What is the Virginia Film Festival?
It is your plan for the weekend, resolved.
Can you be more specific?
Yes. The Virginia Film Festival is an annual motion-picture exhibition event, taking place again this Thursday through Sunday, November 5-8, in multiple venues with more than 80 movies of varying size, shape, disposition and value to humanity.
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Overseen in part by UVA’s College of Arts and Sciences, this hallowed ceremony of cultural enrichment takes the heritage of American cinema very seriously, but still knows how to have a good time. Hence, “Funny Business,” the event’s infinitely interpretable theme for 2009. That could mean funny ha ha and funny strange, or business plan and business casual. Or neither, or both.
What it definitely does mean is all manner of comedies, dramas, documentaries and a few music videos—from America and from many other strange and exotic countries, like Bolivia, the Czech Republic, France, Israel, Italy, Japan, Sweden, Uruguay and Hollywood. Plus some that were made right here in your hometown. And there will also be several cerebrally stimulating film-related events and a couple of schmooze-tastic parties.
This year, the weekend’s special guests include, among others, John Waters (showing Pink Flamingos and Hairspray and discussing his life and work), Matthew Broderick (showing Election and premiering his new film Wonderful World on closing night), Alan Ball (showing American Beauty and discussing his HBO series “True Blood”), and, of course, you.
But is it safe?
Studies have shown film festivals in general and this one in particular promote cultural health and well being. Many researchers now agree that it is good for you to get out of the house once in a while, and into a darkened theater with your friends and neighbors and some strangers. Moreover, whereas just going to the regular movies on a regular weekend does regularly suck, going to a good film festival can mitigate many weekends worth of suckiness with condensed exposure to more unusual, less crappy fare as well as genuine feelings of community belonging.
It should be pointed out that the Virginia Film Festival has been known for six years to contain the Adrenaline Film Project (Saturday, 10pm, Culbreth Theatre; Sunday, 10:45am, Regal Downtown, screen 4), an increasingly popular, gumption-based festival tradition in which a dozen filmmaking teams make short movies with common trace elements prescribed by the event’s administrators and only 72 consecutive hours to go from conception to completion. This particular creative challenge may not be suitable for individuals who are faint of heart or require normal amounts of sleep, nor for audiences who need to know in advance what’s going to happen or how good it will be.
You might be concerned, too, about the title of Youth in Revolt (Sunday, 7:30, Regal Downtown, screen 4) a new comedy based on C.D. Payne’s novel. But how can anything starring Michael Cera, Steve Buscemi and Zach Galifianakis be in any way dangerous? If, however, you mean safe as in sanitized, dully prudish and risk-free, then no, it is not safe. Also, this festival may and indeed should be habit forming.
Are there any side effects?
Inspiration, enlightenment, neglected housework, expansion of the horizon, soreness of the gluteal region.
Can it be combined with other medications?
That has been known to happen. We neither condone nor condemn it.
In what other ways is the Virginia Film Festival particularly Virginian?
Well, you can start your Saturday with a seven-strong multi-genre series of shorts made by UVA alumni (10am, Vinegar Hill Theatre) and cap it off with local filmmakers Brian Wimer and Eric Hurt and their respective shorts—CLAW, documenting the Charlottesville Lady Arm Wrestlers, and Lullaby, a horror ditty about a girl who gets a babysitting gig at a cabin in the deep, dark woods (11:15pm, Regal Downtown, screen 3). There’s also Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing, a film about lesbian poet Hilary Stevens written and directed by recent local Linda Thornburg (Sunday, 11am, Vinegar Hill Theatre). Somewhere in between (specifically, Saturday, 7:30pm, at The Paramount Theater), UVA alum Julie Lynn also will be on hand to show and discuss a sneak preview of Mother and Child, a new dramatic feature she produced, with director Rodrigo Garcia and actress Cherry Jones.
Or—and?—you can choose to believe the children are our future by soaking up nearly an hour’s worth of new work by young local mediamakers in the Light House Studio and Music Resource Center Short Films program (Saturday, 11am, Regal Downtown, screen 3). But if the wisdom of the underages won’t do it for you, may we suggest a slate of local historical documentaries revealing how factory closures, foreign wars and dubious policies of integration and immigration can devastate communities across generations? (See? It’s not all laughs, now, is it?) These include, but are not limited to, 9500 Liberty (Friday, 5pm, Vinegar Hill), Locked Out: The Fall of Massive Resistance (Saturday, 5pm, Culbreth), With These Hands (Saturday, 5pm, Regal Downtown, screen 3), and Bedford: The Town They Left Behind (Sunday, 12:30pm, Regal Downtown, screen 3).
So it’s not all fun and games, is it?
Indeed, it is not. In that way, it is very much like life.
Is the City of Charlottesville adequately prepared for this?
You bet it is. Hey, don’t project your own fears onto the city. The city has been doing this for 22 years, buster.
O.K., so what if I could only choose one thing to see on each of the festival’s four days?
You’d be sad. And quite severely limited.
Yes, yes, but if I could only choose one thing on each day, what should it be?
This is like asking a mother in a sinking rowboat in the middle of the ocean to choose which of her babies she must toss overboard in order to save the others. Nobody ever asks, “Why is the mother alone with her babies in a leaky rowboat in the middle of the ocean? Where is the father? For that matter, where is God?” Of course, those are harder questions to answer than the one at hand—to which, here is the best attempt we can make at an answer:
Even though Thursday offers fine funny-business hallmarks such as the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup, Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday and Monty Python & the Holy Grail, you can just go ahead and toss those babies overboard. The best choice, for the sake of genuine feelings of community belonging, must be the festival’s official opening night film, Marching Band (7pm, Culbreth Theatre), a French documentary about how the home stretch of Barack Obama’s presidential election campaign was experienced by the UVA and Virginia State University marching bands.
And even though Friday offers several gems of yore, like Oliver Stone’s corporate-raiders-of-the-’80s drama Wall Street, Billy Wilder’s cross-dressing classic Some Like it Hot, Steven Soderbergh’s indie-feature breakthrough sex, lies, and videotape and Spike Lee’s incendiary masterpiece Do the Right Thing, the day’s single most don’t-miss show has to be “This Filthy World” (4:30pm, Culbreth Theatre), a rhapsodic confessional romp and sly alternative survey of American film history from the self-described “filth elder,” lovably disgusting taboo tipper and gay icon John Waters. Of course, Waters’ cult classics Pink Flamingos and Hairspray (7pm and 10pm, Newcomb Hall Theater) are each so much more fun to see with an audience than on DVD, but you’re the one with the one-a-day rule, chief.
With that rule in mind, you’ll have to forgo Pulp Fiction and Police Academy and Rashomon and And Justice for All, from when Al Pacino still was good (with its director, Oscar winner Norman Jewison, in attendance), simply because moviemaking marathons like the aforementioned Adrenaline Film Project are all the rage at film festivals and you’ll need to find out why.
Kind Hearts and Coronets (Sunday, 5:30pm; Regal 3)
At least Sunday’s choice is easy, and can only be 1949’s Kind Hearts and Coronets, because you’ve probably never heard of it and it’s so rare to find on a big screen. The crown jewel of England’s mid-century Ealing Studios comedies, this is a film as pitch-perfect as it is pitch-black, with Alec Guinness in eight roles, playing an entire family of aristocrats who get murdered one by one by the film’s sardonic, social-climbing narrator.
That was pretty slick how you snuck in all sorts of other suggestions there.
So what you’re saying is that the Virginia Film Festival really has a lot to see.
Actually, it is you who is saying that, just now. But it’s also true. So there you go. And we hadn’t even yet mentioned Princeton University professor Maria DiBattista’s keynote address about how American movie comedy has responded to economic upheaval from the Great Depression through today (Thursday, 4pm, Monroe Hall room 134), or the Gender in Film panel on Friday afternoon (Regal Downtown, screen 3), or several other exciting things.
Well, what about all these other exciting things you’ve forgotten or willfully neglected to mention?
Those things, and other things, may be gleaned from the festival’s Web site, www.vafilm.com.