For all the glitter of seeing good movies a few weeks before they open at regular theaters, the primary reason to attend a film festival is to screen things you might not see otherwise. Among those are Delphine Gleize's unclassifiable Carnage, which traces the aftermath of a bloody bullfight across several lives, and Joey Curtis' Quattro Noza, an unabashed melodrama set among the young, beautiful, and doomed of Southern California's street racers. A recommended sleeper is Hurt McDermott's Nightingale in a Music Box, an enthralling intellectual puzzler about a mind-controlled industrial spy.
As always, Mill Valley sponsors generous programs of short films (including six of its traditional "5@5" compilations) and documentaries. Prisoner of Paradise by Malcolm Clarke and Stuart Sender is the gripping, dreadful true story of a celebrated star of Weimar Germany and the piece he was forced to make celebrating the Nazi showpiece camp Thereisenstadt. The fest also screens many hard-to-find movies from Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, including the uplifting Indian drama The Guardian Spirit of the House, by Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukthankar, which offers a daring critique of Gandhi's ideals. Finally, pioneering Chinese filmmaker Tian Zhuangzhuang's Springtime in a Small Town went unpreviewed but is still a must-see: It's the first picture in a decade from the maker of the visually stunning The Horse Thief and The Blue Kite.