The Mill Valley Film Festival Lets Attendees Get Up Close and Personal With the Stars

Marin County has a magical effect on people. “You could be the most jaded Hollywood producer in the world,” says Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF) Executive Director Mark Fishkin. “But after 24 to 48 hours in Marin, you’re fine being stopped in the street by people congratulating you on your film, versus other festival cities where you’re taking a limo to go two blocks.” 

Whether it’s the gorgeous backdrop of Marin County’s redwood forests, or the cozy, small-town vibes of Mill Valley and San Rafael, MVFF has history of inspiring even the most famous celebrities in the world to let their guards down at one of the festival’s famous parties and get up close and personal with fans.

Photo by Eddy Hernandez.

“Felicity Huffman was here back in 2005,” Fishkin recalls. “There was a problem with her flight, so she didn’t have a lot of time to stay. She stood there at one of our parties at the Outdoor Art Club and said, ‘I’m going to talk to and shake everybody’s hand who wants to talk to me. There was a line from the building all the way out into the front walkway, but she did it! She talked to everybody.”

Andrew Garfield also had a blast with beaming festivalgoers at an MVFF party in 2017. “He talked to all of the guests!” Fishkin says. “I was sitting with his publicist and I said, ‘You know, he really doesn’t have to do this.’ And she said, ‘I told him that, but he wants to do it. He enjoys it.’”

At the Cannes Film Festival, you’re lucky to catch a glimpse of a celebrity on the steps of the Palais des Festivals behind a wall of paparazzi. But at MVFF, festivalgoers have a good chance of bumping into filmmakers, actors and actresses and have a chat over delicious food and drinks. 

“I can’t promise everybody that if you buy a ticket, you get to put your arm around a handsome star or a beautiful actress,” Fishkin cautions with a laugh. “However, there is a chance. And the fact that these famous actors and actresses are there with you at these parties really adds to the experience.”

Photo by Tommy Lau.

While there is no guarantee that attendees will have private interactions with Hollywood megastars, it’s highly likely to run into filmmakers and stars from some of the smaller, independent films playing at the festival, which can be a wonderful experience in its own right. Discussing a powerful documentary or arthouse film with fellow festivalgoers at an afterparty is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the festival, but having the director join in on your conversation makes the experience absolutely unforgettable.

MVFF parties are as intimate as they are glamorous, but the health and safety of attendees is still top priority for Fishkin and his team. “We’re very conscious of protecting the health of all of our guests, so there will be an outdoor component to all of our parties, and we’ll encourage wearing masks,” he says.

Following the completely socially distanced festival back in 2020 and a limited in-person celebration in 2021, MVFF looks to finally be back in full party mode for its 45th anniversary. Special guests from some of the most buzz-worthy movies in the festival lineup will be on-hand to mingle with MVFF faithful, and Fishkin has no doubt that this year’s parties will be a fun time for all. “This is the year we put the ‘festive’ back in ‘festival.’”

be close to that pre-pandemic experience. And it may be even larger next year!”

Bernard Boo

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 podcas