2009 Mill Valley Film Festival Round Up

What larks to visit Mill Valley in autumn, a colorist’s busman’s holiday leaf-peeping around town and recharging the peepers with fall hues. After picking up festival tickets at the very modest town Chamber of Commerce I put in a few free minutes at the Book Depot. There up on the wall of author photos were two of my late mentors, the writer Kay Boyle who was my Haight Ashbury landlady when I went to San Francisco State film school in the aught seventies. And nearby grinning was James Broughton, avant garde film master and poet who inspired a love for poetry film, a genre I briefly attempted myself. I had been enjoying the new book Tamalpais Walking by Tom Killion and Gary Snyder and decided to support this local bookstore with a purchase of The Selected Letters of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder. Snyder lived for a time in a cabin in Mill Valley before and after his decade long study and practice of Zen in Japan.

Several of my clients had their films in the festival and I drove out to the county for quality control follow up. Color finishing on my studio CRT monitor shows the film at its best for the televised world but I needed to see how these films held up digitally projected at the Sequoia Theater. I have to say I was disappointed with the digital projection brightness and calibration. One film by John Korty Miracle in a Box I had seen projected at the David Brower Center in Berkeley before from a Blue Ray DVD. There is a scene in the film where gold paint swirls in a pot waiting to be applied to the restored piano and the HD projection in Berkeley was luminous and the gold gleamed. At the Sequoia in Mill Valley the content was projected from a digital betacam videotape, standard definition not high definition. I did not have the rapturous satisfaction I had experienced before with this film in Berkeley.

In another post to this journal I will harp on about gamut, but briefly here this is about the range of color that is possible in the method of display. Digital projection should get quite a lot of color, but some color lives in the HD gamut and some of that does not make it to the lower resolution world.

I have compared notes with a few of the filmmakers who showed at Mill Valley after they volunteered their dissappointments to me. Something needs to happen before the next festival. I would advocate projecting from Blue Ray DVD with a proper bulb brightness at next year’s show.

One title not digitally projected was Rick Goldsmith’s and Judy Erhlich’s The Most Dangerous Man in America shown on celluloid (remember that stuff?) and I knew it when it was digital video before going up to Alpha Cine in Seattle for a film out. Well, that was a far more satisfying representation but in some tell tale black and white scenes I could see that the print was too blue. And that cost the interviews the light amber warmth we had put into the show. The main subject Dan Ellsberg definitely benefits from a bit more warmth. Before I get too critical of the event, I want to mention that this film won the audience award for Favorite Documentary in the festival. I don’t know who gets to start generating Oscar buzz, but if this film isn’t nominated I will be very much surprised. Before casting your vote for worst U.S. President a viewing of this film may change your mind when you hear Nixon on tape trying to get Henry Kissinger to imagine nuclear war in Vietnam. It is amazing history and a grand example of the exceptional social issue film making  in the Bay Area.

Another fine example came from first time film maker Vicki Abeles whose Race To Nowhere sold out all shows and has activated audiences to take on the issue of children over-tasked by schools in a destructive competition for colleges and test performance over education and development.

Several other films were celebration of art and its processes: William Farley’s Shadow and Light, Niall McKay’s The Bass Player, Will Parrinello’s Mustang, and John Korty’s Miracle in a Box.

They’re all gems and I hope you get to see them.

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