Oct. 04--ON A BALMY autumn evening in Marin, the stars came out for the opening of the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival.
Academy Award winner Geoffrey Rush was among the celebrities on hand for Thursday's opening night festivities. The 62-year-old stage and screen star was here for the screening of his new movie, "The Book Thief," as was his young costar, Sophie Nelisse, and director Brian Percival.
"I have very fond memories of Mill Valley," Rush said, recalling the last time he was here, for 1996's smash hit "Shine," the movie for which he would later capture the Oscar and all the other major awards for his tour-de-force performance as a dysfunctional piano prodigy. "Mill Valley was
the first time I'd seen the film with other than an Australian audience," the native of Queensland, Australia, remarked at a press conference during a reception at Mill Valley's Outdoor Art Club. "It was a highly memorable night."
In "The Book Thief," based on Markus Zusak's best-selling novel, Rush plays a more conventional role as the adopted father of a young girl who discovers the power of books in Nazi Germany.
Bruce Dern, a craggy former Oscar nominee, was also in Mill Valley with his 43-year-old costar, Will Forte, of "Saturday Night Live" fame, for the opening night premiere of their new movie, "Nebraska," in which the 77-year-old Dern plays a cantankerous father who thinks he's won a million dollars. Forte portrays his long-suffering son.
Earlier in the year, Dern won the best actor award at Cannes for his performance in the film, directed by Alexander Payne ("Sideways," "The Descendants"), who shot it in black and white in Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota.
"Anytime you're awarded anything by anyone in this business I'm thrilled," Dern said. "At Cannes, I was thrilled and shocked."
Dern was last in Mill Valley in 1986 for "On the Edge," a film about runners directed by Tamalpais
High graduate Rob Nilsson.
"We shot that film in every area around there that there is," Dern remembered.
For Forte, who grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from Acalanes High School in Lafayette, the opening night was something of a family homecoming.
"I've lived down in Los Angeles for a long time, so it's really great to be up here," he said. "My family is here, and a lot of my friends, so it's going to be really fun to share this film with them. None of them have seen it yet."
Forte had previously starred in small budget movies like "MacGruber," a "SNL" produced critical and commercial flop.
"It's exciting for me to share something with my family that they can tell their friends about," Forte joked. "I
have subjected them in the past to things that were embarrassing, things they had to do a little explaining about to their friends."
Not everyone at the opening was starring in a mainstream movie. Mill Valley is renowned for giving an audience to small, independent films like "Contest," a feature about bullying that is part of the Children's Film Fest program.
"It's wonderful to be here, and everyone has been welcoming the film with open arms," said 17-year-old Katherine McNamara, one of its young stars. "I'm so happy that the message of this film is getting out there."
The producers of the documentary "Lion Ark" chose Mill Valley for their film's U.S. premiere. It chronicles an undercover investigation that led to a ban on animal circuses in Bolivia.
"Some of the people here have commented that we changed their lives and changed their minds about an issue that is quite serious, but said they were also actually enjoying the movie at the same time," said producer Jan Creamer, noting that the documentary will also be shown in Mill Valley schools during the festival.
"It's an amazing opportunity," Creamer said.
This was one of the most star-studded opening nights in memory, an indication that the festival is growing in reputation and stature after more than three decades in Marin. It runs for 11 days, closing Oct. 13 with a tribute to actor-director Ben Stiller. Nineteen-year-old Dakota Fanning will be honored with a spotlight presentation on Oct. 12.
"One always hopes that you're moving forward and doing more interesting things, capturing the imagination of your community," said festival founder and executive director Mark Fishkin. "In our case, our community is wedded here, but it's a broader community as well. It's international."
Contact Paul Liberatore via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
(c)2013 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)
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