Film festival channels star power: Porn magnate and biopic king among A-list fest guests

Well, wow. With a pair of high-profile residents, a porn tycoon, and a filmmaker as famous for his biopics as he is for the historical liberties he takes in them, looks like the Virginia Film Festival’s 24th year will be one of its most interesting. Tickets went on sale October 7 for the November 3-6 run of events, so if you haven’t already booked a spot at your film of choice, visit post haste. In the meantime, let’s get the big names out of the way.

Larry Flynt (played by Woody Harrelson) last came to town in 1997 for a conversation with Reverend Jerry Falwell at the UVA Law School. He returns for the Virginia Film Festival next month, which hosts a screening of Oliver Stone’s The People vs. Larry Flynt. Photo courtesy Virginia Film Festival.

Oliver Stone, the filmmaker behind topical flicks like the Wall Street films, W. and Born on the Fourth of July chats with UVA’s Larry Sabato after a 20th anniversary screening of his Kennedy biopic JFK. Sabato is writing a book about the assassinated prez. (As you might expect, tickets are selling fast.)

Stone may or may not be at a 15th anniversary screening of his The People vs. Larry Flynt. Who will? The, er, First Amendment crusader Larry Flynt, who last came to town in 1997 for a chat with the late Reverend Jerry Falwell at the UVA Law School. Flynt, the Hustler publisher, has been in and out of the news for decades, most recently for offering disgraced congressman Anthony Weiner a job, and $1 million to anyone willing to share a story about having “had a gay or straight sexual encounter with Governor Rick Perry.” Naturally, that one’s presented by the Thomas Jefferson Center for Free Expression. 

Festival head honcho Jody Kielbasa also announced a program that he’s been working on for a year: Screening a series of classics from the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, which archives culturally significant films. Turner Classic Movies’ Ben Mankiewicz will be on hand to present a variety of them under the banner, “Turner Classic Movies and The Library of Congress Celebrate the National Film Registry.” As part of that program, local husband-and-wife powerhouse film duo Sissy Spacek and Jack Fisk present the movie on whose set they met: Terrence Malick’s Badlands. It’s safe to assume the film’s reclusive director won’t be on hand.

Opening night film (last year it was Black Swan) is The Descendents. The festival program describes it as, “Alexander Payne’s story of a rather uninvolved dad (George Clooney) forced by a tragic accident into a new level of engagement that sends him toward discoveries he never could have imagined.” It was screened at the Toronto Film Festival and has been well-received elsewhere. 

There’s also a long list of great independent films, some of which I’ve been dying to see. Those include a film by a director who is as controversial as his films are, Melancholia, directed by Lars von Trier. Butter, from director Jim Field Smith, was described by Kielbasa as a send-up of Michele Bachmann, starring Jennifer Garner. 

Who could forget music docs? A few not to miss: Better Than Something, an intimate portrait of the beloved punk musician Jay Reatard, who died in January 2010;  From the Back of the Room, a documentary that chronicles the last three decades of women’s involvement in D.I.Y. punk movement; Who Took the Bomp, about Le Tigre; The Klezmatics: On Holy Ground, about the eclectic, Grammy-winning Klezmer band. 

There are also two documentaries about local bands, We Are Astronomers, about the local space-rock band Astronomers; and Alchemy of an American Artist, “a journey down the fantastic, sometimes brutal, mind of Charlottesville artist and musician Christian Breeden as he meanders along the unpredictable path to creation.”

Well, if that doesn’t sound like a wild ride…


While we’re on the topic of the local Astronomers, former Astronomer Kyle Woolard ties off his three-month solo tour (this crazy guy drove to Alaska alone to play shows there. Who does that?) with his Anatomy of Frank project with a Wednesday, October 12 gig at The Southern. Early this year AoF released a three-track EP, Relax, There’s Nothing Here But Old Pictures, to much local interest. The titles of the Lance Brenner-recorded EP’s tracks—“Bill Murray” and “Blurry (Part I), Like Headlights Through Eyelashes”—are the first signs of stylistic inconsistency. With nods to everyone from Radiohead to Elliott Smith, Bert Jansch to Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, maybe you could call it versatility. 

Whatever it is, the EP’s centerpiece is a rollicking track called “Saturday Morning” that is a sign of serious talent, and a must-hear for local music fans. Check out zombie filmmaker Brian Wimer’s music video at Regardless of where he’s going—and it may very well be towards Alaska—Woolard is on his way.

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