Jeff Wadlow, a Charlottesville native and a member of the Virginia Film Festival‘s board of directors, takes pity on all of the teams involved in this year’s Adrenaline Film Project, a 72-hour, hell-on-a-tripod film competition that he helped create in 2004. The long hours and audition processes are no strange productions to Wadlow, whose debut film, Cry_Wolf, was shot on a budget furnished by the Chrysler Million Dollar Film Contest that many established directors would consider smaller than Adam Sandler‘s critical acclaim.
In a call from Los Angeles, Wadlow brings your cinematic fanatic, Curtain Calls, up to date on this year’s Adrenaline Film Project and his own work. "I don’t know if the Adrenaline applicants really get this, but the reality is [that] I work in sales," says Wadlow. "You have to make your pitch, compel [film executives] to tell the story your way. What the teams have gone through is not dissimilar to what I’ve gone through."
Where filmmakers and sleeplessness intersect, there’s Jeff Wadlow: The Charlottesville native and director returns to call the shots for the annual Adrenaline Film Project, where he’ll keep aspiring cinephiles on their toes for three days straight.
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When Wadlow last spoke with C-VILLE, he referred to Cry_Wolf as his "big, commercial film," a chance to make a name for himself on a slim budget with the hope of attracting some industry attention. His most recent project’s budget sits at a hefty $25 million, the bulk of which has been spent in Orlando, Florida, filming a mixed martial arts film called Get Some, which Adrenaline participants and crowds will catch glimpses of at this year’s AFP finale.
"I got offered a lot of horror movies after Wolf, and it was right when a lot of horror-porn films were taking off—Hostel, Rob Zombie," says Wadlow. "[Get Some] came across my desk, and I flipped for it."
The benefit that Adrenaline teams have in working with Wadlow is that they receive input from a young man still struggling to stamp his name firmly on the nation’s cultural conscience. Wadlow’s script for Hail to the Thief, a film he wrote with partner Beau Bauman and plans to direct, is dormant. "When you write something and sell it, "says Wadlow, "the upside is that you have steady income. The downside is that you don’t control the intellectual property."
Get Some, on the other hand, is a different story. "I had to go in and audition for the studio," says Wadlow, slated as the project’s director. "They had a start date, and it was fully financed."
In addition to identifying with the production plights of this year’s AFP teams, Wadlow both praises and commiserates with them over the project’s grueling schedule.
"You have to give us your life for 72 hours," says Wadlow, his voice reaching the heated pitch of a projector winding up the final scenes of a filmstrip. "These people love film, and they’re not going to go to a single screening!"
Curt, already planning his festival itinerary, is shocked to silence. Who in their right mind would attend the Film Festival only to skip the audience experience?
Meet your (film)makers
"I think there’s only one movie that screens when we’re not doing Adrenaline," says Matt Denton-Edmundson. "But I like watching the AFP films. It’s fun to see what they’re like because, usually, we only see what other teams do in passing."
Matt is a senior at Western Albemarle High School, and has been involved with local film nonprofit Light House Studio for roughly four years, where he made a documentary about graffiti that prominently featured local artist Max Fenton (who will make a cameo appearance later). In last year’s AFP, his team (Marshall Buxton and Miakoda Gale) submitted a short entitled Art Class, a quick-cutting and surreal film about a girl that flees a portrait class to spend time with a graffiti artist (played by local hip-hop musician Brandon Dudley, who recently won the local Virginia Teen Idol competition at the Music Resource Center).
"Last year, we had 20 minutes to get [the film] in, and there was a little part of the intro that Jeff wanted changed," says Matt. "We barely got in; you have to meet your own goals and bend to what [Wadlow and Bauman] want."
Matt is the lead director of one of two teams of high school students that will participate in the 2007 contest through Light House. The lead director of the second team, Will Tilghman, was the first to assemble a crew and tell Light House Managing Director Cassandra Barnett that he wanted to compete (which means, in essence, that he gave her the Adrenaline rush. Done groaning? Good.)
Will is a sophomore at Charlottesville High School and a former Light House student, where he completed a documentary about former professional wrestler Steve Musulin; his brother and Light House mentor, Luke Tilghman, was a producer of the Peabody Award-winning documentary Sahar: Before the Sun, about UVA student Sahar Adish’s move from Afghanistan to America.
"We’re all kinda rookies in film," says Will about his team, which includes Heddy Hunt (the team’s lead producer) and Drew Petterson (lead writer and, full disclosure, son of Curt’s editor, Cathy Harding). "But I’ve always had an eye for what makes a good shot."
Video clips from Adrenaline Film Project team members, as part of Light House Studios’ Youth Film Festival.
Of the films admitted under the banner of this year’s theme, "Kin Flicks," perhaps the most intimate portrayal of family offered is in Strange Culture, a dramatization/documentary of postmodern and biological artist Steve Kurtz, a founder of the Critical Art Ensemble. In May of 2004, Kurtz’s wife, Hope, suffered a fatal heart attack at their home in Buffalo, New York. Emergency response teams that arrived at the Kurtz household found a collection of Petri dishes and biological cultures that most likely flickered and flashed through their minds like a montage and gave a very quick, very strong impression of the artist with the odd medium.
Artist or bioterrorist? Peter Coyote stands in for Steve Kurtz in Strange Culture, a film that recreates the death of Kurtz’s wife (played by Tilda Swinton, pictured above) and the artist’s detention for an art project that the Department of Justice found a bit suspicious.
Detained and questioned by the FBI under the PATRIOT Act for the cultures discovered in his home (which Kurtz was using to educate audiences about the genetic modification of common food products), Kurtz has since been cleared of bioterrorism suspicions, but mail fraud charges are still pending against him. Strange Culture, a film by Lynn Hershman Leeson, carefully steps around the issue of self-incrimination by pairing documentary footage of Kurtz with dramatizations (featuring Peter Coyote in the role of Kurtz and Tilda Swinton in the role of his wife).
"If I didn’t have as good a media team as I have, I wouldn’t be speaking with you now," says Kurtz, fresh from a Critical Art exhibit in Spain. Leeson called Kurtz after the initial press buzz following his detention and pitched the film to him, but the artist maintains that he was skeptical at first.
"From what lawyers have been telling me, this case is going to drag out a while," says Kurtz. "’Put your patience hat on,’ Lyn said. ‘Who cares? Let’s show what happened now.’"
Curt asks Kurtz why he chose to depict the personal aspects of his ordeal—the death of his wife and his grieving process—rather than simply making a film about misunderstandings in a time of heightened national security and domestic terror. "I don’t want to make myself out to be a hero," says Kurtz. "I was a zombie, a bloody wreck.
"I’m not trying to represent the tragedy itself. It was only there to point out the intensity of the current Department of Justice’s abuses. …[W]e can show the way that they were, and that was the most important part of putting it on film—that they chose the most vulnerable people."
Young at art
Albert Tabackman is in his backyard studio, a half-sphere perched atop a deck of Brazilian cherry wood, showing off his first attempts at painting—a collection of large family portraits, oil versions of old photographs. Tabackman, owner of Quilts Unlimited and, in past lives, an architect and physician, among other odds and ends, has been painting for only a year, but is already extremely adept at creating large-scale realist pieces.
"Family Portrait," Tabackman’s first exhibit, opens on November 2 at the Bridge/Progressive Arts Initiative. The show will feature a selection of Tabackman’s paintings as well as video clips of the artist sharing stories from his life; while Tabackman leads Curt around his biodome, his eldest son, Ephraim, moves in and out of the sphere with a camcorder, capturing sound and image for the video project.
Tabackman gives explanations of each image—here, his son Max Fenton at age 13, arm-in-arm with his grandfather on the day of his bar mitzvah; here, Tabackman’s wife, Joan Fenton (who performs at the Gravity Lounge on November 9 with Saffire), clutches a guitar and sports a scowl—as he leads Curt in a slow circle.
While new to painting, Tabackman says that he has recently deferred people that have sought his advice as a physician so that he can concentrate more on painting, saying simply that this is what he wants to do now. He offers little in the way of revolutionary artistic ambitions, opting instead for a desire to magnify experiences caught on film—waiting for a photo "to speak to me and elicit the emotion that it has," in his words.
We are family: Three generations of the Tabackman-Fenton family, painted by local artist Albert Tabackman, are on display at the Bridge’s "Family Portrait" exhibit.
"I don’t make my paintings like the photographs," Tabackman says, eyes lit and smile betraying his white beard. "I make it like the feeling."
And it can be hard for audiences to channel the same feeling, but whether he connects with a crowd or not, Tabackman merits the tag of "artist" that he employs for himself, giving off the same eagerness to show and tell and create as the AFP team members as he walks back inside, gait steady, each pair of steps coming in two syllables, ef-fort, ar-tist, fa-ther.