Stars and bars

Thursday, October 24, was opening night for the Virginia Film Festival. Who among those attending the start of the "Wet"-themed, four-day cine-palooza didn’t have at least a few butterflies?

Certainly not Mike Kennedy, who took the seat next to me at the Culbreth Theatre. Unlike most of the attendees, Kennedy, a social worker from Salem, was dressed down, in jeans and a plaid shirt, but he looked excited. He’d been to the festival each of its 15 years, and had dozens of memories, the highlight being "standing next to Robert Mitchum while he was being interviewed."

Kennedy makes a short holiday of the event, book-ending the festival days with "a day to prepare and a day to recover." Unlike past years, however, he was going it alone last week. I was about to ask him his favorite festival moment, but the lights dimmed and we quieted quickly.

The screenings, by any measure, were a rousing success. Jeff Wadlow, son of late State Senator Emily Couric and the winner of the Chrysler Million Dollar Film Festival, spoke before and after his short films, Tower of Babble and Manual Labor, and the preview of his upcoming feature, Living a Lie, were screened for the audience. His films were kinetic and clever, remarkably assured and Wadlow himself was charismatic and effusive. He kept the crowd laughing.

There was a sober moment, however, when Wadlow offered a tribute to his mother. He detailed her unflagging support of his lifelong ambition to direct films, and compared the exhilaration he feels on a movie set to similar feelings his mom derived from her work in Charlottesville.

Like her son the director, "she was high on a rush day and night, working with people to achieve one common goal," he said.

Director Ron Maxwell, there to present and discuss a specially prepared preview of his soon-to-be released Civil War epic Gods and Generals, also got a positive response. The excerpts from the film revealed a lavish, detailed production and hinted at great performances by Robert Duvall as Robert E. Lee and Stephen Lang as Stonewall Jackson.

Maxwell said his study of history had led him to believe in the power of the individual. It seemed a topical message.

Like our forefathers in the Civil War, "we too are swept up in events, but we too can have an effect on events in large and small ways," he said.

After the screening, those lucky enough to have landed a ticket strolled down Rugby Road to the party at the UVA Art Museum, which turned out to be quite a spectacle. Cylindrical tables with sky-blue tablecloths dotted the gallery floor, and soon became crowded with empty wine gasses. Tuxedoed sponsors watched the doorway for arriving notables. A group of glamorous-looking young people, one with a long green tattoo snaking down her arm, gathered in the corner, while behind them the Philistines dutifully captured Samson on a giant canvas. In the center of it all, Albemarle resident Sissy Spacek, petite and graceful as ever, shook hands and had a smile for everybody while the photographers snapped in the background.

By 11:15pm, the crowd was beginning to disperse. A caterer broke a bottle of wine, which caused a momentary hush as it splattered less on the guests than on the base of the marble statue five feet away.

"Is that stain coming out?" a woman wondered. It was time to go. –

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