming Native American filmmaker Erica Tremblay, who will be discussing her Sundance Film Festival critical darling “Fancy Dance,” a debut that taps into various genres (drama, thriller, road picture) to address potent issues confronting the Indigenous community.

The festival’s two tributes include the presentation of the Mind the Gap Visionary award to influential artist and Bay Area filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson, whose unconventional contributions to the feminist conversation and her cutting-edge ideas, which include concepts around AI, continue to inspire and make us think. Leeson’s thought-provoking “Cyborgian Rhapsody” series will be screened, including its latest installment written and performed by a Cyborg — GPT-3 Chatbot.

What’s almost a certain sellout (so get those tickets as soon as they are available) will be a joint tribute to indie fave filmmaker Todd Haynes and producer Christine Vachon. They’re bringing their Netflix comedic melodrama “May December” starring Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore and Charles Melton.

Tickets to the general public go on sale Sept. 12 while California Film Institute members can begin purchasing theirs Sept. 8.

For a complete list of the films and program, visit https://www.mvff.com/