News Ticker

Mill Valley Film Festival

A Visionary Festival with a Visionary Leader

independent film, entertainment, film festival, film events, film reviews

By Ron Merk

I’ve known Mark Fishkin for more than ten years, having encountered him at many Bay Area film-related events and festivals many times. Mark, who is the Founder, Executive Director and Festival Director of the Mill Valley Film Festival, is truly the driving force behind the festival, and that rare combination of vision and the ability to bring that vision to fruition. Art and Business working hand-in-hand, is what makes a film festival both meaningful and successful. After all, it’s why they call the entertainment industry show business.

Back in the Spring I had the opportunity to spend almost three hours with Mark in his office in San Rafael. We talked about many things: about ourselves, our families, our careers, and what we saw as the future of films, filmmaking and film exhibition. At the end of our talk, Mark said to me, “I’m really glad that we had the chance to really get to know each other today, after all these years of brief encounters at our festival and other film events.”

I think his willingness to truly get to know people is what makes Mark different from many festival chiefs, and what makes it possible for him to attract some of the best films, filmmakers and actors to the Mill Valley Film Festival. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like to be appreciated, and we can’t really appreciate someone until we get to know them. Mark always finds the time to spend with people, and to give them not only his full attention, but also a real interest in who they are, what is important to them, and to learn how he can work with them, and establish a real personal relationship with them. Mark’s attention to personal detail is also the reason why he gets so much support from his community and sponsors, and all those people and organization that contribute everything needed to make the Mill Valley Film Festival one of the classiest and enjoyable film festivals in the world.

As for the festival, itself, I think Mark understands that there are “no small details” when it comes to events and how they are presented. It’s really important to him that audiences are well-informed and well-served by the festival. Every event is special, and this is in many ways an extension of Mark’s belief that “we’re in show business,” and that festivals need to remember that every screening is a separate show with a separate audience that needs to be satisfied. I noticed in our conversation that he used the word “audience” instead of “demographic.” It’s very clear to me that for Mark Fishkin the festival is a very personal experience, and that he truly wants it to reach out and touch people.

The 37th Mill Valley film festival runs from October 2 through 12, 2014. There’s a great line-up of films, personal appearances and tributes, as well as great social events. You can read more about this year’s festival at

And remember that the California Film Institute has programs running all year at various venues including the beautiful Rafael Theater in San Rafael, where three theaters run the best of the past, the innovators of the present, and the stars of the future in some of the best-curated programming in the US. They have an amazing education department, artist-in-residence programs, and a full spectrum of film culture activities. You can read more about the California Film Institute and its programs at:

If you haven’t yet bought tickets or a pass, run, don’t walk to your computer because many events are close to being sold out. Yes, there’s THAT much excitement about the program from film lovers from the Bay Area, the USA and around the world.

When you see Mark at a screening or event, just take a minute to say hello and thank him for his dedication of the festival, and his work of more than 37 years to keep it going, make it vibrant and world class, but never forgetting it’s about people first and foremost. Sure, you can also tell him that Ron Merk sent you!

Some information for Wikipedia about The Mill Valley Film Festival:
The Mill Valley Film Festival is an annual, non-competitive film festival presented by the California Film Institute. Known as a filmmakers’ festival, the annual 11-day festival, based in Mill Valley, California, offers a non-competitive environment for exhibiting the best cinema from around the world.
Founded in August 1978 by MVFF Director Mark Fishkin, the Festival has established an impressive track record for launching new films and the careers of new filmmakers and is well known for the quality of its programming. As the only prominent fall film festival in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Mill Valley Film Festival is also an important industry resource—both for its emphasis on films that have not yet secured US distribution and for fall launches and northern California Academy Awards campaigns.

The San Francisco Bay Area continues to be a significant market for independent and international film, and MVFF provides a forum for introducing new films to West coast audiences. The festival has attracted international movie stars like Gael García Bernal and Helen Mirren, as well as Hollywood actors like Forest Whitaker, Tim Robbins and Billy Bob Thornton.

Each year, the 11-day festival welcomes more than 200 filmmakers and 60,000 attendees from around the world. Festival sections include the Official Premiere Selection, World Cinema, US Cinema, Valley of the Docs, Children’s FilmFest, 5@5 (daily shorts programs) and VisionFest (programs embracing cutting-edge filmmaking and technologies). The festival also features tributes to acclaimed filmmakers, like screenwriter Eric Roth.[8] Screenings are usually held at the Christopher B Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, the Sequoia Theatre in Mill Valley, the Cinema in Corte Madera, and the Lark Theatre in Larkspur.

Screen International has named Mill Valley Film Festival a Top 10 US film festival.

The Festival is also an important industry resource, both for its emphasis on films that have not yet secured US distribution and for fall launches and northern California Academy Award® campaigns. The Bay Area continues to be a significant market for independent and international film, and MVFF consistently provides a forum for introducing new films to West Coast audiences.

Presented by the non-profit California Film Institute whose mission it is to celebrate and promote film as art and education through the presentation of the Mill Valley Film Festival, year-round exhibitions at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, and by building the next generation of filmmakers and film lovers through CFI Education, which reaches over 6,500 under-served students in the San Francisco Bay Area.