In anticipation of the Virginia Film Festival this weekend, I’ve been considering geographical predispositions when it comes to movies. Predictably, as a student, French New Wave films were guaranteed pleasers. These types of geographical tastes exist for many. French films carry a different prestige than Hollywood movies. India’s Bollywood and Nigeria’s Nollywood each have their own connotative meanings as well.
When it comes to American films that are made outside of Hollywood, what regions do we define? Too often, the alternatives are simple: New York and “everywhere else.” However, this year’s festival encourages us to think about Virginia filmmaking as its own category. For the first time, there is an entire program of films that have been curated to celebrate filmmakers in the Commonwealth. And given the wealth of filmmaking talent in Charlottesville alone, the offerings are understandably rich and well worth exploring.
Arguably the most renowned experimental film artist in the state, Kevin Everson returns to the festival this year for an advance screening of his upcoming release, Park Lanes, Spare. This work focuses on experiences of the American blue collar worker, following a typical shift at a bowling alley equipment factory. Everson has previously screened his films at the Rotterdam Film Festival, the 2008 Whitney Biennial (as well as a 2011 solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art), and the Punto de Vista Film Festival in Pamplona, Spain, among other venues around the world. Much of his work examines African-American experiences in America through a non-narrative structure. Often, on-screen action is allowed to unfold without heavy editing, potentially fostering a level of discomfort in viewers unconditioned for this sort of cinema.
Case in point: In its 2015 release, Park Lanes, Spare will be an eight-hour film (mirroring the work shift) meant for gallery screenings in which people can come and go as they please. For some, this merits anticipation and a planned “sick day” to camp out where it will be on display. For others, an eight-hour screening sounds punishing. Charlottesville will have a chance to see an edited 90-minute version, so you can test out Everson’s style for yourself, and a filmmaker discussion follows.
When Everson isn’t making his own films, he teaches cinematography at UVA. His students are included in the Digital Media Gallery, which graces the walls of Second Street Gallery with works from UVA and the local nonprofit Light House Studio. An opening reception will be held on November 7 to coincide with the monthly First Fridays gallery walk and a closing reception with the filmmakers is set for November 20.
Charlottesville-based filmmaker Lydia Moyer also supports the short experimental genre with her film The Blocks, which is part of the DWELLING program. And the annual Adrenaline Film Project showcases local filmmakers in a break-neck competition to create short films in a 72-hour competition. The completed works will be shown and a winning filmmaking team announced.
Stepping back to look at the rest of the category of Virginia filmmaking, VFF programmer Wesley Harris explains that the curatorial idea behind this category includes “films that were either made in Virginia, or by filmmakers with distinct Virginia ties.” By that definition, there are plenty of other offerings that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Working in the genre of traditional documentary, A Winding Stream traces the personal lives and musical successes of the Carter family and their roots in Southwest Virginia. Big Moccasin explores the lived reality of daily life in the Appalachians. A third documentary, From Grain to Growler, traces craft brewing in the Commonwealth and features a discussion with the filmmakers and local brewers such as Champion Brewing Company’s Hunter Smith. And let’s not neglect Karate Tango, the locally made offbeat musical love story written by Peter Ryan and directed by Brian Wimer.
The festival also includes narrative feature films with Virginia roots. Wish You Well stars the inimitable Ellen Burstyn in an adaptation of a book by the Commonwealth’s own David Baldacci. Big Significant Things—a favorite at SXSW earlier this year—chronicles a 20-something’s search for meaning, ultimately leading him to Virginia. Finally, the opening night film, Big Stone Gap, proves that star power trumps geography. An adaptation of the best-selling novel by Adriana Trigiani, with an ensemble cast including Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson, Whoopi Goldberg, and others, this Virginia film is still as Hollywood as it gets. For screening times check out www.vafilm.com.
What’s your favorite film set in Appalachia?