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Mill Valley Film Fest Unveils Loaded Lineup

Tributes to Edward Norton, Annette Bening and a spotlight on acclaimed director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu highlight roster of 143 films to be screened over 11 days next month.

The California Film Institute revealed the 143-film lineup of the 33rd annual Mill Valley Film Festival Tuesday morning, and the 11-day event will include several star-studded tributes, some films already garnering Oscar buzz and an array of diverse films from all over the world.

"As a proud member of the cultural community of the Bay Area and the filmmaking community at large, we take our responsibility very seriously," California Film Institute Executive Director Mark Fishkin said. "Since our inception in 1978, the festival has kept pace with great films. These films this year highlight the wonderful diversity of our world as well as the universality and the most basic human values of it."

As previously announced, the festival will kick off with a two-pronged opening night, with Bay Area native Sam Rockwell appearing at a screening of his new film Conviction at the Sequoia Theatre and the Oscar buzzworthy The King's Speech, starring Colin Firth as a stammering King George VI, screening at the Rafael Film Center.

The festival will include its usual round of tributes, this time highlighting the career achievements of both Edward Norton and Annette Bening. Norton's appearance Oct. 9 at the Rafael will feature a screening of Stone, a psychological thriller in which Norton plays a convict who comes before a corrections officer (played by Robert De Niro) for early release consideration.

Zoe Elton, the festival's director of programming, called Norton "one of the most striking actors of his generation" and said his performance in Stoned is a "multi-layered tour de force."

The Bening tribute won't include a film screening but a series of clips highlighting her career, from 1989's Valmont to this year's The Kids Are Alright. Fishkin highlighted Bening's cat-like portrayal of Myra Langtry in 1990's The Grifters, coupled with her latest role, as a sign of her range as an actress.

"When one speaks to versatility, all you have to do is see The Grifters and The Kids Are Alright to see enormous depth and versatility," Fishkin said.

For the second time, the festival will spotlight the work of Spanish director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who was honored in 2006 in advance of his most recent film, Babel. Inarritu this time brings Biutiful, starring Javier Bardem as a heartbreaking and deeply flawed character facing his impending death. Bardem won Best Actor honors at the Cannes Film Festival in May for this role.

Elton called Inarritu a "true artist of the cinema" who has earned that coveted single-name status of the likes of Almodovar and Coppolla.

"The way he embraces big themes through character-driven stories is amazing," she said. "He takes characters who are marginalized, patronized and romanticized and he makes them very real."

The festival will also honor Julian Schnabel, the director of the acclaimed The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Schnabel's new film is Miral, a tale of four women searching for justice, hope and reconciliation amid the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The film is based on Palestinian writer and broadcaster Rula Jebreal's semi-autobiographical novel.

"(Schnabel) has carved out a position for himself as one of the great art directors that has a significant palette and audience," Elton said.

Beyond the special events, there are no shortage of star-studded films throughout the schedule. Helen Mirren and James Franco appear in two films apiece.

Franco stars in William Vincent, about one man's trip into the New York crime world, as well as 127 Hours, Academy Award-winning director Danny Boyle's (Slumdog Millionaire) take on the story of Aron Ralston, whose Between a Rock and a Hard Place told his saga of having to extricate himself from under a boulder on a solo adventure in remote Utah.

Mirren stars in the festival's closing night film, The Debt, a story of a retired Mossad agent plagued by a secret she shares with the man she married and the man she loved. She also plays Prospera in The Tempest, Julie Taymor's visually striking stab at Shakespeare's last play.

Naomi Watts and Sean Penn star as real-life couple Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson in Fair Game, based on the outing of CIA agent Plame in the fallout over the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

As usual, the festival will feature a host of Bay Area filmmakers, with 16 local directors showing off films, including San Francisco director Rob Nilsson, who has screened films at the Mill Valley Film Festival for several years in a row and will show his latest, Sand, on Oct. 9 at the Rafael.

International films have long had a deep presence at the festival, and this year will be no different. The lineup includes three African films, including the South African film Themba – A Boy Called Hope, and Kinshasa Symphony, about the Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste in  the ravaged Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Scandinavia will also get plenty of attention, with five Scandinavian films on the roster, including Submission, in which Swedish director Stefan Jarl takes a sample of his blood and has it analyzed to reveal the amount of toxic chemicals running through our bloodstream.

"It talks about the fact that your child or any child would be healthier living in a woodshed than living in their own bedroom," Fishkin said.

The 11-day festival will also feature a number of panels and workshops, a children's festival that will offer a family rate of $25 for four tickets, and an array of parties and special events throughout Mill Valley.

"This is a celebration of our shared love for the medium and limitless potential for informing and shaping our lives," Fishkin said. "We may not know exactly what the future will be, but rest assured we will be there when it unfolds."

Mill Valley Film Festival tickets go on sale Sept. 16 for donors, Sept. 19 for institute members and Sept. 22 for the general public. See the festival's Web site for more details.

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