Oscar-worthy Films Kick Off 2015 Mill Valley Film Festival

Zoe Elton, Mark Fishkin, Gail Mutrux and Tom Hooper
Festival Director of Programming Zoe Elton, Festival Director Mark Fishkin, and “Danish Girl” Producer Gail Mutrux and Director Tom Hooper at the 38th Mill Valley Film Festival.

Photo Credit: Tommy Lau

On a beautiful balmy October evening, the Mill Valley Film Festival opened its 38th season with two Oscar-worthy films and a fête amid one of Marin’s most fashionable settings. Mill Valley Film Festival has established a reputation for its quality selections that often act as a bellwether for the forthcoming award season and the popular culture at large.

In an year when Vanity Fair placed Caitlin Jenner on its cover and the television series about transgender, “Transparent,” took home prominent Emmys, MVFF kicked off with the U.S. premiere and final cut of Tom Hooper’s “The Danish Girl,” about one of the first people to receive gender reassignment surgery. Hooper, on hand at the premiere along with producer Gail Mutrux, was last seen on stage in Mill Valley in 2010 with his previous historical drama “The King’s Speech,” which went on to win the Best Picture Oscar.

Through Danny Cohen’s sumptuous cinematography of Paris and Copenhagen, “The Danish Girl,” based on the 1933 book “Man Into Woman,” offsets the harsh physical and social reality that faced artist Einar Wegener as he attempted to transition into Lili Elbe. With the lead character poignantly brought to life by Eddie Redmayne, whose portrayal of Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything” won the Best Actor Academy Award last year, the film reflects equally on the complicated emotional relationship between Einar/Lili and wife, Gerda, played by Alicia Vikander.

Gerda’s artistic career as a portrait painter soared when Lili became her primary subject. At the same time, she witnessed her husband disappear into another identity. The film gently touches on the nature of the human essence, that beyond gender, the essential person and character remain. It is that love for Einar/Lili that not only flourishes but intensifies in the story. The film, however, belongs to Redmanie, whose ability to disappear into a role rivals Daniel Day-Lewis.

While “The Danish Girl” played the Century Larkspur, “Spotlight,” about the Boston Globe as it broke the 2001 child molestation scandal in the Catholic Church, opened at the Cinearts Sequoia in Mill Valley. Starring Michael Keaton (ironically Redmanie’s closest competition for Best Actor Oscar last year), Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci and John Slattery, “Spotlight’ is also generating award buzz.

Afterward, the MVFF Opening Gala filled the outdoor walkways of Marin Country Mart, just across from the ferry terminal in Larkspur. With its sparkling white storefronts, its boutique shopping (James Perse) and indoor-outdoor dining (Farmshop), this Marin hotspot transplants the look and feel of Southern California to the Bay Area, creating a perfect locale for a Hollywood film gathering.

Belcampo, El Huarache Loco SF, Pizza Antica, Sol Food and Big Jim’s BBQ offered bite-sized savories while artisan gelato-maker Fiorello, The Grand Meringue and Johnny’s Doughnuts scored sweet points with the hundreds of people in attendance. Los Pingous’ Latin Gypsy King-styled rhythms supplied the live dance music.

More of MVFF’s U.S. and world premieres, panels, festivities, celebrity appearances (Sarah Silverman, Carey Mulligan, Ian McKellen, Catherine Hardwicke) and live music at Sweetwater continue through Sunday, October 18.

Photo credit: Drew Altizer Photography