When the Mill Valley Film Festival kicks off its on Oct. 4, it will do so by reminding the world that it hasn’t forgotten where it all began.
The festival’s opening night gala is set for in downtown Mill Valley, a short stroll from the Odd Fellows Hall (now the ) where . It is the first time the festival had had its opening night gala since 2007.
“We wanted the opening of our 35th anniversary year to be at the heart and soul of what this festival is all about,” said Jen Oberti, the festival’s events manager. “This year, the festival is about place, and being downtown is very much a part of that.”
The Oct. 4 event, which runs from 9:30 p.m. to midnight, will have the entire plaza and adjacent parking lot covered in a tent, Oberti said.
“We’re trying to create the village vibe, and the entire area will feel like it’s been transformed,” she said. “And when people walk through the village, they’ll definitely be entertained.”
Mill Valley Mayor Garry Lion noted that the city’s eponymous film festival was one of the backbones of its great arts and culture scene that among the 20 Best Small Towns in America.
“The film festival is one of the iconic events that really make us stand out throughout the country, he said. “And the more that we can get people, especially in this case a lot of visitors from out of town, into town and really basking in the glow of the 35th year of the festival – that’s just fabulous.”
A slew of local businesses will be part of the gala, but the two that will be most involved are those in closest proximity to the plaza itself: the and the clothing boutique. Both will open their doors to the gala, adding both space and additional entertainment to the party, Oberti said.
Mili owner and Novato resident Paul Staricco, who opened his first Mili clothing boutique downtown 14 years ago, said he’s excited to turn his store over to the opening night gala.
“We’ve been wanting to get involved with the festival for years, and this is the perfect situation - we’re sitting right in the prime location,” Staricco said. “It’s going to be great.”
The gala will feature an array of elements, some of which are still being finalized. They include:
- Local food. Chefs at some of the top restaurants in Mill Valley and Marin have been tasked with creating food that emphasizes a farm-to-table approach and “shows off the bounty of Marin County." Participating restaurants include: , , , , , , , and and Big Jim’s Smokehouse from San Rafael.
- Drinks. Namely, Lagunitas Brewing Company has created a special MVFF Anniversary brew just for the gala.
- Music. Oberti said a number of prominent local artists will be announced later this month, but DJ Sherv will be spinning tunes throughout the night.
- Historical video. Viewing stations scattered throughout the plaza will feature short “Mill Valley Moments” of past festival honorees talking about the films they were screening at the time, such as Sean Penn talking about Into the Wild.
- Art exhibit. The Depot Café will play host to an installation of MVFF posters throughout the past 35 years, along with classic festival photos, including one of actor Jon Voight and his then-12-year-old daughter Angelina Jolie.
- After party. The official MVFF opening night after-party is at the .
Daniel Escalzo, executive director of the , said a major focus of his organization is creating buzz that benefits the local business community, and downtown events like MVFF’s opening night party do just that.
“The chamber is delighted that the Mill Valley Film Festival is having their opening party downtown,” he said. “We are absolutely thrilled to have so many people downtown on opening night and throughout the festival, filling our stores and restaurants. We couldn’t be happier.”
Escalzo said he’d be reaching out to downtown business owners to encourage them to stay open late on the night of the gala.
“It’s a no brainer,” he said.
Oberti said she was grateful that the city of Mill Valley, particularly the Parks and Recreation Commission that doles out permits for events like this one, backed the idea of having the festival’s opening night party downtown.
“This is a really big success story,” Oberti said. “To get downtown permits is tough and this is really great that this is actually happening. I’m so happy that they have supported this and I’m glad they saw the significance of this event.”
The 411: The 35th Mill Valley Film Festival’s Opening Night Gala is set for in downtown Mill Valley from 9:30 p.m. to 12 a.m.