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By Film Threat Staff | September 18, 2008

The 31st Mill Valley Film Festival kicks off October 2 and runs through October 12, 2008, offering more than 200 films – many of them world premieres – from over 50 countries. Presented by the California Film Institute, the Mill Valley Film Festival is considered by many independent filmmakers, distribution companies and movie lovers as a launching pad for the upcoming Oscar campaign as well as one of the most highly-regarded showcases for independent and world cinema. Continuing a tradition of championing narrative features and documentaries from around the world, the Mill Valley Film Festival offers a cornucopia of worldwide delights with a spotlight on race, religion and politics.

The Mill Valley Film Festival takes place at the CinéArts@Sequoia, (25 Throckmorton Ave. in Mill Valley), the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (1118 Fourth St. in San Rafael) and other venues throughout the Bay Area. Opening and Closing night galas as well as parties and musical events are held in venues throughout Marin.

The 2008 Festival opens with two films focusing on the meaning of life, one irreverent and one poignant. In RELIGULOUS, director Larry Charles leads Politically Incorrect comedian Bill Maher on a worldwide campaign to debunk organized religion, resulting in hilarious and occasionally unnerving results. THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES, with a star-studded cast including Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Hudson and Dakota Fanning, is director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s tender tale about the mysteries of beekeeping, friendship, life and love. The Festival will close with a tribute to one of America’s great actresses, Alfre Woodard, and the screening of AMERICAN VIOLET, in which she stars as a mother who refuses to allow her daughter to be railroaded by a justice system that refuses to allow justice for all. The second closing night film is LEMON TREE, another powerful examination of female inner strength. From Israel, it explores the relationship between two lonely wives, one Israeli and one Palestinian, as they gravitate to each other in the face of patriarchal pressure and overwhelming social expectations.

Tributes and Spotlight
This year’s festival pays tribute to three talented thespians, a master screenwriter and a legendary filmmaker. On closing night, October 12, MVFF features a Tribute to Alfre Woodard, a program of clips and conversation with the accomplished American actress and a screening of her latest film, Tim Disney’s AMERICAN VIOLET. A Tribute to Harriet Andersson on October 10 pays homage to the legendary Swedish actress and one of the key players in Ingmar Bergman’s cinematic universe. An onstage conversation with Harriet Andersson about her career will include clips from her work with Ingmar Bergman and others. Following the interview will be a screening of Bergman’s classic film, THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY. On October 11, screenwriter Eric Roth (FORREST GUMP, MUNICH) will be honored with A Tribute To Eric Roth, featuring clips from his illustrious career as well as his latest film, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON. An onstage interview with Roth onstage and BENJAMIN BUTTON co-star Taraji P. Henson will follow. On Tuesday, October 7, MVFF will present A Tribute to Paul Schrader, featuring clips, conversation with the man himself followed by a screening of his newest film, ADAM RESURRECTED. Last but not least is the Mill Valley Spotlight Tribute to Sally Hawkins, star of the new Mike Leigh film, HAPPY-GO-LUCKY. The program will include a screening of the film, an onstage interview with Sally Hawkins and a presentation of the MVFF Spotlight Award. Mike Leigh will also attend.

Workshops and Seminars
New Movies Lab is the Mill Valley Film Festival’s ongoing program that encourages Festival-goers to interact with filmmakers and industry professionals to learn about both the beauty and business of film. On Saturday, October 4, acclaimed director Joe Wright (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, ATONEMENT) will hold a master class, discussing his ideas and techniques as he gives attendees a first look at selected excerpts from his newest film THE SOLOIST, starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. Also on October 4, producers Jonathan Dana, Ron Yerxa and Danielle Renfrew will examine the endangered future of independent film with a panel discussion entitled Independent Film: Why the Panic? Prominent players across a broad range of environmental, social and human rights causes lead the Active Cinema Roundtable, which looks into the funding and creation of socially conscious or issue-driven films. The discussion will be moderated by Janet Visick (Ashoka: Innovators for the public), and the panel is comprised of Charles Annenberg Weingarten (Filmmaker, Annenberg Foundation Trustee), Almir Narayamoga Surui (Environmentalist, political activist, tribal chief), Vasco van Roosmalen (Amazon Conservation Team), Jenny Yancey (YouthGive) and Weezie Yancey-Siegel (YouthGive). The mysterious and delicate relationship between Cinematographer and Director will be explored in a panel discussion with invited guests Janusz Kaminski, Oscar-winning cinematographer of SCHINDLER’S LIST and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and Ellen Kuras, three-time winner of the Sundance Festival’s Best Dramatic Cinematography Award for SWOON, ANGELA and PERSONAL VELOCITY.

Tuesday Night Comedy with Mark Pitta and Friends
Mark your calendars for Tuesdays, and join the fun at Tuesday Night Comedy with Mark Pitta and Friends on October 7 at 8:00pm. Mark Pitta hosts an evening for established headliners and up-and-coming comics to work on new material. The acts are always changing – you may see five comics, an improv group, a comedy video or a scene from a new play in progress. Special guest appearances are not unusual. There’s no telling what’s in store so come and find out for yourselves! Ages 18 and over unless accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

Ingmar Bergman Exhibition
On Friday, October 10, Mill Valley Film Festival unveils a special exhibition and multimedia installation at the Smith Rafael Film Center entitled INGMAR BERGMAN: The Man Who Asked Hard Questions. Presented in association with the MVFF Tribute to Harriet Andersson, the exhibition allows visitors to encounter the multifaceted universe of one of the world’s greatest filmmakers who explored religious, moral and existential questions in film masterpieces such as THE SEVENTH SEAL, THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY, PERSONA and CRIES AND WHISPERS.

World Cinema
HAPPY-GO-LUCKY (UK) is renowned director Mike Leigh’s new effervescent comedy, starring Sally Hawkins as the unforgettable Poppy, an irrepressibly free-spirited schoolteacher who brings an infectious laugh and an unsinkable sense of optimism to every situation she encounters as a single woman in London. Sally Hawkins will receive a special MVFF Award and will be the subject of a Spotlight program at this year’s festival.

Also included in the program are two great films. THE WAVE (Dennis Gansel, Germany), a cautionary drama about the roots of fascism and a social experiment gone awry, is based on an actual event from a Palo Alto high school in 1967. CAPTAIN ABU RAED (Amin Natakga, Jordan) is about an elderly airport janitor who, mistaken for a pilot, spins tales of adventure, daring and hope to a group of imaginative, impoverished youth.

Children’s FilmFest
The 14th Annual Children’s FilmFest kicks things off with a wide range of films from around the world. Opening the festival on October 4 is NOCTURNA, a Spanish film about things that go bump in the night. Following the film will be the Children’s FilmFest Opening Party, at the Outdoor Art Club. The festival will close on October 11 with the 10:30 am screening of TERRA, a cautionary sci-fi adventure that depicts humans as alien invaders. Afterwards, join MVFF on the Kazoo Parade to local café Double Rainbow for free ice cream!

In SYNCHING BLUE (Seo Wontae, US), an alienated young man meets his “match” in the form of an equally awkward young woman who frequents a public pool at night, performing synchronized swimming routines for an imaginary audience. The gentle humor of Jacques Tati and Charlie Chaplin permeate this unusual, quietly moving and funny feature debut.

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