Before the first Mill Valley Film Festival in 1978, I made a presentation to the Mill Valley Arts Commission and walked away with $500. A drop in the bucket now, but then it was the first money I raised for what has grown from that small event into the premier festival of the fall movie season it is today. 

It was a different world then, with only a handful of film festivals in the United States. We weren’t at all sure people would understand what we were doing or if there was an audience for it. But the crowds arrived. They came to that first festival and have shown up ever since, attracted by our programming of the most anticipated awards-season movies, sublime documentaries, irresistible indies, tributes, panel discussions, and other special events.

Are there challenges? Sure, some are as minor as wrangling celebrity guests; others, not so trivial. After three years, we are still dealing with the ramifications of COVID that so affected our movie-going habits. Yes, I remain optimistic that there is an appetite for arthouse and independent fare. Film festivals, Mill Valley in particular, are here to satisfy that hunger.

This year we will feed your appetite starting with A startling work by actor turned auteur as Jack Huston – grandson of legendary director John – unveils his first feature, Day of the Fight, on Opening Night. And we’ll wrap up with a film that’s generating major Oscar® buzz – we’ll reveal the title soon, so stay tuned!

In between: a glittering array of movies and events you’ll be discussing for months tj o come. The director is the star this year, as several of our special events attest. The Bay Area’s own Lynn Hershman Leeson is our Mind the Gap Lifetime Achievement awardee as we screen her Cyborgian Rhapsody series, while Emerald Fennell, following up Promising Young Woman with Saltburn, is our Mind the Gap Filmmaker of the Year.  In our tribute to Todd Haynes’ May December, we bestow our first ever award for collaboration to the director along with producer Christine Vachon, who will discuss their extraordinary partnership on stage. There are many more tributes but I want to call out one last one, our spotlight on the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington, with a screening of Rustin, about that event’s organizer, and a tribute to the film’s director, the legendary George C. Wolfe (a Tony winner for Angels in America).

We’re pleased to present the one-two punch of the two top Cannes award winners, both starring German actor Sandra Hüller: Justine Triet’s Palme d’Or winner Anatomy of a Fall and Grand Prize winner Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest. The latter, an adaptation of Martin Amis’ novel, presents the Holocaust in a way never seen before in cinemas, with the notorious Auschwitz commandant’s family living their daily lives in the midst of horror.

The Zone of Interest will be followed by a special discussion. The festival offers a second Holocaust drama with Richmond filmmaker Finn Taylor’s Avenue of the Giants, starring Stephen Lang as an Auschwitz survivor confronting the past he’s kept hidden for 50 years. Among other films from Bay Area makers are Marlo McKenzie and Jonathan Parker’s Carol Doda Topless at the Condor, exploring the life of the world-changing icon; the great Maureen Gosling profiling another great with The 9 Lives of Barbara Dane, about the Berkeley singer; and Oscar® winners Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s irresistible celebration of Cuban musicians and the US volunteers helping a music school thrive, Música!.

There are too many films to mention, which is a wonderful problem to have. I just want to add that we could not do any of this without our board, sponsors, partners, and you, our audience. Thank you all. Enjoy the festival.

Mark Fishkin 

Executive Director | Founder
California Film Institute