I missed the first week of this year’s Mill Valley Film Festival (including the world premiere of what looks to be a very interesting film indeed — Green Book), but one of the best things about festivals is that they don’t frontload all the good stuff. Accordingly, there’s plenty to recommend during week two – including the North American debut of Connie Field’s The Whistleblower of My Lai (screening at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 11 at Cinearts Sequoia and at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 12 at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center).
Fair warning: Field’s film is not so much about the titular hero as it is about those influenced by him 50 years on, so if you’re expecting a standard documentary recapitulating the life and times of Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson — the helicopter pilot who interrupted the My Lai Massacre and rescued Vietnamese villagers from the bullets of his comrades — you’ll be disappointed. Though Thompson and his crew members, Glenn Andreotta and Larry Colburn, are appropriately lauded, the film is firmly focused on the creative process behind a piece of music entitled ‘The Whistleblower of My Lai.’
Collaboratively composed by Jonathan Berger and Harriet Scott Chessman, this unique ‘monodrama’ was brought to life by San Francisco’s legendary avant-classical group The Kronos Quartet, theatrical polymath Rinde Eckert, and Vietnamese musician Vân Ánh Võ. While the music isn’t exactly my cup of tea, it’s a respectful tribute to Thompson — whose decision to intervene helped bring the massacre to an end — and essential viewing for admirers of Kronos and Eckert.
‘Long Time Coming’
Being a huge fan of all things baseball, Jon Strong’s Long Time Coming: A 1955 Baseball Story (screening at 3 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 12 at the Smith Center) is right in my wheelhouse. Telling the tale of the first integrated Little League tournament game ever held in the Deep South, Strong’s film revisits and reunites the surviving members of the white Orlando, Florida team that hosted (and defeated) a team of African-American youth from Pensacola.
It would be too much to hope that any film existed of the game itself, so Strong relies on contemporary interview footage to tell his story — which, thankfully, is just enough. Though a little overlong at 87 minutes, Long Time Coming cuts deep; it’s especially telling when the film contrasts the white players’ memories of the 1950s with those of their African-American counterparts — and, of course, contemporary political opinions lie just beneath the surface.
Last but by no means least, Any Wednesday (screening at the Smith Center at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 13 as part of the program ‘An Afternoon with Eleanor Coppola’) is a short subject I boldly (and no doubt incorrectly) predict will be honored with an Oscar nomination next year. Or perhaps that prediction isn’t as bold as it sounds: director Allie Light previously won an Academy Award for her 1991 feature documentary, In the Shadow of the Stars.
Any Wednesday is a fictional short subject starring Mary Black and Shane Dean as, respectively, a 79-year old woman in the early throes of Alzheimer’s and a homeless veteran suffering from PTSD. Light’s film brings them together in unusual but believable circumstances; their individual suffering isn’t sugarcoated, but there are brief moments of humor illuminating a story about being subsumed by darkness.