MVFFWe caught up with Zoe Elton, Director of Programming for the 39th Mill Valley Film Festival (Oct 6-16, 2016) to find out what they have in store at this year’s festival. We spoke to her about the film, actors and the new sections they have on Latin America & Culinary Cinema. This is one of the last major film festivals of the year, and this is the festival where the early Oscar buzz starts to gain momentum.

This year’s line-up is a fantastic one and that is reflected in the opening night films: Damien Chazelle’s La La Land and  Denis Villeneuve‘s Arrival. The closing night film is Jeff NicholsLoving and Elton points out that we are going to be hearing a lot about Ruth Negga, the leading actress of the film. Emma Stone, Amy Adams, Chazelle, Nichols and Negga will be there to present their films.

Ewan McGregor is bringing his debut directorial film American Pastoral to the festival. Nicole Kidman is being recognized for her contribution and will be there to present her new film Lion directed by Garth Davis and stars Dev Patel and Rooney Mara.


This year’s festival has a special section on Latin American films with Gael Garcia Bernal as their special guest.

Culinary cinema is a new addition in this year’s festival and they have 4 films in the section. One of them is a film on Jeremiah Tower, a celebratory chef, who worked at Chez Panisse and founded Stars restaurant in San Francisco. Tower will be at the film festival.

Sandwiched between the opening and closing night films is a cornucopia of films, live music and seminars that is worth checking out.

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

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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.


Jafar Panahi

Jafar Panahi

Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi’s latest film Taxi is part of this year’s line-up at Mill Valley Film Festival, Oct 8-18, 2015.

This brilliant film is shot without any fancy cameras, crew, actors or sets. The film stars Panahi as the protagonist, who takes you on a tour of Teheran in his taxi. From the confines of his taxi we are introduced to a whole range of subjects in Iran. Through a series of vignettes Panahi stiches a fluid narrative that look at women’s rights, the popularity of Hollywood and American TV shows to censorship in Iran. For some viewers the film may remind them of Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten, which is also shot within the confines of a car and that is what is common to both these films.

Taxi is an evocative film that is sure to bring memories for those who grew up in a society with strong censorship rules. Under such circumstances accessing the latest films,TV shows and music is not easy. For me, Panahi’s film evoked memories of growing up in India before MTV and the liberalization of Indian economy in the 1990s. It was a challenge to get new music or films. But, somehow people managed to access these forbidden artistic creations in ingenious ways.There are always clever work- arounds and underestimating people’s resolve to get to it is something Panahi’s film reminds us all over again.

Panahi is banned from making films or traveling out of Iran. And yet, his latest film highlights how people find work-arounds and Panahi’s film clearly underscores the failure of censorship. Panahi shot the film in less than 20 days using minimum of equipment. And he had no authorization from the Iranian government for filming this project. When Taxi won an award at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, Panahi was not able to travel to receive the award. Instead his niece, who stars in the film, went to receive the award on his behalf.

You can watch Taxi at #MVFF38 on Oct 13th and Oct 17th 2015.