Tuesday, September 16, 2014

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Virginia Film Festival Announces Silver Anniversary Program

The Virginia Film Festival will celebrate its 25th anniversary Nov. 1-4 in Charlottesville with a slate of more than 100 films and a roster of special guests representing the worlds of film, politics and popular culture.

The festival is presented by the University of Virginia’s College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.

Fresh from three consecutive years of record-breaking attendance and sales, the festival will kick off with a screening of “Sopranos” creator David Chase’s highly anticipated film, “Not Fade Away.” The film – chosen as the centerpiece film of the New York Film Festival – is produced by Academy Award-winning producer Mark Johnson and stars James Gandolfini.

Festival director Jody Kielbasa will offer opening remarks and present awards to Patricia Kluge and former Virginia Gov. Gerald Baliles, who are credited with founding the festival in 1988. The evening will also include a proclamation from Gov. Robert F. McDonnell honoring noted producer, U.Va. graduate and Film Festival Advisory Board Chair Mark Johnson’s 25 years of service and support.

“We look forward to celebrating the remarkable history of the Virginia Film Festival and to honoring those individuals whose creativity, vision and guidance helped get us where we are today,” Kielbasa said. “It is truly an honor and a privilege to be in a position to lead the festival in this anniversary year. I am proud to build upon the legacy that was established before I got here, while working with our talented staff and incredibly supportive advisory board to build exciting new traditions.”

The festival will again mix advance screenings of some of the most celebrated films of the festival season with beloved classics, powerful documentaries covering some of the most important issues of our time, entertaining short films, and more.

“I feel like this is far and away the strongest film program we have had in my four years here,” Kielbasa said, “and I think audiences will be particularly interested in the wide range of themes and ideas represented.”

In addition to the opening night film, the festival will continue its tradition of presenting a Saturday night “centerpiece film” and a closing night film on Sunday. Both of these titles, Kielbasa said, will be announced within the next two weeks.

Among this year’s Spotlight Screenings will be:

·     A Late Quartet”: Members of a world-renowned string quartet struggle to stay together in the face of death, competing egos and insuppressible lust in this film by director Yaron Zilberman, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken and Catherine Keener

·     Between Us”: Starring Julia Stiles and based on a hit off-Broadway play, this film explores the bittersweet friendship of two couples as they realize their lives are tarnished by money, success, sex and children. The film’s award-winning director, Dan Mirvish, founder of the Slamdance Film Festival, will present and discuss the film.

·     The Details”: A seemingly innocuous suburban pest problem sets off a chain reaction that includes domestic tension, infidelity and murder in this dark comedy starring Tobey Maguire, Elizabeth Banks and Laura Linney.

·     Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey”: The rags-to-riches tale of a young Filipino man plucked from obscurity (thanks to the power of YouTube) to become the new lead singer for the rock band Journey.

·     The Man with the Iron Fists”: Hip-hop superstar RZA wrote (with Eli Roth), stars in and directs this “Quentin Tarantino Presents” action adventure that spins an epic tale of warriors, assassins and a lone outsider who descend upon a village in feudal China to engage in a winner-takes-all battle for gold.

·     The Sapphires”: Four young Australian Aboriginal girls in 1968 learn about love, friendship and war when they entertain the U.S. troops in Vietnam.

·     The Stand Up Guys”: Al Pacino and Christoper Walken star as aging con men trying to get the band back together one last time before one of them takes on a final assignment – to kill the other one.

At a press conference Tuesday, Kielbasa shared an addition to the inaugural “Presidency in Film” series screening of the 1976 Academy Award-winning “All the President’s Men.” Joining the previously announced Bob Woodward for the event will be legendary journalist Carl Bernstein, reuniting the pair who many believe changed political journalism forever.

“We are delighted to be partnering with the Miller Center and Gov. Baliles to present this series, and to kick it off with this exciting event,” Kielbasa said. “Whenever we can bring a part of our country’s history to light here at the festival by bringing in the people who actually made and participated in that history, we see that as a gift to the community.”

The Presidency series will also include a screening of “Hyde Park on Hudson, a new film by director Richard Michell. Starring Bill Murray and Laura Linney, it offers a look at the relationship between Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his distant cousin Margaret Stuckley in the context of a 1939 weekend visit from the king and queen of England.

Other special guests scheduled to appear at the festival will include:

·     Award-winning actor Keith Carradine, who burst to fame in 1975 with his performance (and Academy Award-winning song, “I’m Easy”) in Robert Altman’s “Nashville,” and is known to audiences for decades of high-profile roles in films like “Pretty Baby,” “The Longriders” and HBO’s “Deadwood.” He will present and discuss “The Duellists,” the first feature by Ridley Scott, in which he starred with Harvey Keitel.

·     Longtime newsman and documentary film producer Nick Clooney, who will present the critically acclaimed documentary “Journey to Darfur,” which he made with his superstar son George.

·     Actor, director and producer Matthew Lillard, known for his work in the “Scream” series as well as his role as the “other man” in “The Descendants.” He will present his directorial debut with “Fat Kid Rules the World,” which tells the story of a suicidal teen whose life is turned around by a charming high school dropout who convinces him, much to his father’s dismay, to join a punk rock band.

·     Renowned documentarian Ross McElwee, who returns to the festival for the first time since 1994 to present his acclaimed “Photographic Memory,” along with his classic “Sherman’s March,” which is on the National Film Registry and part of the festival’s Library of Congress series.

·     Actor Marc Singer, known for his role in the “Beastmaster” film series and for his role as Mike Donovan in the original television series “V.” He will present the world premiere of his latest film, “House Hunting,” directed by local filmmaker Eric Hurt.

·     Boyd Tinsley of the Dave Matthews Band, who will present his first foray into filmmaking, the psychedelic drama “Faces in the Mirror,” which captures a man’s dream-like journey on the day of his father’s funeral.

Given the timing of this year’s festival on the weekend before Election Day, the proceedings will have a distinctly political flavor, Kielbasa said.

“This is something I have talked about from day one,” he said. “Even though we don’t have an overarching theme, each year we explore a number of sidebars. This year, we will have a number of films that take a look at some of today’s most hotly debated political issues, as well as some of the most iconic political figures of our time.”

Many of these films are among the highlights of a documentary program that has long been at the festival’s heart, and one Kielbasa said is particularly strong this year.

“Our association with the University of Virginia allows us to rely on its creative and intellectual firepower to explore a wide range of issues that resonate both here in our community and throughout the world, to provide our audiences with fresh perspectives on these issues,” he said.

One of these films, “Ethel,” boasts its own U.Va. connection. Presented in conjunction with the U.Va. Center for Politics, it is a look at the life of Ethel Kennedy through the eyes of her filmmaker daughter Rory. It includes Ethel and Bobby Kennedy’s time in Charlottesville while he studied at the U.Va. School of Law.

Presented in Old Cabell Hall, the screening comes 59 years after Bobby Kennedy engineered a historic talk there by civil rights leader and then-U.N. Ambassador Dr. Ralph Bunche. Bunche had insisted he would only speak to a fully integrated audience, and the event became the first of its kind, not only at U.Va., but in Virginia.

Appearing with the film will be Bobby and Ethel’s ninth child, Max Kennedy.

The festival will also spotlight another civil rights legend with deep U.Va. ties in the new documentary “Julian Bond,” by Charlottesville-based filmmaker Eduardo Montes-Bradley.

Among the other politically themed documentaries are“Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare” (featuring U.Va.’s Department of Emergency Medicine); “Five Broken Cameras,” a fresh take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through one photographer’s often-battered lenses; “Slavery by Another Name,” Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Miller Center forum moderator Douglas Blackmon’s look at whether slavery in America actually ended with the Emancipation Proclamation; “Love Free or Die,” a look at the first openly gay bishop in the historic traditions of Christendom; and “The Other City,” which takes on the ravages of HIV and AIDS in Washington, D.C.

Kielbasa said he was particularly excited to welcome back internationally acclaimed documentarian Ross McElwee and his new film, “Photographic Memory.”

“When Ross McElwee first came to the festival in 1994, he brought his son, Adrian, who at the time was just about 10 years old,’ Kielbasa said. “What’s really fascinating about this is that Ross will bring his son once again to show a film that is essentially about the relationship journey they have gone on over the years.”

Other documentary highlights of this year’s program include “Hava Nagila,” which uses the song as a springboard to explore Jewish culture and history while examining its broad cross-cultural appeal; and “From Nothing, Something,” which profiles leading thinkers from around the world to seek out the roots of their breakthrough ideas.

The Library of Congress Series

The Library of Congress Series, which returns after debuting last year, is “very important for a number of reasons,” Kielbasa said. “The fact that the Library of Congress understands that film is a treasure for our country really elevates the importance of film as an art form, as an historical reference and as a window into our culture.”

In addition to “Sherman’s March,” this year’s series will include the 1926 silent classic “Sparrows,” featuring live musical accompaniment by festival veteran Matt Marshall and starring Mary Pickford; “All the President’s Men”; and the 1962 political thriller, “The Manchurian Candidate,” which will feature a discussion with “The History Guys,” the behind the public radio program “Backstory.” They include “18th Century Guy” Peter Onuf, Thomas Jefferson Professor of History Emeritus at U.Va.; “19th Century Guy” Ed Ayers, president of the University of Richmond and former history professor and dean of the College at U.Va.; and “20th Century History Guy” Brian Balogh, Compton Professor of History at U.Va.

Family Day

The centerpiece of the festival’s annual Family Day celebration on Nov. 3, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” will be presented in a free, 75th-anniversary screening at the Paramount Theater.

“I am absolutely thrilled that we are able to give audiences this rare opportunity to catch a film that is not only a beloved family favorite, but an incredibly important piece of film history,” Kielbasa said. “It is the first full-length cel animated feature ever made, the first animated feature to be produced in the United States, the first to be produced in full color, and, according to the American Film Institute, the greatest animated film of all time.”

Family Day also will feature a free and interactive street fair with live performances and family activities throughout the day.

The festival’s Young Filmmakers Academy, under the direction of Outreach and Education Coordinator Jane Freeman, is back for its fourth year with a record 460 elementary and middle school students presenting the short films they created with help of Virginia Film Festival student mentors.

Virginia Filmmakers Ready for Their Close-ups

The festival will continue another tradition, spotlighting the outstanding work of Virginia filmmakers, including a world premiere and the debut of one of Charlottesville’s own most celebrated musical sons, among other films.

Beside the afore-mentioned “House Hunting” and “Faces in the Mirror,” other local and regional films and filmmakers represented this year include:

·     Documentary filmmaker Sarah Dupont’s “Amazon Gold,” which follows noted journalist (and deputy editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review) Donovan Webster on a quest to uncover the truth behind environmentally devastating gold mining practices in the Amazon.

·     It’s Only (a) Natural,” which follows Richmond-based model and actress Yolanda Lee as she cuts off her trademark curly afro, transforming a documentary about black women’s hair into an intimate portrait of one woman’s struggle to redefine our notions of beauty.

·     Marc Adams’ documentary “Something in the Water,” a look at Charlottesville’s thriving music scene that features 60-plus bands, singer/songwriters, club owners, street musicians and others who tackle the question: Why is this small town so musically rich?

World Voices

The festival continues its longstanding tradition of presenting some of the most prominent films on the international scene with a strong lineup, including:

·     Amour” (Austria/France/Germany): The winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival stars Isabelle Huppert as the daughter of an aging couple whose relationship is severely tested by a health crisis, and marks the second Palme d’Or win for filmmaker Michael Haneke (“The White Ribbon”).

·     Barbara” (Germany): A talented young doctor at a new hospital in East Germany in 1980 is punished when she applies for an exit visa, and risks everything with a plan to escape to Poland with her lover. The film was recently submitted for Academy Award consideration in the Best Foreign Film category.

·     Sister” (France/Switzerland): Also submitted for Academy Award consideration, this is the story of a 12-year-old boy whose thieving scheme to provide for his mother and sister plunges him into dangerous territory.

·      In Another Country” (Korea): A film student and her mother escape their mounting debt, relocating in a seaside town where the student begins capturing the very different stories of three French women who each interact with the same people and places.

·     Mekong Hotel” (Thailand): Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s follow-up feature to his Palme d’Or-winning “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” a hit at the 2010 Virginia Film Festival. An experimental departure for the director, the film blends elements of romance, sci-fi and documentary to take a lyrical and perplexing look at the inhabitants of a hotel on the Mekong River dividing Thailand and Laos.

·     Polisse” (France): Winner of the Jury Prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, this richly textured drama follows the daily lives of a tight-knit team of men and women in the Child Protection Unit of the Parisian police.

·     Alps” (Greece): This absurdist comedy from renowned director Giorgios Lanthimos is about a nurse, a paramedic, a gymnast and her coach who form a bizarre service for hire – standing in for dead people by appointment.

Middle and High School Screening: “Chasing Ice”

Once again this year, the festival includes a screening for middle and high school students from throughout the region. Regularly drawing as many as 1,000 students, these screenings offer a rare chance for students to see films on top-of-mind topics in our world and hear directly from the filmmakers and people profiled.

This year’s selection is “Chasing Ice,” the story of National Geographic photographer James Balog and his quest to reveal Earth’s most visible signs of global climate change in a truly unique way. The film will also be presented in a public screening on Nov. 2 at 4:15 p.m. at Newcomb Hall Theater.

Digital Media Gallery

Back for a fourth year is the Digital Media Gallery, a forum for experimental filmmakers by students of U.Va. film professor and filmmaker Kevin Everson. The films will be shared with the public in a gallery setting on the Downtown Mall beginning Oct. 26, and running through the festival’s conclusion.

Adrenaline Film Project

The highly caffeinated Adrenaline Film Project returns for its ninth year. Twelve teams of filmmakers will have 72 hours to write, shoot, edit and screen their short films for a competitive screening featuring a packed house of fans and panel of film industry judges. The screening will take place Nov. 3 at 10 p.m. at U.Va.’s Newcomb Hall Theater.

Parties and Events

The festival’s 25th anniversary is certainly a cause for celebration, and there will be some opportunities to do just that throughout the weekend. Highlights will include:

The Opening Night Gala, Nov. 1, 9:30 p.m., Jefferson Theater (21 and over event). Kick off the anniversary year with an Old Hollywood salute to the festival. Beverages, light buffet refreshments and big band-style sounds will kick off the weekend. Tickets are $75 per person.

Late Night Wrap Party, Nov. 3, 10 p.m., Main Street Arena (21 and over event). Take a trip back in time to the festival’s founding days with a salute to the roaring ’80s, with a dose of 2012 mixed in. Tickets are $35.

For a full schedule and information regarding the festival, visit virginiafilmfestival.org. Tickets will go on sale Oct. 5 via that website, in person at the U.Va. Arts Box Office at Culbreth Theatre and by phone at 434-924-3376.

Premiere sponsors for the Virginia Film Festival include The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the AV Company, The Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau, The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, Flow Automotive Companies, Regal Entertainment Group and the Virginia Film Office.

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