Stars shine at Bay Area film fest

MILL VALLEY — The 29th Mill Valley Film Festival is a starry affair this year, with thesps from Helen Mirren to Billy Bob Thornton expected to make the trek.

Mirren gets a tribute program accompanied by a screening of “The Queen” on Saturday. On Sunday, director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu will discuss his past features (“Amores perros,” “21 Grams”) and show his latest, “Babel.”

Thursday’s opening-night screening of “Breaking and Entering” saw producer Sydney Pollack and thesp Robin Wright Penn in attendance. And Forest Whitaker came out for the co-opener, “The Last King of Scotland.”

Celeb power continues with an in-person tribute to Tim Robbins on Wednesday and Oct. 15’s closing-night world preem of the Polish brothers’ “The Astronaut Farmer,” with stars Thornton and Virginia Madsen plus the directors in attendance.

The fest offers a lot of cineaste substance behind the high-profile fare. Encompassing work from 43 countries, the 2006 bill offers 104 features, including 13 world preems and 18 U.S. bows. Those premieres are heavy on docus and indies, both longtime MVFF staples.

Among promised highlights are Oscar-winning documentarian Connie Field’s (“Rosie the Riveter,” “Freedom on My Mind”) new South African history piece “Have You Heard of Johannesburg?”; mob comedy “Johnny Slade’s Greatest Hits,” featuring a host of “Sopranos” alumni; two dramas from longtime Bay Area-based helmer Rob Nilsson, “Opening” and “Pan”; “Cine Manifest,” Judy Irola’s docu about the influential 1970s filmmaking collective she and Nilsson belonged to; and “Drifting Elegant,” Amy Glazer’s adaptation of a play by Stephen Belber (“Tape”) that pushes current racial hot-buttons.

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