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  • Zoe Elton


Did this year actually happen or are we just seeing things? Is this a time not just of pandemics, but a rapid acceleration of change across everything we thought we knew? Is the cosmos sending us a crash course in non-attachment and how to be in the moment? In a time when “I don’t know” butts up against the desire for the security of actual answers, can we find the wisdom in uncertainty? Will Mill Valley Film Festival get to 50/50 women directors by 2020? (Finally, an answer: Yes! Even more, we got to 57% )

Before the future gets its way with us and we forget the events of a year which seems more like a decade, I’ve compiled a list of 20 somewhat random events from 2020, some film-festival-centric, as a reminder of the year so far.

20 things that happened in 2020. A list.

  1. Spring: Offices are closed down, working remotely becomes a thing. Toilet paper is at a premium, as is alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

  2. In the world of film festivals: SXSW cancels on March 6, followed by SFFILM on Friday the 13th.

  3. At Mill Valley Film Festival, the reinvention and reimagining begin, along with research, research, research: streaming films online, Drive Ins—what will be possible?

  4. In Italy, people under lockdown orders go out on their balconies and sing and bang on pans. In Mill Valley, a nightly 8pm howling began on March 23rd. Residents on Mount Tamalpais report joining in, listening to all the great howling floating up from the town below. The howling soon spreads, from Mill Valley to Novato and beyond. But not to Oakland, where I live.

  5. Zoom becomes the go-to meeting room. Happy hours, birthdays. People joke about buying stock in Zoom: but did anyone do that?

  6. People share information about COVID-19: what it is, how it spreads, what the symptoms are. Wear masks. Wash hands. Stand six feet apart. Friends get sick, get better, post and share about their symptoms and experiences. But some succumb. And most avoid it like...the plague.

  7. Film festival April meetings: Netflix decides to take itself out of the fall festival circuit, but offers to work with MVFF on a series of Conversations. Hollywood studios wait to see if, when and how cinemas will reopen. IFC begins releasing its films into Drive Ins across the country.

  8. Late Spring, film festivals: Cannes, the grande dame of Cinéma, holds out for those traditional May dates, eschewing anything virtual, but eventually lets go. The Cannes Market goes online, but a month later than usual. And then later, Telluride, despite impeccable pre-planning for safe, in-person screenings, lets go of its Labor Day weekend edition.

  9. Part of a journal entry on June 2:

[Oakland, Friday,] during the demonstrations for George Floyd. Helicopters drew circles in the sky, marking the blocks of protestors from above.

Protesters protested

Helicopters hovered

Sunday, Joanne calls. What can we do? Normally, we’d join the protesters.

These times are not normal.

10. I draw a Peace Sisters cartoon: Word of the week, June 5, 2020: Soul-tired.

11. Obama delivers the eulogy for Congressman and civil rights warrior John Lewis, who passed in July; two other past presidents attend and speak: George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

12. Chadwick Boseman passes, in August: little kids sob that the Black Panther is dead...

13. homage to Boseman is created in downtown Oakland, which has become a spontaneous art installation inspired by Black Lives Matter. From Telegraph to Broadway and Chinatown, boarded-up businesses have become the canvas for artists whose powerful work honors, expresses, and immortalizes (even if temporarily) the events, losses and struggles happening on our streets and in our lives.

14. Journal entry, September 8:

The sun rising behind the house is a deep red, blood-blemish red. Heat haze red. Raw, cut-to- the-soul red. It’s like seeing the sun dress for the occasion, the occasion of the fires.: dressing to reflect the raging untethered 0% controlled outbursts of fire-rage across California.

California is burning.

California is burning.

California is burning.

15. On September 9, the skies over the San Francisco Bay Area were orange all day. Apocalyptic. Terrifying. It was like the sun never rose. There were days in September when the air quality in the Bay Area was the worst on the planet.

16. On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, September 18, Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies. On Twitter, NPR reporter Nina Totenburg says: "A Jewish teaching says those who die just before the Jewish new year are the ones God has held back until the last moment bc (sic) they were needed most & were the most righteous.”

17. Journal entry, October 1, 2020:

I just need to pause a moment

and take in that

Judi Dench

recited a sonnet for me in

a zoom room, one on one,


18. Fall, film festivals: Mill Valley Film Festival happened online and at a specially-installed Drive In at the Marin Civic Center. Fires had abated, weather held, films were shown, conversations were watched. Including one with Judi Dench.

19. November: There’s an election. Democracy is upfront and center. Kamala Harris, the first woman and first person of color is Vice-President Elect.

20. December 8th, a 90 year-old woman in England gets the first Coronavirus vaccine shot.

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