Bradley Cooper, People Magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive" in 2011, set some hearts throbbing Thursday on the opening night of the 35th anniversary Mill Valley Film Festival.
Super casually dressed in a nylon bomber jacket, khakis and athletic shoes at a pre-screening reception at Mill Valley's Outdoor Art Club, the 37-year-old star of "The Hangover" movies was in Mill Valley with David O. Russell, director of one of the opening night films, "Silver Linings Playbook," in which Cooper stars as a recently released mental patient.
"All the housewives have come down for this," joked Mill Valley's Natasha Weir, wife of the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir.
This was Cooper's first visit to Mill Valley and only his second time in the Bay Area.
"It's always been a dream to be at a film festival in a theater and take questions in a Q&A," he said with a straight face at an opening night press conference.
He said he had attended the Sundance Film Festival for the premiere of his first film, "Wet Hot American Summer" in 2001, but it was nothing like the warm welcome he received in Mill Valley.
"I couldn't even get into my own premiere at Sundance," he said. "They didn't believe I was in it. So this is a nice change."
This was the third movie in the Mill Valley Festival for Russell, whose last film was the Oscar winning drama "The Fighter."
"This is a special place, and knowing that cinema is living here and you can come back and there will be the same people is a wonderful thing," he said as Mark Fishkin, festival founder and executive director, beamed.
Considered one of the top 10 film festivals in the country, Mill Valley will be showing a slate of some 150 films from around the world from Oct. 4 to 14. Over 35 years, the festival has earned a reputation as a showcase for independent films that moviegoers won't get to see at their neighborhood multiplex.
"I always encourage people to pick at least one film to take a chance on and go see," Fishkin said. "Most of the time they won't be disappointed. There is something still very special about seeing something in a theater with a big screen and gathering around the campfire with your fellow filmgoers."
After the reception, Beverly Butler, a vice president of Wells Fargo, a festival sponsor, headed for the Sequoia Theater to see Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro in "Silver Linings Playbook."
"This festival is fabulously small town and exciting," she said. "It was fun to go through the festival catalog and say, 'I want to see this, I want to see that.' We have tickets for matinee and evening shows for the next 10 days. I'm going to see more movies in that time than I've ever seen in my life."
Among the first nighters was Sacheen Littlefeather of San Rafael, a Native American activist who wore Apache dress and spoke against the treatment of American Indians at the 45th Academy Awards ceremony in 1973. She was there on behalf of Marlon Brando, who turned down the Oscar for his role in "The Godfather" to protest the treatment of Native Americans on screen.
Littlefeather, who has just recovered from breast cancer, recalled attending a premiere in Los Angeles of the 2009 documentary "Reel Injun," which explores the portrayal of Native Americans in film.
"I didn't think anyone would remember me," she said. "But I walked into the theater and all these young Native Americans in the film industry gave me a standing ovation. I was shocked."
Rebecca Yeldham, producer of "On the Road," the other opening night movie, has had three films in past Mill Valley festivals, but this was the first time she had been able to attend in person.
While researching "On the Road," the first movie based on Beat generation icon Jack Kerouac's famed novel, she and director Walter Salles had been in Marin many times. One of the consultants they relied on was author Gerry Nicosia of Corte Madera, who was there on opening night to see how his efforts turned out.
"That's why it's so meaningful for me to be up here," Yeldham said. "There are so many people who contributed their time, their personal archives, their memories, which were very influential for us as we were undertaking our research for this film. It originated here for us, so this is like coming full circle."
Filmmaker Gillian Grisman, who grew up in Mill Valley, said it was attending her first Mill Valley Film Festival when she was a 15-year-old Tam High drama student that made her want to make movies. She has since had three documentaries in the festival, including this year's entry, "Village Music: Last of the Great Record Stores."
"That first festival had such an impact on me that I knew I wanted to have my films here one day," she said. "And here I am."
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