Fest sets attendance record as talent abounds

MILL VALLEY — Despite the chill induced by current events, the 24th Mill Valley Film Festival posted its largest attendance figures ever as it closed Sunday. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the 11-day event wound up as the fest’s starriest sesh to date, notwithstanding several cancellations brought on by the uneasy travel/political climate.

Well over half the 182 programs sold out, with final tally of approximately 43,000 attendees repping a healthy increase over prior record of 40,000 patrons.

Tribute highlights included appearances by producer-helmer Ismail Merchant, whose V.S. Naipaul adaptation “The Mystic Masseur” was an opening night feature; an Oct. 10 salute to veteran funnyman Jonathan Winters, featuring a surprise drop-in visit by his erstwhile “Mork & Mindy” “son” Robin Williams; plus other evenings honoring thesp William H. Macy and song lyricists Marilyn and Alan Bergman.

An Oct. 11 tribute to Brit actor Malcolm McDowell, complete with screening of his career-making ’71 Kubrick pic “A Clockwork Orange,” brought out the local film royalty: Star was interviewed onstage by fellow thesp Peter Coyote, while Marin residents Sean Penn and Robin Wright Penn were in the aud.

Other notable guests includedArliss Howard and Debra Winger, whose co-starring vehicle “Big Bad Love” reps his feature directorial debut and her return to active screen duty after a near-decade’s absence. Delroy Lindo turned up for “Heist,” the new David Mamet ensembler, while “Friends” star Matt LeBlanc and Brit standup-thesp Eddie Izzard were on hand to promote WWII comedy “All the Queen’s Men.”

Official closing night pics — the Coen brothers’ “The Man Who Wasn’t There” and Ray Lawrence’s thriller “Lantana” — played opposite Robert Connolly’s corporate-intriguer “The Bank.”

Characteristic of the Marin County event’s offbeat audience tastes was the strong response given several Children’s Filmfest titles — especially U.S. “Christmas in the Clouds,” Kiwi period piece “Her Majesty” and U.K. “There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble.”

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