Legends, laidback vibe infuse Mill Valley fest

Bay Area confab fetes Bening, Inarritu, Norton

When its 33rd annual edition bows Thursday, the Mill Valley Film Festival will offer a mix heavy on indie pics, documentaries and local product as well as features cherrypicked from festivals and around the world.

But the event also reliably brings laidback Marin County a big dose of film-biz glamour.

“We were fortunate that when we started out as a small fest we had the support of big filmmakers and were able to show early works by Coppola, Philip Kaufman and so forth,” says festival founder and director Mark Fishkin. “We have the ambiance of a destination festival, the clout of an urban festival in proximity to San Francisco and L.A., and we’re in a beautiful area.”

This year will feature tributes to one-time Bay Area stage regular Annette Bening, onscreen most recently with “The Kids Are All Right;” frequent past MVFF visitor Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who’ll bring his Javier Bardem starrer “Biutiful;” and Edward Norton, repping Overture’s thriller “Stone” with Robert De Niro.

Bay Area native Sam Rockwell is expected to be on hand in support of the fact-based Fox Searchlight drama “Conviction,” which shares the opening-night slot with the Weinstein Co.’s “The King’s Speech,” with helmer Tom Hooper (“The Damned United”) present. Director Danny Boyle and thesp James Franco (another native son) also are Marin County-bound, for the wilderness survival drama “127 Hours.”

Other notable guests include Julian Schnabel with featured Centerpiece pic “Miral.” Official closer on Oct. 17 is John Madden’s new Miramax release “The Debt” toplining Helen Mirren and Sam Worthington.

The fest has a high batting average of highlighting Oscar contenders, from Ang Lee (whose very first and numerous subsequent features showed at the festival) through “The Piano” and “Shine” to “The Queen” and “Precious.”

“We have had a very consistent lucky streak that’s been pointed out to us a number of times,” Fishkin says. “You always love to think it’s (due to) your great taste.”

Less starry but equally popular highlights returning to MVFF are the Children’s Filmfest sidebar, “5@5” discount shorts programs, an array of live musical events and several industry panels.

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