Steve McQueen's 'Shame' leads an interesting crop of films at MVFF 2011.

Mill Valley Announces Titles in 34th

Jackson Scarlett September 14, 2011

North Bay world, independent showcase ready to screen wide range of films in early October.

The Mill Valley Film Festival, one of the nation's largest and most prestigious non-competitive showcases for independent and world cinema, announced its full lineup this morning. The 34-year-old festival, which takes place in Marin primarily at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, boasts an impressive program of films, forums and parties and is scheduled to run from October 6–16. Recurring World Cinema, US Cinema and Valley of the Docs programming is complemented by a few revealing thematic strands this year: Cinema Africa, exploring the under-seen cinema of the continent, Great Brits, showcasing new films from the British Isles, and the primarily doc-centered motif, Healing.

Accompanying MVFF's main showcase are the always interesting 5 @ 5 shorts as well as unique New Movies Lab and Active Cinema interactive programming. Following its leading film, the little big-top doc Circus Dreams, this year's Children's Filmfest will have a circus theme, featuring a kid-centered party replete with live circus performers. Festival special programming includes Play Like a Lion, a concert honoring Indian musical legend Ali Akbar Khan, Tuesday comedy program Mark Pitta & Friends, and a special 30th anniversary screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

It’s a big year for undiscovered talent at MVFF. Though MVFF certainly features its share of established names, overall the program leans toward younger artists, with a few very welcome repeats of Telluride programming, including Wim Wender's 3–D celebration of Pina Bausch's work, Pina, festival spotlight We Need to Talk About Kevin, and Steve McQueen's highly anticipated Shame.

MVFF's 34th year opens with mixture of young and old, screening tributee Glenn Close's latest, Rodrigo Garcia-helmed Albert Nobbs and mumblecore auteurs Jay and Mark Duplass's Jeff Who Lives at Home side-by-side before an opulent opening gala. In the days that follow, both Close and Burkinabé filmmaker and luminary Gaston Kaboré will receive festival tributes, accompanied by on-stage appearances by each and catered receptions following. Kaboré's rare-but-influential Wend Kuuni will also be shown at his tribute on Sunday.

This year's principal Festival Spotlight presentations begin with Michelle Yeoh, who will be in attendance with director Luc Besson for the a screening of The Lady, a new film about in-peril Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi. Other Festival Spotlight programs refocus on younger talent: Ezra Miller, star of Lynne Ramsay's We Need to Talk About Kevin, will be honored at a special screening of the director's third film, and Elizabeth Olsen, sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley, will receive a festival award for her performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene at the film's Saturday screening. Other special presentations include Centerpiece Simon Curtis's Monroe memoir My Week with Marilyn, for which the director will appear, a special premiere of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and director Stephan Elliott's marriage comedy, A Few Best Men. The festival will close with The Artist, an intriguing new silent for which lead Jean Dujardin took Best Actor at Cannes.

Lynne's Ramsay's We Need to Talk About Kevin, already highly praised following festival showings at Cannes, Toronto and Telluride, tops the billing of this year's Great Brits programming strand. Elsewhere in the grouping, Steve McQueen's Hunger follow-up, Shame, promises another elegant showcase for the acting talents of Michael Fassbender. Ralph Fiennes appears for the first time in the director's seat, reprising his stage role in Shakespeare's Coriolanus on-screen but transposing the story's action to in-conflict Bosnia in a film of the same name. The US premiere of newcomer Robin Holder's Eliminate: Archie Cookson promises a stylish send-up of classic British spy movies, while Alexandra McGuinness's sexy jet-set journal Lotus Eaters references Greek mythology with a touch of bourgeois ennui.

Also within the World Cinema category, this year's focus, Cinema Africa, is led by the work of honoree Gaston Kaboré, screening not only his acclaimed Wend Kuni, but also his 1997 rural fable Bud Yaam. Mali and Ghana make rare, ravishing appearances on film in the historical epic Da Monzon, The Conquest of Samanyana and police procedural The Destiny of Lesser Animals respectively. Sole doc entry Sarabah follows hip-hop artist Sister Fa as she fights to stop FGC in her home country of Senegal. Moroccan gems the introspective religious exploration The Mosque and fantasy-dusted Lynchian journey Pegaus, which took top awards at Africa's FESPACO festival this year, also screen. Other highlights in the World Cinema program abound. Sacrifice, a period epic from Fifth Generation master Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine), is sure to prove a spectacle, redolent with swordplay and shimmer. Also from China, The Butcher's Wife inspects the power, and bondage, of married life in the countryside. Charming French Tati homage Holidays by the Sea', is clearly a programming favorite, and the quirky Almódovar-referencing Lost Kisses and US premiere of Canadian coming-of-age comedy Chill on the Hill should also promise light delights.

American directors ply their talents both at home and abroad in MVFF's World and US Cinema programs this year. Maria Full of Grace director Joshua Marston's The Forgiveness of Blood finds his eye focused on Albanian rural angst in another international co-production. Frequent Hal Hartley lead Martin Donovan makes his filmmaking debut alongside always-impressive character player David Morse in Collaborator. Barry Levinson's son Sam Levinson's first feature, Another Happy Day, an ensemble family drama starring Ellen Barkin, Demi Moore and festival honoree Ezra Miller and JC Chandor's slick and star-studded Wall Street narrative Margin Call are some of the festival's more mainstream-leaning titles.

The excellent Valley of the Docs program returns this year once again, building on the Healing theme. Busong, the first Palawanon indigenous feature, finds a woman with a strange illness on a journey to the Phillipine Palaui Islands in search of a cure. Dolphin Boy explores the bond between animal and human through the captivating story of a boy swimming with dolphins as therapy for a traumatic incident. US/Peru co-production The Sacred Science brings the fight against Parkinson's to the Amazon, complete with shamanic healers straight from a real-life version of John McTiernan's Medicine Man.

Plenty of home-grown Bay Area documentaries round out the selection: Austin Forbord's Stage Left weaves the tale of San Francisco's alternately thriving and threatened theatrical culture. Local filmmaker Rob Nilsson's first MVFF documentary entry, What Happened Here, reevaluates Leon Trotsky through through a historic lens. Berkeley local Donald Goldmacher's Heist: Who Stole the American Dream stomps through the America's financial quagmire, offering explanations, and some solutions, to the current dilemma.

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