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Mill Valley Film Festival opens with fashionable Hilary Swank

“Did I overdress?” she kiddingly asked reporters and photographers scrambling for photos and quotes after she showed up more than an hour late. “Maybe just a smidge,” she said, answering her own question, then, after looking around at redwood shaded Mill Valley, added, “I should have worn my Birkenstocks.”

The 40-year-old Academy Award winner was in Mill Valley for the opening night screening of her new movie, “The Homesman,” starring opposite a grizzled Tommy Lee Jones, who directed the so-called “anti-western.” Critics are saying her portrayal of a self-sufficient spinster farm woman on the desolate Nebraska prairie is her strongest performance since she won an Oscar for “Million Dollar Baby.” After its generally favorable debut at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, the movie is being talked about as a candidate for an Oscar nod. The Cannes review was headlined, “Hilary Swank makes a comeback in the sad and strange ‘The Homesman.”

Asked how important festivals like Mill Valley are for relatively low-budget films like “The Homesman,” she said, “We debuted at Cannes, which is a really huge festival, and we were just in Telluride, which is a smaller festival as well. And it’s lovers of film like the ones here who support a film and talk about it and get the word out there. For a small movie like this, that’s everything.”

Waiting for Swank to show up, festival founder and executive director Mark Fishkin called her “one of the most talented actresses in cinematic history.”

“We’re very excited to have her here tonight and also director Jason Reitman,” Fishkin said.