Q: What do an playing an 18th Century Irish woman pretending to be a man, a , a , a portrayal of a Burmese democracy activist, an and a connecting Java, Istanbul and Tehran have in common?
A: One of the most diverse in recent memory.
The 11-day festival that always strives for a diverse offering seemed to do itself one better with its 34th edition, serving up 178 screenings and drawing 40,000 people in the process.
“We had a terrific year,” said Mark Fishkin, the festival’s executive director. “We always have a lot of different groups of people to make happy and if you look at the response to many of these films, it’s been tremendous. It was a very diverse festival and well balanced.”
Festival organizers the California Film Institute (CFI) have long since established a reputation for a slate of films from all over the globe, and it continued that drive this year, landing to curate a lineup of African films and presenting films from 57 countries.
But it also seemed to strive to get younger, particularly by shining its Spotlight events on and , two young actors who are little known outside the indie film circuit.
“It’s unusual for us to spotlight as many young artists as we did,” Fishkin said. “But it was something that was important for [MVFF Director of Programming Director] Zoe [Elton] and I to do. Itwas about honoring the work of this very new generation and to say to them, ‘You guys have made some good choices’ and to give them an incentive to continue to make those good choices.”
Miller and Olsen received MVFF Awards, as did Kabore, , who played Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi in , and , who portrayed the aforementioned 18th Century Irish woman in Albert Nobbs.
Fishkin also hailed the choices of director Michel Hazanavicius, who despite professing his desire to have made a big budget blockbuster film like Avatar, chose instead to make a silent, black-and-white film set in 1920s Hollywood with the .
“Creating a black-and-white film in a silent format when the whole industry is about bigger franchises and 3-D, he is totally against the grain. And that’s why it’s so fulfilling for us.”
Audiences apparently agreed, as The Artist nabbed the Audience Favorite Award. The Audience Favorite World Cinema Award went to Albert Nobbs, which starred Close, who dazzled festival-goers at multiple events during opening weekend. Girlfriend and Pariah tied for the Audience Favorite US Feature Award, while The Lady garnered the Audience Favorite Active Cinema Award.
The Welcome won the Audience Favorite Documentary Award, and Voices From the Shadows was voted as the Audience Favorite International Documentary Award.
The festival included 30 official premieres in all.
Fishkin said that like many organizations, CFI has been battling the winds of the economic downturn since late 2008. CFI has around 20 employees at its San Rafael offices year-round, but that number balloons to nearly 100 for MVFF, along with approximately 300 volunteers.
“The economy is always in the back of your minds when you’re thinking about ticket prices and whether or not people will come out," he said. "But on that front, it was a pretty good year in terms of box office and a number of other areas of revenue.”
Fishkin said that while organizers don’t go into the planning process for the coming year’s festival with a specific road to diversity in mind, they always wants to push the envelope.
“We always want to do new things,” he said.
Check out our , as well as a swarm of multimedia coverage, at right, from our photographers and our ace partners from the Community Media Center of Marin and the Intel Computer Clubhouse in San Rafael.