Give my regards to Mill Valley
by David Lamble
The first week of the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival runs Oct. 3-13 at the Smith Rafael Film Center, Cinearts@Sequoia (Mill Valley), the 142 Throckmorton Theatre (Mill Valley), the Century Cinema (Corte Madera) and the Lark Theatre (Larkspur). It is graced by Nebraska, the much-anticipated road comedy from America's foremost weaver of serious adult comedy, Alexander Payne (Citizen Ruth, Election, Sideways, About Schmidt, The Descendants). Bay Area favorite Bruce Dern shows why he copped the top acting prize at Cannes as a stubborn old man who implores his adult son to ferry him from Montana to Nebraska to redeem what he insists is a winning lottery ticket. (Opening night, Sequoia 1 & 2) For those whose radical roots were fueled by the extraordinary Costa-Gavras (Z, State of Seige, Missing, The Ax), Peter Coyote will conduct an on-stage interview with the famed director in conjunction with the screening of his latest feature Capital, starring Gad Elmaleh and Gabriel Byrne. (Rafael, 10/4) Plus the usual Mill Valley extras, including the ASCAP Music Cafe. (Sweetwater Music Hall & Café, Mill Valley, 10/4-6)
Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine It's been 15 years since the savage beating of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard pricked the national conscience. At the time, NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw called Shepard's pistol-whipping murder by meth-addicted thugs Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson "beyond despicable." Now a close friend, Michele Josue, reminds us that her Matt was a whole lot more than a martyr to a vital circle of friends and family who are not necessarily looking for closure.
This remarkable film is a tearjerker in a good way, with director Josue assembling a collage of key moments in Matt's all-too-brief life that carries the emotional punch of a great novel. Shepard was fated by his dad's Saudi oil-industry job to be a globe-trotting teen with pit-stops in Italy, Japan, and a company-paid Swiss boarding school. A female friend recalls a Moroccan school break when Matt's life took a fateful turn. Late one night, a sobbing, shirtless, barefoot Matt showed up at her hotel room confessing that he had been raped by a posse of Moroccans, stripped of his shoes and, the friend sadly notes, his once-exuberant take on life and his dream to change the world as a diplomat. His friends think Matt could have made a difference, like the martyred U.S. Ambassador to Libya John Christopher Stevens. Instead, Matt's fate mirrored that of queer novelist Paul Bowles' Moroccan-bound American travelers in The Sheltering Sky. Returning Stateside, his confidence badly shaken, Matt would stumble through stints in North Carolina and Denver before returning to the supposed safety of his Wyoming hometown.
While we can only imagine what Lincoln or Orwell sounded like, Matt's voice is preserved on a home video by a worshipful younger brother. In a cruel twist of fate, the shy, grownup Logan now works at The Matthew Shepard Foundation. (Sequoia, 10/4; Rafael, 10/6)
Facing Fear Director Jason Cohen's parable on the possibilities of forgiveness opens on slightly out-of-focus shots of nighttime LA. Two voices begin a haunting story that touches just about every angle on modern urban violence, from queer-bashing to the role of punk music as a staging ground for street combat, to the harsh reality that there are few places where a victim and a basher could ever confront their overlapping demons face-to-face.
Matthew Boger's job as a guide at LA's Museum of Tolerance began in a pool of blood, as his once-13-year-old queer runaway self was beaten into unconsciousness by 14 leather-boot-wielding skinheads led by a disgruntled product of the East San Gabriel suburbs, Tim Zaal. Miraculously surviving his kicks in the head, Boger was startled by the fate of another Matthew. "In 1998, Matthew Shepard is beaten and dies seven days later. At first I didn't know why I felt so connected to his story. When he died, I realized why: I lived that night, this kid didn't. His voice was silenced forever."
Attempting to defang the myths powering violent fiction classics like American History X and A Clockwork Orange, this riveting short opens the "John Brown's Body" at San Quentin Prison program. (Throckmorton, 10/6; Rafael, 10/9)
Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton On October 6 and 9, the life of poet/trickster James Broughton will unspool in a film from directors Stephen Silha and Eric Slade that premiered in June at the Frameline film festival. If you've never heard of Broughton – son of Modesto, unofficial poet laureate of San Francisco, filmmaking pioneer/teacher, husband/lover to fiercely independent partners from film critic Pauline Kael to half-his-age filmmaker Joel Singer – this is your invitation. (Sequoia, 10/6; Rafael, 10/9)
Contest The normally reliable Children''s Filmfest stumbles with Anthony Joseph's insanely over-plotted teen soap on high school bullying. Lead Daniel Flaherty has presence and good hair days, but is poorly served by a script so overwritten that the outcome has to be explained by a pint-sized William Powell in the third act. (Rafael, 10/5)
Farah Goes Bang For those nostalgic for the 2004 presidential election, Meera Menon's savvy feminist comedy about a trio of Iranian American college women pleading the case for John Kerry in Texas, no less, copped the first annual Tribeca Festival Nora Ephron Award. (Rafael, 10/5, 6)
Ghost Town to Havana Looking forward to an all-California World Series, A's/Dodgers? Each team has its own Cuban superstar: Cespedes vs. Puig. Director Eugene Corr draws on his East Bay roots (his dad was a great local coach) to portray the miracle of youth baseball surviving in Oakland's treacherous Ghost Town hood. Corr shows what happens when the Oakland boys nine travel to Havana to play their very well-coached Cuban counterparts. (Throckmorton, 10/6; Rafael, 10/8)