“I want it all quickly ‘cause I don’t want God to stop and think and wonder if I’m getting more than my share,” says Elizabeth Taylor’s character, Velvet Brown, in the 1944 movie classic, National Velvet. After 23 years of the Virginia Film Festival, it’s clear that somebody up there loves Charlottesville, because where else in a town this size can you find such a riot of cinematic riches year after year? We’ve been getting more than our share all along.
Come November and the stars come to town. But not just the stars —the producers and directors too. They bring out the academics, and after the screenings come the panel discussions and the question and answer sessions. We also get a day for kids, a 72-hour Adrenaline Film Project competition for amateurs, and a chance to mingle with the pros at opening and closing night parties.
Whether we deserve it or not, the bounty is ours for the taking again this November 3-6, with National Velvet and over 100 films at the Paramount, Regal and Vinegar Hill theaters downtown, and the Culbreth Theatre and Nau Auditorium on the grounds of the University of Virginia. In this third year under Director Jody Kielbasa, the emphasis is on new films, and the accompanying classics have a theme and a focus.
“I think what’s unique about this festival is that we’re able to get to the ideas behind the films,” Kielbasa says. “A lot of festivals you go to, they’ll have discussions about what camera did you use, what was the budget, what about this artist. We do that as well, but I really think it’s when we bring people in and say ‘why did you make this film, what was your reason for making this film, what was your passion in making this film, who are you trying to reach?,’ then we really get down to the substance of what I feel the Virginia Film Festival is really about, and what makes me most proud.”
Kielbasa works hard to bring the festival to the audience and the audience to the festival, not just tailoring post-film discussions to the interests of a brainy university town, but cultivating partnerships with social service and cultural organizations. “Community outreach and community building are an important part of my artistic vision and programming,” he says, “screening films from Virginia filmmakers and bringing in experts and activists from the community, along with the academics that make up the creative and intellectual firepower in the University of Virginia.”
Last year’s festival got off to a stimulating start with Black Swan, the most controversial film of the festival, and indeed the most talked about, love-it-or-hate-it release of the year. “I think we do no less this year by opening with The Descendants, a film that has received tremendous Oscar buzz,” Kilebasa says. Directed by Alexander Payne, The Descendants stars George Clooney as a Hawaiian landowner trying to hold his family together after his wife suffers a boating accident. The Thursday, November 3 showing at the Culbreth will be followed by the Opening Night Gala in the Jefferson Ballroom at UVA’s Alumni Hall.
Tragedy in Dallas
Friday afternoon at 3, the Culbreth hosts a 20th anniversary screening of Oliver Stone’s JFK, a controversial, frankly fictionalized exploration of the November 22, 1963 assassination and the characters purportedly behind it, starring Kevin Costner, Kevin Bacon, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, and Albemarle County’s own Sissy Spacek. In the sort of casting, so to speak, that makes the Virginia Film Festival so engaging, Stone will discuss the film with UVA Center for Politics director and nationally known talking head Larry Sabato, who is completing a book on Kennedy.
Is Pornography Free Speech?
That evening at 8:15 at the Culbreth Theatre there will be a 15th anniversary screening of Miloš Forman’s The People vs. Larry Flynt, starring Woody Harrelson in the title role, along with Courtney Love and Edward Norton. The porn publisher will be on hand to discuss First Amendment issues with Josh Wheeler of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, and scholars from Pennsylvania State University and the University of Florida.
Courage and Civil Rights
Every year the festival has a special screening for middle and high school students —last year 700 kids watched Stanley Nelson’s documentary Freedom Riders. Friday morning, even more will see another powerful civil rights chronicle, Nancy Buirski,’s The Loving Story, about Richard and Mildred Loving, a young couple in the Richmond area who were forced to leave Virginia after defying the state’s ban on interracial marriage. Sneaking back at night to visit family and friends, the couple sought the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, who went to the Supreme Court and won a landmark, 1967 ruling striking down Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law and setting a precedent under which all such state laws were voided. Legal experts will be on hand to discuss the film when it’s shown to the general public at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Nau Auditorium.
Courage and Gender
The festival’s Centerpiece film, Albert Nobbs, will be shown Saturday at 8:30 at the Paramount. Directed by Rodrigo García and starring Glenn Close, who won an Obie in the title role in an off-Broadway production in 1982, it also features the young star Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, The Kids are Alright), and veteran stage and screen actress Janet McTeer. Based on a 19th century short story by the Irish modernist author George Moore, Albert Nobbs tells the story of an independently minded woman posing as a butler at a posh Dublin hotel who falls in love with a painter and decides to give up her job and her false identity. Longtime friend of the festival Julie Lynn is one of the film’s producers, and will interview Garcia and Wasikowska.
Saturday is also Family Day, when the festival throws a party on the Downtown Mall for young film fans, future film stars, and those who love them. The day’s highlight will be the 10:30 a.m. Paramount showing of the 1944 classic National Velvet, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney, and Angela Lansbury. Taylor plays Velvet Brown, a young English girl who wins a horse in a town lottery and decides to train it for the Grand National Steeplechase. A father of two young daughters, Kielbasa calls Taylor’s character “a wonderful role model for young women,” and the film one of his favorites as a child.
The Library of Congress Chooses
What’s better than relaxing on the couch with an old favorite on Turner Classic Movies? Watching that same film in one of the old movie palaces it was made to be seen in. We’ll get five chances to see classic flicks in a classic room in the inaugural year of what Kielbasa calls “a one of a kind program in the United States,” Turner Classic Movies and the Library of Congress Celebrate the National Film Registry. The series will choose films added to the national registry for their cultural, historic, or aesthetic significance.
In addition to National Velvet, this year’s selection includes Terrence Malick’s Badlands, John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller, and The General, the famed 1926 silent film starring and co-directed by Buster Keaton, with live musical accompaniment by Matt Marshal and the Reel Music Ensemble. Each will be seen at the Paramount in newly restored, 35-millimeter prints shown through old-fashioned, refurbished projectors. TCM host and film historian Ben Mankiewicz will provide introductions, and Sissy Spacek and husband Jack Fisk, who met filming Badlands, will join him onstage afterwards.
A new documentary, These Amazing Shadows, will serve to introduce the new classics series, highlighting the preservation work of the Library of Congress and the founding of the National Film Registry. “If you want to know why I love film, why I think it’s transformative, why I think it’s an important art form in the 20th century, go see this film,” Kielbasa says. These Amazing Shadows will be shown at 7:45 p.m. Thursday at the Regal 3 Theater on the Mall.
Documentaries â¨with a Conscience
For 45 years Kartemquin Films, best known for their critically acclaimed 1994 work Hoop Dreams, has been documenting social issues and social phenomena. Hoop Dreams director Steve James and Kartemquin co-founder Gordon Quinn will be at the festival as it presents no less than nine Kartemquin releases, including their latest, A Good Man!/A Good Man? about dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones and his creation of a dance about Abraham Lincoln. Audiences at that showing will also see a 15-minute long work, 100 Migrations, filmed when Jones was in residence at UVA two years ago. Jones will discuss the film after its 4 p.m. showing Sunday at the Culbreth. His company will perform at the Paramount on November 11.
Focus on Food
When Joel Salatin speaks, foodies listen. Saturday at 3 at the Culbreth, Salatin will be the special guest for Farmageddon, an exposé of governmental agricultural policies that favor big factory farms and harass small, environmentally responsible family operations.
Sometimes it takes a child to make adults face the obvious, like say, if you want kids to eat, you’d better serve them appetizing food. Cafeteria Man features New Orleans-born celebrity chef Tony Geraci, who was hired by Baltimore City Schools after students dropped a lunch tray on the superindent’s desk and told him, “You eat it.” The mortified super bought a farm, hired Geraci, and gave his 83,000 charges something to savor instead of throw. Geraci will join director Richard Chisolm and other area foodies including Kate Collier of Local Food Hub to discuss what may be the Slow Food movement’s most remarkable achievement, the greening of public school cafeterias.
Vinegar Hill will showcase the home state film industry Saturday, with four made-in-Virginia films. Trolley to Bank Street at 10:45 a.m. is a portrait of Charlottesville Area Transit and the many economically disadvantaged people who use it. Growing Up Cason at 1 p.m. celebrates the Depression-era family that founded Charlottesville farmer’s market, and shows a way of life little known or remembered today. Alchemy of an American Artist at 4 p.m. is a “Dante-esque” journey into the turbulent mind of Charlottesville artist and musician Christopher Breeden, fittingly shot with a hand held, lo-fi camera. Rothstein’s First Assignment at 6:30 p.m. is an exposé of the eugenics scandal filmmaker Richard Knox Robinson discovered on an assignment to commemorate the 75th anniversary celebration of the Shenandoah National Park.
A sampling of great new foreign films, a six-film focus on Israel, and a behind-the-scenes look at the newsroom of the New York Times . . . the list of festival subjects goes on and on as always, and attendance figures show that Kielbasa knows his audience. Attendance jumped from 11,000 in 2008, the year before he arrived, to 23,750 last year, the first he had a completely free hand. And folks aren’t coming for the popcorn.
“They’re some of the most polite audiences I’ve ever been in the theater with, even compared to audiences at other independent film venues,” says recent C-ville immigrant John Armstrong, who estimates he’s seen 175 movies in the past year, and is one of the festival’s many small financial contributors. “They’re so much quieter, and interested in watching it for the craft of the film.“ Our Virginia Film Festival, in other words, has the audience it deserves.