Today marks the first day of the 34th annual Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF), an 11-day celebration of film that every year brings hundreds of moviemakers to Marin County, California to experience the best in independent, art house and world cinema. The 2011 MVFF features a stellar lineup of films, including the U.S. premieres of Coriolanus (the directorial debut of actor Ralph Fiennes) and the the Duplass brothers’ Jeff Who Lives at Home, one of the festival’s two opening night films. One of the highlights of the festival is sure to be its tribute to actress Glenn Close (who stars in the festival’s other opening night film, Albert Nobbs), though the festival’s New Movies Lab, where a panelists of moviemakers and distribution experts gather to discuss the future of the film industry, is certain to draw crowds as well.

As this year’s Mill Valley Film Festival kicks off, MovieMaker had the chance to chat with senior film programmer Janis Plotkin about the philosophy of the festival and its continued longevity. To check out the complete lineup and schedule for this year’s festival, which runs from October 6th to the 16th, visit

Rebecca Pahle (MM): 2011 marks the 34th year of the Mill Valley Film Festival. Many other festivals have come and gone in the last few decades, but Mill Valley has endured. To what do you attribute the festival’s continued success?

Janis Plotkin (JP): Two elements have contributed to our success. The first is continuity of leadership; Mark Fishkin, our founder/director, has been here most of the last 34 years, as has our director of programming, Zoe Elton. Together they bring confidence and goodwill to our relationships with the second element of our success: U.S. distributors of independent film, the mainstay of any festival.

MM: What’s the reason behind Mill Valley being a noncompetitive film festival?

JP: There is no question that Mill Valley’s reputation is among the best in the world for non-competitive film festivals. We present ourselves as a “filmmakers” and “film fan” film festival where attending artists can interact with each other, and with the audience, in the intimate environment of the lovely destination of Mill Valley, California.

MM: Most moviemakers who go to festivals do so hoping that their film will be picked up by a distributor, but in the past few years there’s been a growing number of moviemakers who have gone the self-distribution route. Have you noticed that this change in the distribution market has had any impact on film festivals, Mill Valley in particular?

JP: Each year we embrace the changes and challenges for U.S. distributors. Some have disappeared, and then new ones emerge.

As a festival, each year we track the advantages that the Internet has provided to emerging filmmakers in terms of marketing and promoting their films. Our festival always includes panels of experts in our New Movies Lab who discuss with the audience the business of film and questions about how films can make a difference. Oftentimes distributors participate in these panels as well as filmmakers, who present case studies on how they are using social media and the Internet to promote and distribute their work.

Distribution of art house, indie and world cinema has always been a work in progress.

MM: Are there any events or films from this year’s festival that you’re particularly looking forward to?

JP: Certainly, it is the premieres that add spice to any festival. We are very excited to host the North American premiere of A Few Best Men by Stephan Elliott (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert), an irreverent Aussie take on the pre-wedding antics of the groomsmen at an outback wedding. The film features Xavier Samuel (The Twilight Saga: Eclipse) as the husband-to-be and Olivia Newton-John as his Australian future mother-in-law. Then there’s the world cinema, including the Swedish film Trust Me by Johan Kling, a funny, insightful behind-the-scenes snapshot of show business at its most absurdly dramatic, and Gao Xiongjie’s The Butcher’s Wife, an intensely gripping modern fable about those in the provinces of China who are left behind from reaping the country’s current economic benefits.

MM: Anything you’d like to add?

JP: Anyone hungry for cinema that goes beyond the pap from malls and cineplexes will have a banquet of riches at the Mill Valley Film Festival. Join us!