Indies, kudos magnets on festival's table
SAN FRANCISCO — The Mill Valley Film Festival has kept the focus on American indies since 1978. But with an array of prize winners from earlier fests screening, it’s also starting to look like kudos season preview, Northern California edition.The 11-day event opens Thursday and unspools at various Marin County venues through Oct. 18. Fest will pay tribute to Jason Reitman, whose “Up in the Air” receives its U.S. premiere, as well as to Woody Harrelson, Uma Thurman and Clive Owen. Kickoff Thursday offers two sharply contrasting tales of family life. Lionsgate’s Sundance pickup and subsequent Toronto prize winner “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” will provide the brute force, with helmer Lee Daniels and star Gabourey Sidibe in attendance. On the sentimental side, there’s Miramax release “The Boys Are Back,” with Owen atypically cast in a warm single-parenting piece. Scott Hicks, whose Oscar-winning “Shine” opened the fest in ’96, will appear with the lead thesp, who’ll stick around for a Friday trib featuring a screening of his breakthrough pic, 1998’s “Croupier.” Next evening brings Thurman’s spotlight, as thesp is feted along with Sundance-preemed vehicle “Motherhood,” Katherine Dieckmann’s more comic take on frazzled solo parenthood. The following week brings the Oct. 15 tribute to Harrelson, who’ll be accompanied by director Oren Moverman and co-star Ben Foster of Berlin Silver Bear-winning military drama “The Messenger.” Music also gets a spotlight, with live concerts in conjunction with music docus “Soundtrack for a Revolution,” “Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense” and “Meredith Monk: Inner Voice.” Vet thesp Seymour Cassel will discuss “Character Acting From Cassavetes to Now” with Bay Area director Rob Nilsson on Oct. 14, while seminars scattered throughout sked include Henry Selick on “The Art of ‘Coraline’ ” and the inevitable panel on specialty distribution’s future. World preem features include the prolific Nilsson’s latest (“Imbued,” with headliner Stacy Keach attending), plus U.S.-Australia co-prod “Passengers,” gritty local drama “Tenderloin,” ’30s espionage tale “The Red Machine” and docus “Project Happiness” and “Race to Nowhere.” Gala closers are an upstairs/downstairs pair of Britpics: Ken Loach’s working-class comedy “Looking for Eric” and Jean-Marc Vallee’s plush costumer “The Young Victoria,” with latter’s star Emily Blunt present. A late program addition on opening night is Dimension’s Cormac McCarthy adaptation “The Road,” as an injury forced postponement of Nouvelle Vague icon Anna Karina’s tribute. Her directorial feature debut, “Victoria,” will screen as planned on Oct. 16.