Mill Valley Film Festival celebrates its 44th anniversary in-person and online

Alexandrea Coe

From Oct. 7 to Oct. 17, the Mill Valley Film Festival celebrated its 44th anniversary, showing a total of 118 films, consisting of 65 features, 53 short films and 37 debuts. By representing over 39 countries, the festival remains one of the United States’ most unique film events, attracting celebrities, world-class filmmakers, teachers, parents and students alike.

Being the spotlight on the Smith Rafael Film Center movie theater billboard, “The French Dispatch” was screened on closing night of the festival. (Photo Courtesy of Eleanor Lawson)

Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, last year’s function was fully virtual, with the exception of a few drive-in screenings. Adjusting to the ongoing pandemic, event directors decided to host online and in-person viewings of the selected films, while theaters were kept at 75 percent capacity to accommodate Delta variant precautions. Individuals were also required to wear masks and have proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. 

Sophomore and film fanatic Eleanor Lawson attended screenings at the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael and the Sequoia CineArts Center in Mill Valley.

“One of the films I saw, [Velvet Underground], was released on Apple TV+ the same day it was screened at the festival. I could’ve watched it at home, but the experience of actually going [to the theater] is way different and a lot more valuable,” Lawson said. “Having a Q&A [with] panelists [from the movie] is something really unique about film festivals, and it’s something that you can’t really get anywhere else.

Showing a variety of topics, The Mill Valley Film Festival had a powerful line of panelists. (Photo Courtesy of Eleanor Lawson)

Held every October, this 11-day festival has over 40,000 available tickets. The films “Spencer” and “The French Dispatch” were some of this year’s most popular pieces, starring big-name actors, such as Kristen Stewart, Bill Murray and Timothée Chalamet. 

Having both in-person and online this year’s event led to a broader audience “attending” the screening. With people able to view the screenings from different sides of the globe, the event was able to become that much more internationalized. Local filmmaker and Redwood parent Nancy Svendsen emphasizes that these events are vitally important for the exposure of filmmakers. She states the importance in recognizing that for most cinematographers the objective is not compensation, but rather the ability to educate and bring awareness to the topics covered in film. 

“As a filmmaker, it’s really important to be [invited to] film festivals, especially prestigious ones, like The Mill Valley Film Festival,” Svendsen said. “The biggest goal in filmmaking is to get one’s message out there. Filmmakers wouldn’t spend the time they do working on films if they weren’t fully invested.” 

“Like a Rolling Stone,” one of the most popular films of the week, is displayed on Sequoias CineArt centers billboard. (Photo Courtesy of Eleanor Lawson)

Having attended the film festival in the past, drama teacher Erik Berkowitz reflects on the importance of learning about widespread topics represented in film and supporting local filmmakers.

“Going out to see what’s really happening in the world will do you wonders. The moments one can spend attending events like the Mill Valley Film Festival are well worth it. It’s an investment of your time that you will not regret,” Berkowitz said.

The Mill Valley Film Festivals 45th anniversary is set to take place in October 2022, and while the exact dates remained unconfirmed, filmmakers and film fanatics are exuberant already, marking calendars and clearing schedules. 

As movies and films slowly continue to return back to their originally intended theater display, the Mill Valley Film Festival continues to bring awareness to local filmmakers and the topics they address. Despite COVID-19’s constraints, this event’s impact-fulness remains evident. As a local beacon of discovery, the Mill Valley Film Festival explores all topics communicating ideas, stories, feelings and perspectives through the lens of a camera.