Valley highs

Local docs and more at Mill Valley Film Festival 2010

MVFF picks include a doc about the man whose namesake t-shirts have overshadowed his body art, Ed Hardy: Tattoo the World

FILM This year's Mill Valley Film Festival, the 33rd — we'll refrain from crucifying it — brings the usual assortment of visiting celebrities starting their Oscar thumpage early at an event with a rep for anticipating next February's Academy winners. Some have local roots (Annette Bening, Sam Rockwell, James Franco), some don't (Alejandro González Iñárritu, Edward Norton, Julian Schnabel).

All will be happy, or at least willing, to discuss their creative process from the Rafael or Sequoia stages. But insight into the artistic mind is also available in several lower-profile programs about Bay Area innovators in various media, most made by Bay Area filmmakers.

Tom Ropelewski's Child of Giants: My Journey With Maynard Dixon and Dorothea Lange is both an appreciation of brilliance — the late, briefly married titans of 20th century Western painting and photography — and a measurement of how difficult it can be to live with. Like many true mavericks, Dixon and Lange drew little distinction between their artistic and personal lives, operating by rules of their own devising that others had to either obey or get the hell out of the way.

Not given much choice in the matter were their two sons, interviewed here. Overshadowed and occasionally neglected by parents (biological and step-) whose notions of progressive upbringing could be dictatorial and harshly critical, one played the passive-obedience card, while the other rebelled to the point of youthful homelessness. Still, they're forgiving — as a granddaughter puts it, "I can't pass judgment because I'm not a genius."

There are no next-generation tattlers in the happier creative vistas of Elizabeth Federici and Laura Harrison's Space, Land and Time: Underground Adventures with Ant Farm and Emiko Omori's Ed Hardy: Tattoo the World. The first chronicles the architectural, performance, and media-manipulation of the 1970s SF trickster collective most famously responsible for Amarillo, Texas, automotive cemetery Cadillac Ranch, which one admirer calls "the greatest human undertaking since the Tower of Babel — which failed, and [this] prevailed." SoCal custom car fanatic and surfer-turned-SF- counterculture-celeb Hardy provides an endearingly modest guide through a career that, perhaps more than any other, revolutionized and popularized U.S. body art.

Among Bay Area narrative features, Scared New World (2005) director Chris Brown's new Fanny, Annie and Danny hews back to the train-wreck parenting theme. Its three disparately damaged adult siblings seem tragicomedically bad enough company until we meet the monster who made them. Mother Edie (Colette Keen) presides over their climactic Christmas dinner like a lion tamer snapping bullwhip over yelping puppies. Seldom have sing-along carols sounded so hateful.

Ranging farther afield, MVFF 2010 likewise offers a chance to be first on your block to see this year's Oscar bait (The King's Speech, 127 Hours) and A-list festival favorites (Blue Valentine, Tiny Furniture). But since those will be coming round soon enough to regular theaters, you'd be better off sampling some of the many features unlikely to be seen again hereabouts.

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