MVFFThe annual Mill Valley Film Festival, which is one of the last film festivals in California before the Oscar season starts is back this year with a fantastic mix of films. Next year marks the 40th anniversary of the festival that started the same year the first Star Wars film was released.

The 39th Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF) runs from Oct  6-16, 2016. and features, shorts, documentaries, panels and live music featuring international, national and local filmmakers, actors and musicians. Gael Garcia BernalAshgar Farhadi, Emma Stone, Nicole Kidman, Annette Benning, Ewan McGregor, Joel Edgerton, and Damien Chazelle are some of the guests who will attend the festival.

German films are the focus of this year’s festival along with a section called ¡Viva El Cine! that features films from Latin America and Spain.



What is new at this year’s festival are a clutch of culinary films that pay homage to well-known chefs like Jeremiah Tower and Ella Brennan.

There are some new and interesting trends in this year’s festival like the relationship between women, films and technology. There is an interesting panel discussion on The Women Behind Hidden Figures that will feature female filmmakers behind  20th Century Fox’s new film Hidden Figures. Then there is a panel on Storytelling in Virtual Reality that will look into the  challenges and opportunities of storytelling.

This year’s festival has a list of wonderful films that poses quite a bit of challenge to movie lovers. For example take the opening night films: Damien Chazelle’s La La Land and Dennis Villeneuve’s Arrival. Both films have got great reviews. So, which film would you like to see on the opening night?

The centerpiece of the festival is Mike Mill’s 20th Century Women starring Anette Benning, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning and Lucas Jade Zumann.

The closing night film is  Director Jeff Nichols’ Loving starring Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga. The film is based on a true story about an interracial couple and how they were arrested because they violated the anti-miscegenation laws. The couple filed a law suit that went all the way to the Supreme Court, where they won their right to marry. Nichols’ previously directed Mud and Midnight Special.

Besides films there will be live music performances by various artists like Fred Hersch, Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas and Thao Nguyen among others. The live music performances will be held at Sweetwater Music Hall.

For tickets and information check out Mill Valley Film Festival’s website.





The 38th Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF)  is currently underway and runs from Oct 8-18, 2015. This year’s festival seems to highlight the gender gap and features quite a few films where women play a central role. The films with strong female characters include I Smile Back, Room, Suffragette, Miss You Already, Light Beneath Her Feet and Code: Debugging The Gender Gap among others. For ticket and information check out MVFF’s website.

The opening night films were Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl and Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight. I have an interview with McCarthy coming up.

I watched a few of the films, and will be watching some more in the coming week. This list is by no means an exhaustive one and precludes quite a few good films that I have not had a chance to see. For example, Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan is not in this list. Now, this is a film that I missed watching and plan to watch it later this month.

So, here are my 5 picks from the 38th Mill Valley Film Festival in a random order.

McCarthy’s Spotlight looks at the massive cover-up of the sexual abuse by the Catholic church in Boston. In 2003 the Boston Globe published a series of investigative reports on how the church for decades had skillfully covered up the sexual abuse of children by the Catholic priests. This important local story took years to uncover even though there were people in the know and were aware of the abuse. Why then did it take so long to report the story? The film stars Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Lieve Schreiber and others.

Director Lenny Abrahamson’s Room is an engrossing tale of a mother and son locked up in a room for years. And then suddenly they are rescued from their confinement and set free. The challenge that the duo struggle is how to adjust to their new way of life in a free world? You will have to see the film to find out how mother and son were imprisioned in a room for so many years. Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay give a strong and convincing performance in the film.

Iranian filmmaker Jaffer Panahi’s Taxi is an evocative and subtle film that shows you what life is like in Teheran. Banned from making films Panahi  stars and directs this film that addresses lot of questions like woman’s rights, creative freedom and films. It is the bit about films that is very interesting and poignant and highlights how people find away to get to see the films and TV shows that are banned. Ironically that includes Panahi himself.

The next two films on my list are Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette and Cary Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation, which I will be watching later this week.

Suffragette is about how a group of ordinary women in England fought for their right to vote nearly 75 years ago. The film stars Carey Mulligan, Hannah Bonham Carter, Brendan Gleeson and Meryl Streep.

Cary Fukunaga’s new film Beasts of No Nation is based on Uzodinma Iweala’s book by the same name. Fukunaga wrote and directed the film that is set in an unnamed war-torn African country. This is a story of how a young boy becomes a boy soldier under a mercenary commandant.  Idris Elba plays the mercenary commandant and Abraham Attah makes his debut as the boy soldier. Netflix acquired the distribution rights for the film, and it will release it online and in theatres on October 16, 2015.

Video: Interview with Damien Chazelle of Whiplash

Damien Chazelle’s new film “Whiplash” has got lot of positive reviews from the film festival circuit. The film was recently shown at the Mill Valley Film Festival.

We sat down with Chazelle to talk about the making of “Whiplash” that takes you behind the scenes and shows you the blood, sweat and tears that goes into making a successful musician. Draconian is not a word you normally associate with musicians, but apparently that is how some music teachers are, and they drive their students through a tough routine and toss them off if they fail to keep up with the rest of the group. We also talked about Chazelle’s next film project, which is a musical. He has already begun working on his next project.

The film stars JK Simmons, who is a tough music teacher and Miles Teller plays his student, who is hungry to achieve musical success.

Video: Highlights – Whiplash’s Director Damien Chazelle

Whiplash,” is an intense film centered around two ambitious musician – a 19 year old drummer (Miles Teller) and his Draconian music instructor (JK Simmons). The film is written and directed by Damien Chazelle, and inspired by his own musical journey as a jazz musician. He played the drums.

The film was part of the Mill Valley Film Festival lineup. “Whiplash” was the film  Metallica’s Lars Ulrich chose to show at the festival. After the screening there was a Q&A with Ulrich and Chazelle.

We sat down to talk to Chazelle about the making of “Whiplash” and one of the first questions we asked him was how did he come up with the title of the film?

Stay tuned for an extended interview with Chazelle.

Video: Jason Reitman on “Men, Women and Children,” at Mill Valley Film Festival

Filmmaker Jason Reitman’s new film “Men, Women and Children,” is the opening night film at this year’s Mill Valley Film Festival. The film looks at how ubiquitous and always-on Internet and Social Media has permeated our lives, especially the lives of younger people. But, why single out the young folks? The adults are also plugged into this digital lifestyle. You know that. Throughout the day our eyes are glued looking into one screen or another.

What does this ubiquitous always-on Internet do to our lives? Does it lead to a richer social and inter-connected life, or does it lead us to a disconnected and isolated lifestyle? How has our behavior changed? How are parents dealing with this digital addiction of their kids, and sometimes they too find addicted to this stuff. How do parents handle this inter-connected lifestyle, where we are one click away from everything. Do they need to police their children’s lifestyle or give them general directions? Where do you do draw that line in this digital age is one of the central questions the film explores.

I found the film an absorbing watch. Living in San Francisco bay area we are in the thick of this digital lifestyle and I am part of this like almost everyone in this part of the world. So, it was interesting to step back and watch this film.

Here is a short video with Reitman shares why and how he made “Men, Women and Children” from the Mill Valley Film Festival.

Benedict Cumberbatch at Mill Valley Film Festival?

Is it possible that Benedict Cumberbatch could be at this year’s Mill Valley Film Festival? He recently attended the Toronto Film Festival for the premier of his new film “The Imitation Man.”

This is a true story based on the legendary British mathematician & code breaker Alan Turing.  There is a India connection that the Turings had. Alan Turing’s mother was born in Madras (now Chennai) in India and his  father worked for the Indian Civil Service. And Benedict Cumberbatch has a India connection too. He spent some time in Darjeeling teaching English to Buddhisht monks.

The Imitation Man” is part of this year’s Mill Valley Film Festival. I was curious to know if there was a chance that Benedict Cumberbatch may come to the Mill Valley Film Festival. Here is what Zoe Elton, Programming Director of the festival had to say.



Do check back for the full  full interview with Zoe Elton. That is coming up next week.

The Mill Valley Film Festival runs from Oct 2-12, 2014.