The royal treatment

‘Last King,’ ‘The Queen’ rule Mill Valley Film Festival

Chockablock it may be, but the plethoric local film-festival scene provides cinemaniacs with one distinctive experience after another. And in the case of the Mill Valley Film Festival, it is an intimate setting, combined with world-classprogramming, that makes the event unique.

“This is the kind of festival many people would travel thousands of miles to see,” said festival programming director Zoe Elton, who describes the Mill Valley fest as offering both “a solid worldview and a Bay Area heartbeat” with an impressive lineup.

More than 230 films from 43 countries are set to roll at the 29th Mill Valley festival, which opens Thursday. Attractions range from respectable commercial fare to under-the-radar documentaries to edgy shorts. Many filmmakers will attend.

“The Last King of Scotland” screens on opening night. Directed by Kevin Macdonald, it stars Forest Whitaker as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. Also showing Thursday is Anthony Minghella’s “Breaking and Entering,” a relationship drama starring Jude Law and Juliette Binoche.

Another anticipated offering is “The Queen,” Stephen Frears’ drama based on the events of the week following Princess Diana’s death. Portraying Queen Elizabeth is Helen Mirren, who, along with Tim Robbins, will be honored with a festival actor’s award.

Elton says she’s proud of the festival’s decision to salute these “two outstanding actors,” along with the event’s 2006 “Spotlight” honoree: director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. His new film, “Babel,” will screen.

Additional features include Danish director Susanne Bier’s “After the Wedding,” the Cannes-accoladed French production “Days of Glory” and — enthusiastically recommended by Elton — “The Journals of Knud Rasmussen,” a Canadian Inuit drama.

Filmmakers’ festival

Micha Peled, a Mill Valley-based filmmaker whose documentary “China Blue” is on the bill, says that in the festival universe, Mill Valley is a high point.

“I had a film there in 1995 and found out how truly friendly and welcoming the festival is to the filmmakers,” Peled said. “I’ll be arriving after 23 festivals in 17 countries, but I still very much look forward to it.”

“China Blue” explores the human effects of globalization by immersing the viewer in the world of sweatshop workers in China — people who make the jeans we buy. They endure conditions that violate international labor law.

Rather than submit to China’s requirement that propaganda officials oversee their project, the filmmakers shot the film clandestinely. They smuggled in camera equipment; they experienced police interventions.

“Film festivals can certainly help launch a film,” Peled says. Following festival screenings in New Zealand and the Netherlands, for example, “China Blue” received theatrical distribution in those countries.

There are plans to open it Stateside next year.

Elton, too, praises Mill Valley’s ambiance.

“It’s like a cinema village,” she says. And that kind of atmosphere allows for “intimacy between filmmakers and the audience,” she adds. “I encourage people to make it a destination for the weekend.”

Mill Valley Film Festival

WHEN: Thursday through Oct. 15


» CineArts at Sequoia, 25 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley</p>

» 142 Throckmorton Theatre, 142 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley

» Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth St., San Rafael

» Century Cinema, 41 Tamal Vista, Corte Madera

» Embarcadero Center Cinema, One Embarcadero Center, San Francisco

» Outdoor Art Club, 1 W. Blithedale Ave., Mill Valley

» Strawberry Village Shopping Center, 800 Redwood Hwy, Mill Valley

» Frantoio Ristorante, 152 Shoreline Hwy., Mill Valley

» Marin Youth Center, 1135 ThirdSt., San Rafael

» Bay Model Visitor Center, 2100 Bridgeway, Sausalito

PRICE: Tickets are $8 to $10 except where indicated

INFO: Call (415) 383-5256 or visit

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