The Mill Valley Film Festival Goes to La La Land

With Ewan MacGregor and Nicole Kidman reuniting in time for a screening of Moulin Rouge!

Dev Patel in Lion

Gael Garcia Bernal, Aaron Eckhart, Ewan MacGregor and Nicole Kidman all plan on showing up in Marin for the Mill Valley Film Festival, with Kidman getting a tribute to her career and presenting her new movie where she plays the mother of an adopted boy, Lion.

That’s quite a lineup. With those actors being spotlighted along with appearances from filmmakers like Julie Dash, who made the first feature film by an African-American woman in 1991, Daughters of the Dust, the Mill Valley Film Festival still has plenty of vitality, vibrancy, and innovation in its 39th year, says Zoe Elton, the director of programing.

Recently, Elton and Mark Fishkin, who founded the festival in 1977, talked about what they’re excited about with the 201 movies from 37 countries this year. And that’s pretty much all of it.

On opening night, as usual, the festival screens two movies, La La Land, a musical about Hollywood with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone — who’s expected to attend — and The Arrival, with Amy Adams (also expected to be there) as a linguistics professor. For the closing night, they will screen Loving, a story of the couple who sparked the 1967 civil rights Supreme Court case about the right to marry.

From Daughters of the Dust
From Daughters of the Dust


In between those two nights, there’s plenty else to see, Elton and Fishkin promised, with films at six theaters in Marin. With both Kidman and MacGregor in town, Elton said they couldn’t resist adding of screening of Moulin Rouge!, a film the two actors  starred in 15 years ago. It will be shown at Century Cinema Corte Madera, soon destined to be a Scandinavian Designs. That theater will also host a screening of a trilogy of the first Star Wars movies, where the movies first played when they came out.

Elton, who said their year is marked by travel to various festivals, such as Sundance in January and Berlin in February, recalled that at a screening of Toni Erdmann at the Berlin festival, the audience broke into spontaneous cheers and applause. She and Fishkin showed clips of some of the movies coming to the festival, including You’re Killing Me, Susana with Bernal, who is also starring in Neruda, playing a police detective tracking the Chilean poet. Another clip they showed was of Ella Brennan: Commanding The Table, a documentary about the woman who changed American cuisine by ombining French food and Louisiana creole. Fishkin says he’s proud of the documentary program, which this year includes The Eagle Hunter, about a 13-year-old girl in Mongolia who wants to be the first female to hunt with eagles; Jim Jarmusch’s Gimme Danger, about Iggy Pop and The Stooges; and Do Not Resist, about the militarization of the police.

“We have such strong programming in documentaries,” Fishkin said. “On TV things are all about sound bites, and to have a thoughtful documentary really delving into issues is so rewarding and important.”

Elton said a lot of cannabis puns — I’m guessing “smoke screens” has been used a few times — have been flying around the office with not one, not two, but three movies focusing on marijuana: the American coming of age feature, Green Is Gold; the Israeli One Week and a Day, a comedy about grief; and the documentary Rolling Papers, about recreational marijuana being legalized in Colorado.

The festival also includes panels, master classes and music at the Sweetwater in Mill Valley.

Mill Valley Film Festival, Oct. 6-16, various locations and prices, 877-874-6833 or

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