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Screen Scene

Offbeat cinema shines at Mill Valley Film Festival

By Richard von Busack

FILMS and filmmakers from all over the world converge on Marin County as the curtains rise on the 23rd annual Mill Valley Film Festival. This year's festival, which runs from Thursday, Oct. 5, to Sunday, Oct. 15, features more than 100 cinematic offerings from 32 countries--a bewildering but rewarding array of films long and short, seminars specific and vague, and directors famous and infamous.

Former chat-show host Dick Cavett is on hand on Oct. 6, a reminder of the high standards that television can sometimes have. During his time on ABC, Cavett hosted not the flavor of the month so much as figures like Woody Allen, Orson Welles, and S. J. Perelman.

Actor Joan Allen--exactly the kind of talent Cavett would have on his show if he were on the networks today--visits the festival for a tribute event on Oct. 7 and two screenings of her new movie, The Contender. Also appearing (on Oct. 11) is Carroll Baker, the thinking-person's blonde bombshell, nominated for an Oscar for her role in Baby Doll (1956).

From San Francisco comes director Rob Nilsson, winner of the Camera d'Or for his '79 film Northern Lights; Nilsson's more recent "direct action cinema" has shot video stories of San Francisco underdogs acted by nonprofessionals. His latest from the Tenderloin acting workshop Ygroup is titled Singing. If Singing is like its predecessor, Chalk, to some this film will be a slice of raw bleeding life. To others it will be yet another post-Cassavetesian rampage.

Opening night offers two films with a buzz. John Berry's last film, Boesman and Lena, features Danny Glover in Berry's adaptation of Athol Fugard's play about a pair of evictees from a South African Bantustan ("homeland") during the days of apartheid. Berry, director of the John Garfield film noir He Ran All the Way, was blacklisted for communism, but continued his career in France until his death, days after he finished this film.

The other opening-night offering is State and Main, David Mamet's new comedy about a small town under siege by Hollywood industry types--a satire that has to have resonance when you're trying to wind your way through a cellphone-yammering crowd on Mill Valley's Throckmorton Avenue.

The selection of featured films includes Dancer in the Dark, Lars von Trier's melodramatic and sometimes baffling musical, starring Björk as a factory worker facing her incipient blindness. Auggie Rose features Jeff Goldblum as an oppressed insurance salesman whose encounter with the randomness of death gives him a new lease on life.

Of the nonfiction films, two stand out especially. The Hi De Ho Show on Oct. 7 is an evening with John Goddard, proprietor of that wonderful institution of a record store in downtown Mill Valley. Goddard will show some of his personal collection of music videos.

Butterfly, also on Oct. 7, is a documentary about a local legend: Julia "Butterfly" Hill, the woman who for two years occupied a Humboldt County tree slated for axing. Doug Wolens produced and directed.

Closing night at the festival features the already sold-out screening of Shadow of the Vampire, co-produced by Nicolas Cage. It's the fanciful story of the making of the first important vampire film, Nosferatu--with John Malkovich as the director F. W. Murnau and Willem Dafoe as Max Shreck. The much-anticipated film's angle is that Shreck, who played the ratlike Nosferatu, was a legitimate member of the Undead.

Of course, this much cinema in one 10-day period will make anyone feel as if emerging from a tomb. Select well, avoid the film Monarch (screening Oct. 7) even if it does have Henry VIII in it, and bring lots of Visine.


The Mill Valley Film Festival runs from Thursday, Oct. 5, through Sunday, Oct. 15. Most screenings and events take place at the Sequoia Theatre, 25 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley, and the Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth St., San Rafael. For tickets, call 415/455-8005. For program information, call 415/383-5346 or check out the schedule online at www.bohemian.com.

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From the October 5-11, 2000 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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