Pass the Remote: Mill Valley film fest full of Bay Area ties

"The Disappearance of Shere Hite" asks why the groundbreaking work of sexologist Shere Hite isn't in the spotlight today. Oakland director Nicole Newnham details some factors in one of the Mill Valley Film Festival's best documentaries. (Courtesy IFC Films)

The Mill Valley Film Festival has a reputation for attracting top-tier filmmakers and movie stars from around the globe. While the current actors and writers strikes have tabled appearances of many celebrities, the festival remains undaunted as it gears up to host numerous directors (and the occasional star receiving special dispensation) at screenings in Marin, San Francisco and Alameda counties next month.  

As a bonus, some films are available to stream. 

In addition to international sensations, the 46th edition of the festival — running Oct. 5-15 in Mill Valley, San Rafael, Larkspur, Berkeley, and San Francisco — celebrates exciting new work representative of, and sometimes, about the Bay Area. 

While there are many high-profile screenings in the 148-film lineup already at rush status (some tickets will be released later), Pass the Remote this week shines light on seven memorable titles with Bay Area ties.  

Oakland middle-school students practice the dragon pose in “I Am Hope.” (Courtesy Mill Valley Film Festival)

In Oakland director Shakajamal’s “I Am Hope,” Oakland middle school students talk about the rejuvenating power of mindfulness, meditation, and yoga and how such practices help them in school and their everyday lives. Just over 60 minutes, “I Am Hope” lives up to title, dropping in on students, teachers, practitioners and guides. While a brief animated sequence in the film provides historical context and insight about Oakland’s fraught history in treating people of color, one of my favorite parts has students asking Shakajamal great questions and getting responses with candor and thoughtfulness. [1 p.m. Oct. 7 at the Sequoia in Mill Valley; 4:30 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Rafael Film Center, followed by the talk “Mindfulness in the Classroom” with Shakajamal, author-filmmaker W. Kamau Bell and educator-activist Ericka Huggins; also streaming Oct. 16-22] 

“The Right to Read” shows how educators, including teachers in Oakland, are challenging out-of-touch reading curriculum. (Courtesy Mill Valley Film Festival)

Oakland schools also figure prominently in award-winning documentary maker Jenny Mackenzie’s “The Right to Read,” which looks at innovative ways to replace out-of-touch, out-of-sync, ineffective reading curriculum that continues to frustrate parents, teachers and students. Executive produced by LeVar Burton, the film ventures beyond the Bay Area and presents a national overview of the failure and how parents, educators (Oakland first-grade teacher Sabrina Causey) and activists (Oakland NAACP’s Kareem Weaver) are responding and leading the charge for successful change. [4:15 p.m. Oct. 14 at Sequoia; noon Oct. 15 at Lark in Larkspur] 

“The 9 Lives of Barbara Dane” details the life of the Oakland singer-musician-activist, who performed with icons including Bob Dylan. (Courtesy Mill Valley Film Festival)

An anticipated world premiere captures with great authenticity the reason why a 96-year-old Oakland singer-activist-musician is such a worthy subject for a movie. In “The 9 Lives of Barbara Dane,” the lovable renegade (who merited a New York Times article detailing her accomplishments, run-ins with authority and exciting life) continues to stand up for what she believes, a quality that informed her massive FBI file. Oakland director Maureen Gosling throws everything in here: archival photos, previous and new interviews (including comments from Jane Fonda) and, of course, breathtaking performances. Local music fans should not miss this compelling and thorough portrait of an important figure from the Bay Area music scene. Dane is expected to attend. [5 p.m. Oct. 10 at Sequoia, followed by a Sweetwater Music Hall performance with separate admission; 3:15 p.m. Oct. 14 at Lark; available to stream Oct. 16-22] 

Downtown Mill Valley and Marin County’s soaring-to-the-sky redwoods add Bay Area flavoring to Richmond filmmaker Finn Taylor’s lovely “Avenue of the Giants,” a well-told, well-acted tale about the burden of guilt and how it can damage lives. Based on the recollections of Mill Valley resident Herbert Heller (Stephen Lang), Taylor’s ambitious drama finds Heller developing a bond with a depressed teen (Elsie Fisher) while he relates his own history, a secret to most, about his time spent in Auschwitz. It’s tough at times, but it turns into a life-affirming tale that touches the heart and reminds us of the importance of connection. [7 p.m. Oct. 11 at Rafael; 2:30 p.m. Oct. 12 at Sequoia; available to stream Oct. 16-22] 

A Bay Area entertainer on the once dynamic North Beach club scene who shocked the nation by going topless and later bottomless gets bio-documentary treatment in “Carol Doda Topless at the Condor.” Directors Marlo McKenzie of San Rafael and Jonathan Parker of Kentfield plunge into San Francisco’s 1970s brassy, bold nightlife scene when the Condor cocktail waitress who danced with her top off became a star. McKenzie and Parker temper the titillation factor throughout and do a fine job covering personalities; the sensational 1983 death of a bouncer who was crushed by a piano at the Condor; and how silicone injections harmed Doda’s breasts. One of the biggest surprises, though, is the reveal about how secretive Doda was about her troubled childhood and life outside of the entertainment world. [8:45 p.m. Oct. 10 at the Roxie in San Francisco; 7 p.m. Oct. 14 at the Rafael] 

Oakland’s Nicole Newnham follows up her exceptional Oscar-nominated “Crip Camp” (which she codirected with Berkeley filmmaker James LeBrecht) with another winner that wades into sexism, sexuality, and the fragility of the male ego: “The Disappearance of Shere Hite.” Through videos and diary entries read perfectly by Dakota Johnson, Newnham explores the complex sexologist-researcher’s early years, her modeling career, and groundbreaking work surveying women, then men, about their sexual lives. The published findings were bestselling books (shockingly to the chagrin of even the publishers at the time). When a conservative tide rolled in, the often-combative Hite found herself the target of scorn, laughter and instant dismissal. This fascinating documentary is easily one of the best in the lineup. [8 p.m. Oct. 7 at Sequoia; 1 p.m. Oct. 8 at Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive] 

Truth can be stranger than fiction, and the adage applies ever so well to Catherine Masud’s world premiere, “A Double Life.” The shocking Aug. 21, 1971 killings of well-known San Quentin inmate George Jackson, three guards and two additional inmates is tied to a visit from activist lawyer Stephen Bingham. He, in turn, becomes prime suspect No. 1, and after a manhunt flees the country. “A Double Life” seems like the stuff of a pulpy thriller, keeping you on edge throughout. It also opens the door to more questions about what happened that fateful day in August. [2:45 p.m. Oct. 8 at the Rafael; 11:30 a.m. Oct. 15 at the Rafael; streaming Oct. 16-22] 

To purchase tickets (most screenings are $8-16.50, excluding special events) and check out the full lineup, visit

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