This year’s Virginia Film Festival is going to be different. Less classic cinema. More new and independent flicks that reflect contemporary concerns. A snazzy new festival logo. Plus, they’ve established an additional box office at the Main Street Arena, so viewers don’t have to trek to Culbreth for a movie that’s showing Downtown.
But what stays the same—and this is the most important thing—is the spell of excitement that the festival casts over Charlottesville with four days of expert-curated films, bigshot special guests and glitzy parties. And given the vast selection of fun times, we know how hard it is to pick out which movies are must-sees—and which ones you don’t want to be seen at. In this feature you’ll find suggestions from our film critic, previews of new movies from Darren Aronofsky and Tom Shadyac and a rundown of this year’s festival, by the numbers.
When looking at the full schedule, don’t forget that a lot of local filmmakers are bringing the heat. Enjoy already acclaimed features like The Parking Lot Movie(Friday 9:30pm, Vinegar Hill)and World Peace…and other Fourth Grade Achievements (Sunday 3:15pm, The Paramount), but be sure to check out newer regional fare, like Vintage: The Winemaker’s Year (Saturday 6pm, The Paramount), about Virginia’s wine scene, and Beardo (Saturday 5pm, Vinegar Hill), a Harrisonburg-produced short documentary about a competition in Alaska that determines whose beard is the world’s finest. In the end, the choice is yours.—Andrew Cedermark
Darren Aronofsky brings his unique vision to a ballet thriller
Darren Aronofsky arrived as a fully formed auteur in 1998 with the low-budget, black-and-white film Pi. The film generated suspense—horror, even—through little more than a paranoid, migraine-plagued genius’ interactions with his jerry-rigged computer and a 216-digit number that may have had a connection to an esoteric mathematical formulation (the Fibonacci Sequence), may have been a Cabalistic interpretation of the Old Testament, or may have served as a way to predict the rise and fall of the stock market. Or, maybe not. It didn’t matter: The number was just a means to a disturbed ending. Aronofsky explored the descent of Max Cohen (Sean Gullette) into madness through an ever shifting lens that looked outward from a mind on the brink of disintegration to capture increasingly disjointed and surrealistic visions. The film wasn’t so much avant garde as it was guardedly avant: It introduced a talent who wasn’t afraid to experiment with everything from plot and narrative to lighting and camera angles, yet never gratuitously so. Even Aronofsky’s most daring shots served the larger purpose of generating psychological tension that’s only dispelled when Cohen takes a power drill to his temple.
Ballet and psychological terror collide in Black Swan, starring Natalie Portman, Winona Ryder and Mila Kunis. This acclaimed new film from Darren Aronofsky opens the Virginia Film Festival on Thursday.
Aronofsky remains an obsessive filmmaker who makes obsessive films about obsession. He’s always taken on big themes—addiction in 2000’s Requiem For A Dream, mortality in 2006’s The Fountain, and the rise and fall of Mickey Rourke as Randy “the Ram” Robinson in 2008’s The Wrestler. But it is the little things that have distinguished Aronofsky’s filmmaking. With help from longtime cinematographer Matthew Libatique, he’s developed the right instinct for deploying clever filmic flourishes: the split-screen technique and rapid-fire montages in Requiem, the aggressive graininess of Pi, the hallucinatory textures and seamless fades that bind the three narratives in The Fountain, and the casual hand-held shots that give The Wrestler the feel of a documentary.
The latter film earned Rourke an Oscar nomination and gave Aronofsky his first taste of mainstream success. It also created the inspiration for Black Swan (Thursday 7pm, Culbreth) Aronofsky’s new film, and put him in a position to cast Natalie Portman in the lead of what’s predicted to be an even bigger commercial breakthrough. Based around a New York City ballet company’s production of Swan Lake, Black Swan pits Portman, whose Nina is more comfortable in the role of the innocent White Swan, against Mila Kunis’ Lily, an understudy whose character better suits her for the role of the more devious, sensual Black Swan. Obsession takes over as Nina explores the dark side, succumbs to paranoia, and gives Aronofsky’s camera yet another opportunity to experiment with perceptual distortions and reeling realities. This is familiar terrain for Aronofsky, a director who seems most at home when his camera is peering into the twisted corners of the private hell he creates for his characters. When he introduced the film at the Telluride Film Festival in September, he did so with an open-ended apology. Presumably, he was trying to warn away anyone under the impression that a big star, a big budget, and a big ballet might have tempered his penchant for unpredictability or his preference for unhappy endings.—Matt Ashare
A critic’s picks
Sometimes it’s best to defer to the experts.
What to see? Well, everything, of course. But maybe you won’t have time for everything. So here’s a short list of suggestions. Never mind Black Swan(Thursday 7pm, Culbreth) andCasino Jack(Sunday 4pm, Culbreth) andI Love You Phillip Morris (Friday 9:45pm, Culbreth) and such. Yes, it’d be cool to catch those before their theatrical releases. But it’s also cool to catch other, stranger things that you might never see on a big screen again. Such as:
At least one classic. As a 50th anniversary give-back gift to the gods of cinema, this year’s fest kindly reminds us how incredible it must have been when Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (Thursday 7pm, Newcomb), Akira Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well (Thursday 8:30pm, Regal Downtown), Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (Friday 7:30pm, Regal Downtown) Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (Sunday 6:30pm, Culbreth) Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (Sunday 6:45pm, Regal Downtown) and Robert Drew’s JFK documentary Primary (Friday 3:15, Regal Downtown) all hit theaters in the same year, 1960. Now, also incredibly, they’re all hitting theaters in the same weekend. We’re paralyzed with indecision here; the choice is yours.
At least one film by Festival Fellow Peter Bogdanovich. The dandily attired Oscar-winning writer-actor-director-producer-historian-critic came all this way to talk shop, bringing along more than half a century’s worth of experience and, we hope, at least one of his signature neck scarves. Opt for the perpetually charming What’s Up, Doc? (Sunday 10:45am, The Paramount) Plot particulars—something about jewels, underwear, igneous rocks, secret documents and a quadruple suitcase switcheroo—matter less than the comedy and romance of manners by which prim musicologist Ryan O’Neal finds himself hijacked from sourpuss fiancee Madeline Kahn (in her delicious film debut) by breath of fresh air Barbra Streisand (yes, there was a time).
At least one local highlight. We suggest Vintage: The Winemaker’s Year(Saturday 6pm, The Paramount)for purely practical reasons. First, as fun as it is to guess what Thomas Jefferson might make of how the whole democratic republic thing has turned out here, it’s even more satisfying to gloat over actually having mastered that which he never could: the making of fine wine from Virginian soils. Second, the festival’s presentation of this documentary includes a Virginia winemakers reception and a post-screening panel discussion moderated by C-VILLE Editor Cathy Harding. Cheers.
At least one foreign film about young romance—or maybe two. In Elvis & Madona (Friday 5pm, Regal Downtown) a proven LGBT crowd-pleaser from Brazil, the romance between a transgendered cabaret performer and a lesbian is, shall we say, complicated. And you thought the whole genre of romantic comedy had exhausted itself. By contrast, German director Maren Ade’s intelligent, beautifully observed and ultimately harrowing drama Everyone Else(Sunday 6:45pm, Vinegar Hill) is a naturalistic portrait of romantic disintegration that focuses on a young, attractive (hetero) couple on vacation in Sardinia. It’s as if the tradition of John Cassavetes were transposed to the key of contemporary young Europeans. We’re just saying these two would make a hell of a double-feature.
At least one surprisingly unsentimental animated film about the special bond between a sad, clever old Englishman and the Alsatian bitch he reluctantly adopted. O.K., we weren’t sure how to categorize My Dog Tulip (Sunday 2pm, Vinegar Hill), but wanted to be sure to recommend it. Paul and Sandra Fierlinger’s animated adaptation of British writer J. R. Ackerley’s memoir is a singular testament to true companionship, and yes, so unsentimental it’s almost shocking. With the voices of Christopher Plummer, Lynn Redgrave and Isabella Rossellini, and reportedly the first animated feature to be entirely hand drawn with paperless computer technology, it has special credentials. More important is that it is at once a complete delight for dog lovers and a complete surprise for people who might not be into movies that delight dog-lovers.—Jonathan Kiefer
Tom Shadyac gets serious with new documentary
There is a picture from 2005’s Virginia Film Festival of Tom Shadyac sitting in room 223 of the Cavalier Inn, his long mane dangling halfway to his ripped jeans. The room is trashed. It’s 7:45am.
Three years ago Tom Shadyac was injured in a mountain biking accident that nearly cost him his faculties. Now 95 percent recovered, he presents a documentary that’s more than a stone’s throw from the Jim Carrey vehicles that made him his name.
This isn’t the stuff of fantasy Hollywood all-nighters; Shadyac has stopped by the room to offer his services as a special-guest mentor for the Adrenaline Film Project, where crews are given 72 hours make an entire short film, from script to post. At one point in the encounter Shadyac corroborates a friend’s advice on the film, and the friend says, “Nobody believes me until I bring in a billion-dollar director.” Shadyac chimes in: “And that’s with a B, motherfucker.”
That’s Shadyac’s signature sense of humor. He’s a Falls Church native and UVA graduate whose hilarious—and did we mention lucrative?—partnership with Jim Carrey produced Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Liar Liar and Bruce Almighty. (Shadyac also directed Evan Almighty, one of the most expensive comedies ever made, in Albemarle County.) But he returns to the Virginia Film Festival to introduce a new documentary, I AM (Saturday 2pm, Newcomb Theater) that asks two fundamental questions: “What’s wrong with the world,” and “What can we do about it.” In it he interviews the likes of Desmond Tutu, Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn.
I AM is a product of an extended period in which Shadyac’s sense of humor was put to the test, after he was involved in a mountain biking accident that was “serious enough that I didn’t think I was going to live,” he says. “I developed post-concussion syndrome, which is a syndrome when the symptoms of a concussion don’t go away. Your brain essentially loses the ability to filter stimuli, which is one of its primary functions. And my brain lost the ability to filter sound and light. It becomes quite, quite torturous.”
In the meantime, Shadyac had grown increasingly involved in philanthropy, even going so far as to purchase the First Street Church in Downtown Charlottesville in 2006 for $5 million after wrapping up Evan Almighty. “I was compelled to release a conversation that had been locked inside of me that I wanted to share with people,” says Shadyac. “That was the birth of I AM.”
Are people ready for a serious Tom Shadyac film? It may help when pondering that question to think of Shadyac’s past films. Perhaps you enjoyed them for their silliness: When Ace Ventura slaps his breast pocket, it explodes with water, and he says, “Do not go in there.” Young Dave Chappelle’s “Women be shopping!” monologue from The Nutty Professor. Or in Patch Adams, when the gynecologists find that they must walk through an enormous set of lady-legs and a sign that says “Welcome, Gynos! At your cervix” to get into Adams’ institute.
While indeed silly, these are the kind of comedies with heart that, it seems, are few and far between these days. Patch Adams was about compassion, The Nutty Professor about feeling comfortable in your own skin, and Ace Ventura was about…well, you get the point.
“I have screened I AM for a lot of people,” he says. “The most common response I get is, ‘I’m so thankful that you made this film because this has been something that’s been in me that I haven’t been able to express and nobody is talking about.’”
“It’s all a journey. My other films are kind of thematic parables, from a silly thing like Liar Liar, which is really about how the truth sets us free—whatever that is in our own life,” says Shadyac. “Bruce Almighty was an exploration of true power.”—A.C.
DUDE, WHERE’S MY THEME?
Five questions for Executive Director Jody Kielbasa
What film are you most looking forward to?
Jody Kielbasa’s second year at the Virginia Film Festival has been his first to enact his vision, which includes clear branding and a new emphasis on regional films and contemporary cinema.
Honestly, I’m really looking forward to the opening of Black Swan. That is one that I’ve taken on recommendation entirely—very high recommendation, in fact, it’s almost universally acclaimed. But I haven’t see that film, so I’m going to have the same discovery process that everybody sitting in the theater will have. That’s exciting. And nerve-wracking. Simultaneously.
It’s certainly opened the floodgates for us, in terms of programming, allowing us to explore a much wider variety of themes, topics and issues, and to be much more current and contemporary in our programming. I think that’s what the festival should be about: The process of discovery.
The festival celebrates 1960 this year. Do you think 2010 is poised to be as good a year as 1960 was?
I haven’t seen it yet. Of course, a lot of the films that are likely to be nominated for Academy Awards this year, or for the award season in general, are likely to be coming out in the next few months. I haven’t seen those films, not a lot of them anyway, so it’s tough for me to say.
What’s the biggest challenge of running the festival?
We ended our call for entries on September 15, and we had to announce our program on October 5. That’s really less than a three-week turnaround from that date, and then you have to make decisions about what you’ll drop or add. And then the guests you’ll bring in, which is very tough as well, because you’re trying to lock down their schedules and they have schedules that change. It’s a moving target.
What do you have planned for November 8?
Honestly, I’m going to be driving a pickup truck with my staff unloading all sorts of various and sundry parts of the festival for at least half the day. The 9th I might be on the golf course.—A.C.
The scene December 14 at Charlottesville Circuit Court was like a flashback to August 12. A heavy police presence closed High Street outside the courthouse and barricades kept protesters from the man many consider the perp of the day’s fatal finale, Unite the Right organizer Jason
Following the tragic climax of Charlottesville’s summer of hate on August 12, City Manager Maurice Jones ordered an independent review of the city’s handling of the July 8 KKK rally and the Unite the Right rally that left Heather Heyer dead and dozens injured when a neo-Nazi plowed into a crowd
“I was already run over by a car, I will not be bullied by the federal government,” said Star Peterson, a victim of the August 12 vehicular attack in which a white supremacist bowled over a group of counterprotesters with a dark gray Dodge Challenger. Peterson was among about 20 members of
Permission denied Minutes before a decision was due, City Manager Maurice Jones denied several special event permits for rallies and counterrallies proposed on the weekend of August 12 in Emancipation, Justice and McGuffey parks—ground zero for the summer’s Unite the Right rally that left three
“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” wrote Herodotus, an ancient Greek philosopher, in what later became the U.S. Postal Service’s unofficial credo. “That obviously doesn’t stand true in Charlottesville
The former UVA police officer who killed his mentally ill son while defending his family last year won’t serve any additional jail time, an Albemarle County judge ruled December 5. On November 9, 2016, then-84-year-old Donald Short shot his 47-year-old son, Matthew, in the leg and abdomen after
Whether you’re streaming cat videos or brushing up on the Rohingya Muslim crackdown in Myanmar, net neutrality requires an internet service provider that allows consumers to do both at the same speed. On December 14, the five people who make up the Federal Communications Commission will vote on
For years, two out-of-town public television stations fought to claim status as Charlottesville’s “local” PBS station. Now they both can say that. Harrisonburg’s WVPT is being consolidated into Commonwealth Public Broadcasting Corporation, the parent company of Richmond-based WHTJ, and the
Emotions ran high at the December 4 City Council meeting that began at 7pm when Councilor Kristin Szakos placed two paper plates piled with homemade cookies at the podium and ended at midnight. Mayor Mike Signer opened the meeting, during which former federal prosecutor Tim Heaphy presented his
Since the August 12 Unite the Right rally that left three people dead, Charlottesville residents have asked where the police were that day and why Fourth Street was open so that a neo-Nazi from Ohio could plow into a group of counterprotesters, injuring dozens and killing Heather Heyer.
Sharon Jones’ childhood home no longer exists. It was in an area of Charlottesville called Gospel Hill, which also no longer exists. “My two brothers and I were born there,” says Jones, who was born in 1962. Around that time the rapidly expanding University of Virginia bought the dozen or so
New Dominion Bookshop owner Carol Troxell’s sudden death in January sent shock waves through Charlottesville’s literary community—and left some wondering what would become of the downtown institution. Established in 1924, one of the oldest businesses on the mall is now in the hands of a new
It’s a day those living in Charlottesville would rather not relive. That it left three people dead and countless injured, or that it was shut down before it was scheduled to begin last August 12 has not stopped Jason Kessler from planning a second Charlottesville rally—on the one-year
What UVA knew Through a public records request, the Chronicle of Higher Education obtained nearly 3,000 documents from the University of Virginia before, during and after the notorious August 11 tiki-torch march through Grounds. “Together, the emails shed light on the mentality of a university
By Natalie Jacobsen When we last heard from Johnathan Perkins, it was 2011. In the six years since, the University of Virginia School of Law alumnus has reached milestones in his career, and currently works as an associate attorney in Harvard’s Office of the General Counsel. But today he also
When the owner of a Park Street group home for at-risk adolescents went before the Board of Architectural Review November 21 to request permission to increase the number of teens allowed to live in the house, the board opted not to make a recommendation. “It was out of our purview,” says BAR
Charlottesville lost an icon November 18 when Kenneth Staples, owner of Staples Barber Shop, died at age 85. “I would describe Kenny as one of those guys who looked like a duck on water,” says Jim Carpenter, a local photographer and friend of Staples since the early ’70s. “He was so smooth, but
Without expounding on why, Albemarle Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Higgins rejected a plea agreement from a former UVA professor and the prosecution November 14, and said the matter will be heard by a different judge. Walter Korte, 74, who had a long and distinguished career at the University of
Seeking asylum He’ll tell you it’s not haunted, but owner and developer Robin Miller acknowledges the twisted history of the new Blackburn Inn, his historic boutique hotel set to open in Staunton this spring. Originally serving as the Western State Lunatic Asylum in the early 1800s, a hospital
Almost immediately after the violent clashes in Charlottesville August 12, Governor Terry McAuliffe established a task force to review the events of that weekend, and consultants presented a preliminary report November 15. The top two takeaways: This is a new era of protests—and a