Mill Valley festival hits milestone

Event opens with 'Lust, Caution'

Hitting the 30th anniversary mark is a milestone for any film festival, particularly one that¹s been showcasing indie cinema just as long as the more buzz-about Sundance Film Festival.

While it can’t match the star power of the annual Sundance gathering in Park City, Utah, the Mill Valley Film Festival remains a homey, locally-beloved celebration of the small and adventuresome, independent-minded theatrical releases, and international cinema cherry-picked from competitive A-list fests like Cannes.

Unspooling Oct. 4-14 at various Marin County locations, MVFF¹s 30th-anniversary edition opens this Thursday with dual opening-nighters, Ang Lee¹s Focus Features period steamer “Lust, Caution” and Tamara Jenkins¹ tart Fox Searchlight seriocomedy “The Savages.”

Midfest “Centerpiece” on Oct. 11 is Michael Schroeder¹s Christopher Plummer starrer “Man in the Chair.” Official closer on Oct. 14 is forthcoming Paramount Vantage release “The Kite Runner,” Marc Forster¹s adaptation of the Khaled Hosseini international bestseller.

Rather than having retrospective programs, festival is acknowledging its three-decade history via new work by stellar alums. “Savages” star (and expected return guest) Laura Linney was honored with a career tribute in 2004.

Scenarist-turned-helmer Terry George (“Hotel Rwanda”), who gets his own trib October 10, provided 1996 closer “Some Mother¹s Son.”

Ang Lee, likewise honored Oct. 5, is an MVFF staple: His first feature “Pushing Hands” played here in ¹92. “Lust, Caution” marks the third time (following “Ice Storm” and “Ride With the Devil”) he¹s had a work selected as an opening-nighter. Final tributee is Jennifer Jason Leigh, who¹s getting some of her best notices in years as Nicole Kidman¹s put-upon sibling in real-life spouse Noah Baumbach¹s “Margot at the Wedding” (Oct. 13).

Very first festival in 1978 featured tribute to local maker John Korty, best known for classic telepics like “Go Ask Alice,” “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” and “Farewell to Manzanar.” This year he¹ll present a digital remaster of his pioneering 1966 Amerindie debut, “Crazy Quilt.

Another returning local favorite is Rob Nilsson, whose 1979 Camera d¹Or winner “Northern Lights” made its N. American bow here. He brings no less than three world premiere features: “Northern” sequel “Presque Rien,” and two more (“Used,” “Go Together”) that complete his “9@Night”series of interwoven streetwise tales developed over many years with the Tenderloin Group.

Repping another epic project¹s world preem is veteran experimentalist John Sanborn¹s nearly five-hour “365.” Other world launches are mostly in the docu category, one highlight being Eric Christensen¹s “The Trips Festival,” about the three-day 1966 San Francisco multimedia event that predated every other legendary hippie happening.

U.S. preems of note include Woody Allen¹s “Cassandra¹s Dream” and Susanne Bier¹s English-lang debut “Things We Lost in the Fire” with Halle Berry and Benicio del Toro.

As usual, MVFF — located in the Northern California county that helped seed the San Francisco rock scene of the ’60s and remains home to many musicians — is big on live-music programming. Highlights include the Marin Symphony performing Shotakovich¹s original score to Eisenstein’s projected silent masterpiece Battleship Potemkin, and a TBD lineup of musicians cover Bob Dylan tunes after Oct. 7 screening of Todd Haynes¹ Dylan quasi-bio “I¹m Not There.”

Returning sidebars include the international Children¹s FilmFest (now in its 13th year), “5@5” shorts showcases, and avant-garde “V(ision)Fest. 2007 spotlights within the World Cinema shine on new work from Romania, Germany and India.

Of greater interest to filmmaker than fan are “New Movies Lab” events that encompass various seminars (about CGI, distribution trends, women makers, etc.), as well as potential for a one-on-one consulting sessions with indie linchpin Bob Hawk offered on a strictly first-come, first-served basis.

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