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Festival Hopping

MVFF’s Mark Fishkin and Zoë Elton recount their travels in search of the next great film.



Zoë Elton, Director of Programming

Zoë Elton has been helping to mold MVFF since its 1977 founding, amassing and screening films to fill first a modest three-day run and now a full-fledged, 11-day spectacle. She’s also partial to the Berlin International Film Festival, a February event when the weather is cold enough to entice people into the comfort of a warm screening room. Unlike the MVFF, Berlin is a competitive festival, with prizes Elton says reflect its unique sensibilities: smart, artistically risky and political. This year “the top prize, the Golden Bear, went to Iranian director Jafar Panahi for his film Taxi,” she notes. “Since 2010, Panahi has been banned [in his country] from filmmaking: this film was made digitally and spirited across borders to Berlin. His prize was accepted by his young niece, Hana Saeidi. An amazing moment: you can put an artist under house arrest, but you can’t dampen the creative spirit.” March found Elton at the Guadalajara International Film Festival taking in a whirlwind of talent from Mexico, Latin America and Spain. But it’s MVFF 2015 she’s most enthusiastic about: “I do think this is an extraordinary year for MVFF. Our women’s initiative, Mind the Gap, has brought an increased depth of discussion about film, filmmakers and story that has enriched our process across the board. Overall, I’m very excited about our lineup this year,” she says. “I don’t usually allow my cautious English self to say that.”

Mark Fishkin, Founder/Director

Variety once said the Mill Valley Film Festival has “the ambience of a destination festival and the clout of an urban one.” California Film Institute and MVFF founder Mark Fishkin wholeheartedly agrees, and his opinion can certainly be trusted, as those who host film festivals also attend them. Fishkin has been going to the Sundance Film Festival in Salt Lake City, Utah, since its inception in 1978 and likens that annual event, held every January, to an alternative Hollywood universe with cold and snow. “Sundance is a great place to mingle with industry from all avenues: actors, filmmakers, publicists and studio heads,” he says. “It’s literally the largest gathering of the independent film industry.” A few Sundance films usually end up showing at MVFF, he notes. Another favorite gathering is Cannes (aka the Cannes Film Festival or Festival de Cannes) on the French Riviera in mid-May, which for him has become an essential pre-MVFF excursion over the last 25 years. “There’s no slowing down in Cannes,” Fishkin says. “You might get to bed at 1 or 2 a.m. and then have to get up early to make an 8 a.m. screening. It’s exhausting, but when you pause and look around at the yachts, the ocean and the beautiful scenery, you think, ‘This isn’t so bad!’ ” Yet Fishkin sees much relevance and success in our smaller, unique Marin-based event. “We remain a filmmakers’ festival, bringing the finest films from around the world while remaining grounded in our community,” he says.

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