The secret life of trees: Israeli-Palestinian story "Lemon Tree" plays closing night at the 31st Mill Valley Film Festival. (Photo courtesy MVFF)

Mill Valley's 31st Program

Susan Gerhard September 10, 2008

With enthusiasm for the state of independent filmmaking as well as enthusiasm for activism in both the U.S. and the world, the Mill Valley Film Festival introduced its 31st program to the press Tuesday morning at Dolby Labs.

"There’s been a lot of discussion that the sky is falling in the independent film business," said Mill Valley’s Festival Director, Mark Fishkin. "But from what we have seen this year, the state of independent film is very healthy."

Fishkin and Zoë Elton, MVFF’s Director of Programming, Karen Davis, Senior Programmer, as well as programmer Janis Plotkin offered clips and information on a portion of the 200 films from 50 countries playing Oct. 2-12, 2008, at North Bay venues.

The Festival opens with two films: the Larry Charles-directed Bill Maher-fueled Religulous, which is sure to intrigue election-season viewers, and The Secret Life of Bees, with Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Hudson and Dakota Fanning. The Festival closes with Lemon Tree, an exploration of the relationship between two women—one an Israeli, the other a Palestinian—and a tribute to Alfre Woodard along with a screening of American Violet. Other tributees include Paul Schrader (with a screening of his latest, Adam Resurrected), Eric Roth (with a screening of The Curious Cast of Benjamin Button), Harriet Andersson (with a screening of Ingmar Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly) and Sally Hawkins (with the new Mike Leigh film, Happy-Go-Lucky).

MVFF’s programmers introduced a new initiative this year with "Active Cinema: A Creative Social Action Network," which hopes to connect inspired audiences with those actually doing the social change work. This year, both Children of the Amazon and Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai look at the importance of trees, and are accompanied by a tree planting with Friends of the Urban Forest and Goodscapes. Elton also mentioned the Festival has "a couple of other ways we can turn ideas into deeds" with its Cinema Sports make-your-own-film program and its Active Cinema Roundtable.

Likewise, political films were emphasized. Said Fishkin, "The difference between a good film and a great film is that a great film has something to say."

Senior programmer Karen Davis called two documentary features in particular "not-to-be-missed, stunning pieces of work:" Quique Cruz’s Archeology of Memory, which brings a Chilean musician now living in the Bay Area back to the site of his South American incarceration under Pinochet, and Denis Zmekhol’s Children of the Amazon, which looks at what’s become of a young generation of Brazilian rainforest inhabitants after 15 years.

Janis Plotkin introduced the world cinema programming, which, this year, features Ireland, southern Africa, Asia, and Poland as filmmaking hotspots. From Poland alone, Andrzej Wadja’s Katyn, Andrzej Jakimowski’s Tricks and Janusz Kaminski’s Hania are featured.

The Festival’s annually strong children’s programming and shorts continue, and its annual musical surprise this year is a live "salute" to legendary sessions players, The Wrecking Crew, to go with the rock-doc playing the fest.

The Bay Area is well represented in the program with Rob Nilsson returning to MVFF with his new Frank Dead Souls, James Savoca, with Around June, the world premiere of Bill Chayes and Chuck Olin’s Call it Home: Searching for Truth on Bolinas Lagoon, and more.

The complete schedule can be found at Mill Valley’s web site.

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