Want to know a secret? Some of the very best films that play at the Mill Valley Film Festival can be found in the festival’s shorts programs, which feature some of the most innovative voices in the industry expressing themselves in bursts of creativity that, when brought together, make for a cinematic fireworks show unlike anything you’ll find at the multiplex.
Shorts: Monsters, Movies, & the Moon
Here is a breakdown of just one of the several shorts programs at MVFF, the family-friendly “Monsters, Movies, & the Moon,” a selection of films designed to entertain viewers ages 9 and up!
A teenage boy and his friends hunt for the mythical monster who dragged his mother into the depths of Lake Merritt in this hilarious, rollicking adventure set in Oakland. With stunning visual effects and a heartfelt message at its core, this slick production is a must-watch for fans of Spider-Man and Stranger Things.
This eye-popping blend of stop-motion animation and visual effects follows a group of inventive science students who have an explosive run-in with a Minotaur in the woods. This adorable nugget of sci-fi fantasy with ’90s Nickelodeon flair is sure to be a howling good time for the whole family.
Three siblings bring to life a plastic companion cobbled together with mannequin parts and in this cinematic storybook that is unlike anything you’ll see at the festival. The hand-illustrated art is crackling with style, and the filmmakers’ riff on the Mary Shelley classic goes in a delightfully unexpected direction.
A girl stuck in her apartment during the Covid-19 pandemic turns to classic movies as a means of escape, only to find her world becoming consumed — quite literally — by the films she obsesses over. The creativity on display by writer-director Alex Ramirez is breathtaking, and star Josey Porras’ silent performance is simply enchanting.
Young aspiring astronomer Gugu yearns to reconnect with her Gogo (grandmother) who lives half the world away in Zimbabwe while she and her mother struggle to get on the same page at home. A fantastical family story with rich imagery and heart-melting performances, this modern fable could be the feel-good film of the festival.
The great Colman Domingo provides a delectable filmic slice of his autobiographical solo play A Boy and His Soul in this show-stopping animated short that provides a glimpse into the actor and playwright’s childhood with his mother in West Philadelphia. Fueled by iconic tunes like “Shining Star” by Earth, Wind & Fire and “Daydreaming” by Aretha Franklin, this soulful micro-memoir is precisely the kind of unique, in-theater experience you can only get at MVFF.
Giving a platform to storytellers from underrepresented communities and cultures has always been a core tenet of MVFF, and this year’s festival reflects that commitment with a wide selection of films from filmmakers of all backgrounds. The three films below are just a small sampling of the diversity to be found at MVFF.
The magnificent Lily Gladstone stars as hustler Jax, who with her niece Roki (Isabel Deroy-Olson) searches for her missing sister in hopes of bringing her back home in time for the community’s upcoming pow-wow. This Native family drama explores the struggles of Indigenous communities in the most artful way, with filmmaker Erica Tremblay exhibiting the directorial assuredness of a storyteller far beyond her years.
A black woman named Lela embarks on an enlightening journey through Turkey where she meets eccentric locals she finds herself unexpectedly drawn to. The picturesque landscapes and spontaneity of the storytelling make this soul-searching, touristic drama feel truly one-of-a-kind.
First-time writer-director Luke Gifford tells a poignant tale of a day laborer in the Southwest who finds community and chosen family in a group of queer ranchers and rodeo performers. Cinematically rich and brilliantly acted, the film announces a vital new voice in the world of queer cinema.
Bernard Boo is an AAPI arts and entertainment critic, Bay Area native and proud member of the San Francisco Bay Area Film Critics Circle. Find more of his work at PopMatters, Den of Geek and Rotten Tomatoes, and listen to him on the Your Asian Best Friends podcast.