Likely Academy Award contenders, Hollywood luminaries and a far-reaching range of documentaries and feature films from around the world are set to touch down at theaters and venues throughout Marin for the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival.
The 11-day event, set for Oct. 3-13, once again has attracted appearances from a number of big name stars, with Ben Stiller, Sean Penn, Geoffrey Rush, Steve McQueen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Bruce Dern, Andy Garcia, Jared Leto,Dakota Fanning, former Saturday Night Live star Will Forte, musicianThomas Dolby and Academy Award-winning French filmmaker Costa-Gavras.
In making his case for the gravitas of this year’s lineup of films, festival founder Mark Fishkin referenced some of the big-budget blockbuster films that flopped this summer.
“The audience has voted that they want a diverse selection of films – and that’s where we come in,” he said. “The audience doesn’t care about the size of the budget. They’re just about great storytelling. This reiterates our passion in everything we do to be a trusted curator. It’s a huge responsibility and we hope we live up to it.”
The festival kicks off Oct. 3 with a pair of screenings – Alexander Payne’s Nebraska and Brian Percival’s The Book Thief – with Bruce Dern and former Saturday Night Live star Will Forte appearing alongside the former, and Geoffrey Rush and Percival in person for the latter. Those screenings will be followed by the festival’s Opening Night Party at the Town Center Corte Madera.
Pointing to the 2012 MVFF’s roster of films like Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi and Argo, which each went on to garner multiple Academy Awards, Fishkin said he expected the 2013 edition to do the same.
“All of us really feel in our hearts that if we just play a tiny part in the success of these films, that’s a blessing,” Fishkin said.
One of the films gathering the most Oscar buzz this year is Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, which is based on the autobiography of the same name by Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. The film stars Ejiofor and is directed by McQueen, both of whom will appear at an Oct. 11 screening where they will each receive the MVFF Award for their work. A party follows the event at Guideboat Co., the new boat and apparel retail shop in the historic Mill Valley Lumber Yard.
“It’s a tough film but it’s devastatingly brilliant,” Zoe Elton, the festival’s programming director, said of 12 Years a Slave. “This film left me feeling changed on a cellular level in the days afterward, and I’ve never felt that before.”
One night earlier, Jared Leto, the actor and 30 Seconds to Mars frontman who’s generating plenty of buzz for his performance as a transsexual in the film Dallas Buyers Club. Leto will appear at an Oct. 10 screening of the film and receive the MVFF Award, followed by a party at Farmshop at the Marin Country Mart in Larkspur Landing.
Greek-born director Costa-Gavras is set to receive a tribute and sit down with actor and Tam Valley resident Peter Coyote for a Q&A on Oct. 4 as well as the Bay Area premiere of his latest film, Capital.
Acclaimed actors Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga are also set to appear at the festival alongside At Middleton, which tells the story of parents who meet while their respective kids are on a college admissions tour.
Dakota Fanning, whose break performance in I Am Sam at age nine put her on the map a decade ago, will receive the MVFF Award and appear at a screening of Effie Gray, director Richard Laxton’s film about “the curiously brief marriage and abrupt annulment of famed art critic John Ruskin and his ethereal child bride Effie Gray.
The festival ends with Ben Stiller, in town for a closing night tribute and a screening of his new film, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The festival’s Closing Night Party will be held at the Maple Lawn Estate at the Elks Lodge in San Rafael.
“He’s such a big star and he’s so well known for his acting that you forget that he has a significant body of work as a director as well,” Fishkin said, noting Stiller-directed movies like Tropic Thunder, Reality Bites and Zoolander.
The festival also features the U.S. premiere of a trio of star-studded films: August: Osage County starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts; Philomena, starring Judy Dench and Steve Coogan; and The Face of Love, starring Annette Benning and Ed Harris. August: Osage County director John Wells, best known for his work as executive producer and showrunner of the TV series ER and The West Wing, is set to be honored at an Oct. 8 screening of that film.
Documentaries are once again at the core of MVFF36, anchored byThe Human Experiment, a look by Los Altos-based directors Dana Nachman and Don Hardy “at a band of unlikely activists with a personal stake in testing and regulating the chemicals we encounter daily in compounded low-level exposure.” Sean Penn, the film’s executive producer and narrator, is set to appear at one of its screenings.
Stay tuned for more coverage in advance of and throughout the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival. For more info, visit the festival’s website.