Beyond the Boardroom

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Mark Fishkin

Author: Alexandra Russell
October, 2015 Issue
Since founding the Mill Valley Film Festival in 1977, Mark Fishkin has shepherded the once small, three-day showcase into an 11-day, internationally acclaimed event featuring a wide variety of U.S. and international independent films, a children’s filmfest, shorts, seminars and tributes to exceptional filmmakers. Under his direction, the festival has garnered a reputation as a favorite among filmmakers and one of the most influential festivals in North America. (This year’s festival takes place October 8 to 18;
Fishkin is also founder of the California Film Institute, whose mission is to celebrate and promote film as art and education. In 2013, he was sworn in as a member of the San Francisco Film Commission, which works to develop, recognize and promote film activities in San Francisco.
What was your inspiration for founding the Mill Valley Film Festival?
When I moved to Marin in 1977, I was amazed (and in awe) of its prolific independent film community—its long history in the area of documentaries and personal filmmaking. In addition, a new breed of filmmakers had taken residence in the Bay Area: Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Philip Kaufman, Walter Murch and many, many more. I was stunned that there was little or no access to see their fine work; there was little opportunity to exhibit independent cinema. I saw there was a huge void to be filled, and this was the impetus for what became the Mill Valley Film Festival. 
Do you have a big family?
I’ve been married to my lovely Lorrie for 32 years, we have two beautiful daughters and I have family on the East Coast. 
What do you love to do outside of work?
I like to hike with my dog, Lola, and spend time with my family. 
Who’s the biggest celebrity you’ve ever met? Were you starstruck?
Throughout the years, I’ve met many famous people, from Leonardo Dicaprio to Charlize Theron. But I must admit, I was most starstruck when I met Julie Christie.
If you could solve one unsolved crime or mystery, what would you want to know?
What really happened on November 22, 1963. John F. Kennedy’s assassination was a huge event in my formative years and I was deeply affected by it. On that day, I’d just had hand surgery and came out of anesthesia to find my entire family crying. I asked, “Am I dying?” and my mother said, “Don’t tell him!”; she was so upset about his death. Like many people, I’d like to know everything that happened that day and all the events leading up to it. My cousin, who’s a prize-winning journalist, assures me there was no cover up. But I’m not so sure.
Share a magical childhood moment.
I have great memories of spending time during the summers on a lake near Great Barrington, Mass., with my family. I remember bouncing on the beds in the cabin with my siblings and playing with the other kids who were staying there with their families. It was a wonderful, innocent and carefree time. 
What kind of music do you listen to?
I like classic rock: Boz Scaggs, Van Morrison, Rolling Stones. Boz’s “Loan Me a Dime” is one of my favorite songs. We recently screened “Amy,” the Amy Winehouse documentary, at the Smith Rafael Film Center. She was amazingly talented—I don’t think I can ever listen to “Rehab” in the same way again. 
Who do you admire most?
My family members who’ve passed away: my dad, who endured incredible tough times with his business, never abandoning his principles; my uncle, whose amazing work as a philanthropist was so inspiring; and my sister, Maxine, for her great strength.
What was your first job?
My friend’s dad owned a country club, and I was hired as a valet to park cars. One time, my friend and I parked the cars in the grass when it was snowing, and the cars started to sink. We had to hire a tow truck to retrieve the cars and place them in a different location. If the owners wondered why their cars were covered with mud halfway up the side, they didn’t say anything about it.
What room in your house best reflects your personality?
We just moved into a new home with lots of windows and open space. It’s light and airy, and each room leads to the next. The whole house is like one big room—and it’s all my favorite! Marin is paradise.

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