Mill Valley Film Festival: Day 1 Recap
Nestled in the green, redwood-populated hills of Mill Valley, the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival kicked off with a duo of gorgeous dramas: Alexander Payne’s Nebraska and Brian Percival’s The Book Thief. The arrival of several special guests from the films heightened the already high level of excitement. Nebraska stars Will Forte and Bruce Dern and The Book Thief stars Sophie Nelisse and Goffrey Rush, along with Percival, were on hand to discuss the films and pose for the cameras with the gorgeous Mill Valley scenery surrounding them at the festival pre-party.
Book Thieves, Young and Old
After the photo-op parade, everybody shuffled over to the press conference room. When asked if she’d read the book on which The Book Thief is based, Nelisse–a blonde Canadian teenager with a charming adolescent verbosity–explained why reading the source material was a quite difficult undertaking. “I started to read the first 20 pages of the book when we started to shoot, but I thought it would be a bit confusing if I read the script, shot the movie, and read the book at the same time.” She did finally read the book about a month ago, but reading it now posed a new challenge. “I see every scene when I read the book. I wish I had read it before I shot the movie, so I could [use] my own imagination.”
The film follows a little girl (Nelisse) who learns about the value of books and stories in the turbulent environment of WWII Germany. Percival, whose most recent acclaim has come from directing episodes of the hugely popular television series Downton Abbey, had nothing but praise for Nelisse. “Sophie was ideal,” he gushed. “There wasn’t anybody else to come close.”
Rush got cheeky when asked why he–a proven picky role-chooser–decided to join the project. “I was looking at joining an Australian pole vaulting team, then Brian called me” Rush joked, to waves of laughter. “I didn’t know about the book,” he continued, now speaking honestly. “It felt like for the first time somebody had bravely given me a fairly ordinary character. It wasn’t too eccentric or too off-the-planet like most of the other things I do. I wanted the challenge of, how mundane could I be in a film, but [still] interesting?”
A Nebraskan Love Fest
Forte looked physically overwhelmed with gratitude and humility as uber-experienced co-star and screen legend Dern gave him possibly the highest praise an SNL veteran has ever received. “I’ll give him a tie for 1st place with Jack Nicholson [for best acting teammate,]” referring to his turn with Nicholson in The King of Marvin Gardens. Dern poured the love on some more as Forte looked dumbfounded by the weight of the kind words. “[Will] was scared when we started shooting,” due, according to Dern, to the fact that the beginning of the film isn’t comedic. Dern admired Forte’s strength in the face of the challenge. “There were 80 people in the room who were waiting for him to be funny, because that’s how they know him. The fact that he overcame that…it’s tough to do.”
Anti-Bullying Passion Project to Premiere this Sunday
The stars of the two opening night films weren’t the only people at the pre-party with films at the festival. I ran into director Anthony Joseph Guinta and rising-star actress Katherine McNamara, whose anti-bullying high school drama, Contest, premieres on the Cartoon Network this Sunday, October 6th at 6pm. The film, which explores the evils and many different types of bullying from several angles, was an important project for both director and star. “I was bullied quite a bit growing up,” the strawberry blonde admitted. “I even had my face smashed into a water fountain once because somebody didn’t like me, for some reason.” Giunta believes that bullying is an entirely different beast from when he was a kid. “I could go home and close the door and not have to deal with it until I got to school the next day. Kids today live a 24/7 nightmare.” With hope, Contest will lend a helping hand to bullied kids and–more importantly–de-bully some bullies.
VIP’s and Conga Lines
After the films screened to hundreds of elated (but hungry) festival-goers, the lucky souls found mounds of yummy treats and artisan eats at the opening night after party, set in an “s”-shaped, blocked-off section of Town Center Corte Madera (an outdoor mall). As I weaved through the mobs of gleefully chomping cinephiles, I was led to a tent full of even more food and, excitingly, a terrific samba band that made the crowd move so hard they had no choice but to form an epic conga line.
In the closed-off VIP section of the party, legends of sight and sound were tucked away, having a blast meeting with their fellow-filmmaker brethren. Along with Rush and Dern, who were having a chatty good time, master craftsmen Andrew Stanton (Wall-E) and Phillip Kaufman (The Right Stuff) were mixing it up with the rest of the exclusive bunch. After the fanciful, delightful insanity of opening night, I shudder with joy at the thought of what the rest of the festival has in store. Stay tuned to find out!
Check back tomorrow for our Day 2 coverage!