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The MVFF continues to impress

By Richard von Busack

The Mill Valley Film Festival began 25 years ago in a town that still had a mom-and-pop-store main street. Now the film business is in Northern California to stay. Every kid in every car driving on 101 wonders if Lucas Valley Road is named after you know who, and Blithedale Avenue is but a northern continuation of the tiniest boulevards in Brentwood.

When the Mill Valley Fest began in 1977, back when Star Wars wasn't a year old yet, four of this year's guests would still have been well known: directors Robert M. Young (The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez) and Milos Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), actor Ed Asner, and Kermit the Frog (who appears in the documentary Behind the Scenes of "Kermit's Swamp Years"). The 2002 festival brings everything from new work by Mike Leigh (All or Nothing) to old work by Kurosawa (The Seven Samurai, newly printed and resubtitled).

Still, it's Latin-themed films that stand out. Offerings include a revival of Young's Alambrista!, the 1977 Camera d'Or winner about migrant workers in California. Edward James Olmos, star of the 1987 Stand and Deliver, appears at a new screening of his film about Jaime Escalante, hard-working math teacher in East L.A.

Previewing at Mill Valley is a movie that surpassed even Y Tu Mamá También's record for Mexican ticket sales: The Crime of Father Amaro. This irresistibly juicy melee by Carlos Carrera stars Gael Garcia Bernal of Y Tu Mamá. Garcia Bernal plays a studly, ambitious young padre shipped to a town in northern Mexico. There, his superior, a corrupt, old tequila-priest (Sancho Gracia), educates him on the way business is done.

Meanwhile, the young novice falls in love with a fervent young girl. Blasphemy fans will love the scene of him easing her out of her clothes with the help of appropriate verses from the Song of Solomon.

If you prefer political to religious blasphemy, check Michael Moore's documentary Bowling for Columbine, about gun nuts in the U.S.A. It's--pardon the expression--a scattershot approach (hit and miss, despite Moore's sometimes accurate marksmanship).

The roster of documentaries is, as is the case in almost any film festival, more impressive than the feature films: Jeff Blitz's Spellbound (about the travails of finalists at a national spelling bee); Bloody Sunday (about violence in Northern Ireland); Lost in La Mancha (director Terry Gilliam goes nuts trying to film Don Quixote on location); and Welcome to the Club: The Women of Rockabilly (Wanda Jackson and others finally get some of the historical reckoning they deserve).

The Welcome to the Club show includes musician Beth Harrington in an appearance at the Sweetwater, a club that reminds you of the kind of place Mill Valley used to be.

For complete schedule, see www.mvff.com or call 925.866.9559.

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From the October 3-9, 2002 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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