Back to the Big Screen: Mill Valley Film Festival Returns to Form for 2021

Following an unprecedented, transformative 2020, the Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF) begins its return to form in 2021. From opening night to closing night, from filmmaker Q&As to industry panels, MVFF is welcoming in-person audiences back with open arms this year. But rest assured, health and safety will take precedence over all. “There won’t be a party for 1,200 people,” explains MVFF Executive Director and founder Mark Fishkin via Zoom. With a reassuring laugh he confirms: “It’ll be a smaller party.”

Mark Fishkin

Fishkin looks to run a tight ship at this year’s festival, putting necessary health protocols in place so that festival-goers can enjoy the films safely. For one thing, proof of vaccination will be required for all MVFF events. Beyond this, festival staff will adapt their protocols to the ever-developing state and county guidelines. “We can do things more strictly or we can loosen them depending on what we’re allowed to do, and what we feel is the best thing for this event,” Fishkin explains. “We can dial things up or down. We’re feeling really good about it.” While all necessary measures will be taken to ensure a safe environment for in-person audiences, the festival will also provide a robust online component for attendees who would prefer to enjoy the festival from the comfort of their homes. Many of the screenings, Q&As and panels will be available virtually, and Fishkin believes that offering both in person and online options for viewing will make the festival accessible to all. “Some people may choose not to go and to only watch online, and we will have online options for them,” says Fishkin.

“Some people will choose to go to a movie and not choose to go to a reception. I believe we can create a safe environment for everyone — it all depends on the audience members’ comfort level.” While there won’t be as many international special guests in attendance at this year’s festival, the silver lining is that there will be a stronger emphasis on local films and talent. “The festival is a world-class event,” Fishkin explains, “but the majority of the guests this year will be from the Bay Area. That’s a nice thing, and it should make people feel really safe. I hope people will feel the pride and enjoyment of the community aspect of the festival more than ever this year.”

A lot of hard work goes into putting on the festival every year, and 2021 has posed its fair share of unique, logistical challenges. But for Fishkin and the MVFF staff, the juice will be well worth the squeeze when they welcome audiences back to the theater at long last. “We’re very, very excited,” says Fishkin of MVFF’s return to in-person attendance. “Movies were made to be seen on the big screen. We look at film as entertainment, as education, as art and, more importantly, we look at film as the best way to create empathy among people. I believe we need that more than ever right now.”

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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 podcast.