News Column

Ben Stiller leads cast of stars coming to 36th Mill Valley Film Festival

September 10, 2013

YellowBrix

Sept. 10--Ben Stiller, Bruce Dern, Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush, Dakota Fanning, Sean Penn, Andy Garcia and young heartthrob Jared Leto head a stellar cast of A-list talent bringing a touch of Hollywood to Marin County from Oct. 3 to 13, the 11 days of the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival.

This year's tributes, spotlight nights, events and lineup of films, including 68 premieres, 40 of which are U.S., North American or world premieres, were to be detailed at a press conference Tuesday at Dolby Laboratories in San Francisco.

"These films aren't playing in a lot of places," said festival founder and executive director Mark Fishkin. "We're fortunate to have them."

Dern, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his role

in 1978's "Coming Home," will be on hand for the opening night film, "Nebraska," along with co-star Will Forte. Dern stars as a coercive patriarch in the movie, directed by Alexander Payne ("The Descendants," "Sideways").

"He won the best acting award at Cannes," Fishkin noted.

Stiller, the "acknowledged leader" of the Frat Pack, a group of fellow actor-comedians that includes Jack Black, Will Ferrell and Steve Carell, will introduce the closing night movie, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," which he directed and stars in. Making his first visit to the festival, he'll appear at screenings at the Rafael Film Center and the CineArts@Sequoia in Mill Valley. He will be interviewed onstage at the Rafael and presented with a festival award.

"He's a huge star, but I think people forget what a talented director he is," Fishkin said, noting that Stiller has directed such films as "Tropic Thunder," "Reality Bites" and "Zoolander." "I think this is his breakthrough film as a director."

One of a handful of stars to have won the triple crown of acting -- an Oscar, Tony and Emmy -- Rush will be a guest at the world premiere of the second opening night movie, "The Book Thief," a drama about the power of literature set in Nazi Germany in 1938. Rush, last in Mill Valley in 1994 when he won the Academy Award for "Shine," will be accompanied by his young co-star, Sophie Nelisse, and director Brian Percival, an Emmy winner for his direction of public TV's "Downton Abbey."

"This film has never been shown before," Fishkin said. "They're rushing to finish it."

Jared Leto and Dakota Fanning will be honored with "spotlight" presentations of their new films. In "Dallas Buyers Club," which is based on a true story, the 41-year-old Leto plays a transsexual woman turned international meds smuggler opposite Matthew McConaughey, who lost 50 pounds for his role as a homophobic cowboy turned accidental AIDS activist.

"Both those roles were so physically

demanding and intense," Fishkin said. "We were so taken with this film."

Fanning, a former child star who is now 19, stars in "Effie Gray," playing the title role of the underage bride of scandalous Victorian era art critic John Ruskin. This is Fanning's second visit to the festival. She was here in 2008 for "The Secret Life of Bees" when she was 14.

"This film is her first adult role," Fishkin said, noting that his film is also based on real events.

Andy Garcia and co-star Vera Farmiga will be at the festival for the premiere of "At Middleton," in which they play parents who meet while their kids are on a college admissions tour.

Former Marin resident Sean Penn joins directors Don Hardy and Dana Nachman for the world premiere of "The Human Experiment," a documentary he narrates about a group of activists in a David and Goliath battle against the chemical industry.

The festival will honor the esteemed French director Costa-Gavras with an Oct. 4 tribute and on-stage conversation moderated by Marin actor Peter Coyote. It will be followed by a screening of his film "Capital."

"At 80 years old, he's a major international figure," Fishkin said. "We grew up with his films 'Z' and 'Missing' and 'State of Seige' that played such a big part in our film history as well as our politics."

Director Steve McQueen and actor Chiwetel Ejiofor will be presented with festival awards for "12 Years a Slave," a true story of a free black man abducted and sold

into slavery in 1841.

"The reviews of this film couldn't be much better," Fishkin said. "It's an important, but incredibly entertaining film."

The festival's tradition of films about music accompanied by live performances continues with the U.S. premiere of "The Invisible Lighthouse," the directorial debut of musician and songwriter Thomas Dolby. Dolby will play the film score live with Grammy winner Don Was, film composer Marck Isham, cellist Zoe Keating, Mill Valley singer-songwriter Dan Hicks and Marin Grammy winner Narada Michael Walden.

Former Mill Valley resident Michael Bloomfield's short but stunning career is the subject of the film "Sweet Blues" by director Bob Sarles and Christina Keating. A tribute concert at Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley features Conan O'Brien, music director Jimmy Vivino, Barry Goldberg of Electric Flag fame and bluesman and former Bloomfield cohort Nick Gravenites, among others.

Once again, Village Music's John Goddard hosts his popular "Hi De Ho Show." This time he'll show videos celebrating the 50th anniversary of the British Invasion.

A documentary about Arhoolie Records founder Chris Strachwitz, "This Ain't No Mouse Music," will be followed by a concert at Sweetwater hosted by music critic Joel Selvin and featuring Eric and Suzy Thompson, Los Cenzontles and Creole Belles.

The Children's Filmfest, a kind of festival within a festival, boasts its first 3-D movie, "Wickie and the Treasure of the Gods."

Local films include "In the Cobbler's Shoes," a documentary by director David Marks about beloved Mill Valley shoe repairman Misak Pirinjian; "Toxic Hot Seat," an expose of dangerous flame retardants by Fairfax filmmaker Jamie Redford; and director David L. Brown's "Keeper of the Beat: A Woman's Journey Into the Heart of Drumming," about 67-year-old Marin drummer Barbara Borden.

Other local films are "Return of the Jedi" by Richard Marquand of Nicasio; "Greed," by San Anselmo director Liam Hughes; "Naples Yellow," by San Anselmo director Tylor Norwood; "Laugh Clown Laugh" and "Yukon Kings" by San Rafael's Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee; "John Brown's Body at San Quentin Prison," by Bernal Heights resident Joe De Francesco; "The New Environmentalists," by Marin's Will Parinello, John Antonelli and Tom Dusenbery; "Unfair Game: The Politics of Poaching," by John Antonelli and Mill Valley Film Group, and "Hans," by director Harris Cohen of Tiburon.

Tickets can be bought online at mvff.com.

Contact Paul Liberatore via email at liberatore@marinij.com

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(c)2013 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)

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