News Column

Big names, ideas at 36th Mill Valley Film Festival

September 11, 2013

YellowBrix

Sept. 11--Actress Dakota Fanning is 19, but has an old soul. Renowned director Costa-Gavras is 80, and is still the young rebel at heart.

Age is never an issue at the Mill Valley Film Festival, but ideas and viewpoints are. Whether they're accomplished masters or rising young stars -- or mid-career successes with much more ahead -- the idea is to nurture artists.

Fanning and Costa-Gavras are two of the film luminaries being feted at the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival, which opens Oct. 3 with Alexander Payne's "Nebraska," with Bruce Dern and Will Forte in attendance, and Brian Percival's "The Book Thief," part of a special tribute to actor Geoffrey Rush, it was announced Tuesday in San Francisco.

"We had Geoffrey here in 1996 for 'Shine,' " said festival co-director Zoe Elton. "So it's like a coming home. ... We like to look at people at a particular time in their career. Dakota Fanning, for example, has her first adult starring role. She plays the young bride in a scandalous marriage."

The festival closes Oct. 13 with "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," part of a tribute to its writer-director-star, Ben Stiller.

"People think of him as a comedian, but people forget he's a talented director, and this is probably the largest palette he has worked with," festival co-director Mark Fishkin said.

In between there is that tribute to Costa-Gavras (to be interviewed onstage by activist-actor Peter Coyote), best known for the 1969 political assassination thriller, "Z," who brings his new film, "Capital" (Oct. 4); and spotlights on actor Jared Leto ("Dallas Buyers Club," Oct. 10); director Steve McQueen and actor Chiwetel Ejiofor ("12 Years a Slave," Oct. 11); and Fanning, the onetime child star who transitions into a mature actress in the Victorian era-set "Effie Gray" (Oct. 12) written by Emma Thompson.

"We're really thrilled about Costa-Gavras," Elton said. "He's one of the seminal filmmakers of his generation. 'Z' was a game-changing film in many ways. His new film, 'Capital,' continues his engaged way of making films. It's a filmic version of a page-turner."

Special premieres Oct. 12 of "Middleton" will draw Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga and "Beside Still Waters," an ensemble piece by writer-director Chris Lowell.

In all, there are 152 films (88 features, 64 shorts) from more than 50 countries, including 22 Bay Area-produced feature films.

The entertainment's not all projected on screens. There are several live music performances, including one by Thomas Dolby (Oct. 10), and musicians in a tribute to the late Mike Bloomfield, plus various performers at the ASCAP Music Cafe in Mill Valley (Oct. 4-6). There are also panel discussions, including those on the state of independent cinema and the opportunities for women in film.

Bloomfield, the Bay Area blues guitarist who died in 1981 at age 37, is the subject of a documentary that plays at Mill Valley, "Sweet Blues: A Film About Mike Bloomfield." He was a fan of the Mill Valley Film Festival in its early years, and had he lived, he'd be the type of artist due for tribute about now.

"When I ran the Saturday Night Movie, which was the first venue for the Mill Valley Film Festival, he used to come in before the show and sit down at this old upright Steinway we had and entertain the audience," Fishkin said. "That was what it was like in Mill Valley at that time. It's part of the whole culture here."

That's the idea.

G. Allen Johnson is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: ajohnson@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @BRfilmsAllen

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