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Funny Business Equals Big Business as Film Festival Sets Attendance Record

November 10, 2009 — The 22nd Annual Virginia Film Festival made history last weekend by topping its all-time attendance record, attracting more than 19,000 people to screenings, lectures, parties and special events.

The four-day festival – based at the University of Virginia – narrowly missed an all-time ticket sales record, coming in at just over $71,000 overall. This ticket sales figure represents an increase of 87 percent over last year.

"I am extremely gratified to see these results and could not be happier with the way things went throughout the festival," new festival director Jody Kielbasa said. "I am more than confident that we would have broken all existing records if not for some of the highly successful free events we offered, including Alan Ball's 'True Blood' discussion, which brought a crowd of nearly 500 to Culbreth Theatre. I think our success this year is largely a testament to exactly these kinds of offerings, which showed our commitment to reach out to and engage this entire community.

"I've said from the day I arrived in Charlottesville that one of my primary goals for this festival was to make it completely accessible to the community we are so fortunate to serve and represent. And I think anyone who spent time around the festival this year could see that we went a long way toward doing just that."

This commitment to the community was particularly clear in Saturday's Family Day activities, Kielbasa said.

"I am proud of what we were able to accomplish with Family Day," he said. "We were able to achieve our goal of creating a unique and dynamic family experience for hundreds of families through screenings, music, blue screen technology demonstrations and more. But at the same time, we were able to do something even more important to me, and that is to extend a welcome to people in our community who may have never interacted with the Virginia Film Festival before. It was a great start to what will become an integral part of all of our future efforts."

Kielbasa noted that large audiences came out not only for the festival's high-profile screenings, but also supported the program as a whole.

"Our community clearly took advantage of every aspect of the festival experience. You had huge crowds lining up for headliners like John Waters, Matthew Broderick, Alan Ball and Cherry Jones. You had a Paramount Theater crowd showing the legendary director Norman Jewison their appreciation with one of the longest standing ovations I have seen in my festival career. And then you had you had people nearly filling theaters for films like 'St. John of Las Vegas' and 'Corked!,' and others at smaller venues as well."

Festival highlights included:

Opening Night: Marching Band

There is nothing like starting with a spectacle, and there are few spectacles more exciting than a real live marching band – or, in this case, two bands. In one of the friendliest "Battles of the Bands" ever staged, the groups from the University of Virginia and Virginia State University traded tight tunes and smooth moves for an excited opening night crowd outside of Culbreth Theatre before the screening of the film in which they played such a big role.

John Waters

The famed cult filmmaker, writer and artist delighted a full house with his Friday afternoon U.Va. Arts Assembly talk at Culbreth Theatre. Later that evening, Waters made an appearance at a special dance party at The Southern that celebrated his appearance at U.Va. and the festival.

Family Day

This event drew more than 2,500 people to the Paramount Theater to enjoy morning screenings of "Pixar Shorts" and "The Little Mermaid," which were offered for only $1. Later that afternoon another near-capacity crowd got a chance to see the documentary "More Than a Game," which followed pro basketball superstar LeBron James and his high school teammates and coach through their extraordinary rise to national prominence. Throughout the day families enjoyed live performances on a stage outside the theater as well as a variety of interactive experiences in the Paramount's ballroom.

Spotlight on Virginia

Kielbasa and the Virginia Film Festival celebrated the remarkable filmmaking talent from around the Commonwealth with a selection of films that covered topics that ran the gamut to historical and hysterical and serious to silly. Highlights included "Bedford," which focuses on the extraordinary sacrifices made by two successive decorations in that small county, and "With These Hands," about the grave impact the closing of a furniture factory on the Martinsville community. In addition, Charlottesville filmmakers took their own turns in the spotlight with screenings of films including "CLAW," "Charlottesville Kitchen Killers," "Virginia Creepers" and more.

'Locked Out: The Fall of Massive Resistance'

U.Va. politics professor Larry Sabato and former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder headed a fascinating panel discussion on this moving and topical film on the 50th anniversary of the closing of many Virginia schools in the height of the country's segregation battles. The film was produced and presented by the U.Va. Center for Politics and WHTJ/PBS.

Having a Ball

Academy and Emmy award-winning writer and director Alan Ball treated more than 500 fans to a behind-the-scenes look at the HBO megahit "True Blood." He provided a live commentary through an entire episode and then took questions, sharing stories of life on the set as well as throwing out some tantalizing tidbits of what is to come in the show's highly anticipated third season. Ball then shared insight with another large audience on his now-classic film, "American Beauty." The film, which won him an Oscar for his first screenplay, helped launch him to his current status as one of the most popular writers working in television and movies today, thanks to his wildly popular "Six Feet Under" and "True Blood."

Adrenaline Film Project

Teams of filmmakers fanned out across the region to participate in this annual exercise in extraordinary creativity and extreme sleep deprivation before showing the fruits of their labors in a special Saturday night screening at Culbreth Theatre.

Digital Media Lounge

A Downtown Mall storefront was transformed into a state-of-the-art digital media gallery, featuring experimental works by U.Va. students and filmmakers from Charlottesville's Lighthouse Studio and the Bridge PAI. The Digital Media Lounge attracted hundreds of festivalgoers and others throughout the weekend.

Bueller? Bueller?

Matthew Broderick capped off a successful and exciting Sunday at the festival, stopping by at the conclusion of an outdoor screening of his iconic "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" at U.Va.'s McIntire Amphitheatre. Some 300 students rushed the stage upon his arrival and the actor graciously answered questions, signed autographs and posed for pictures for some 45 minutes.

The festival is made possible through sponsorships from the Acura, Regal, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, the Virginia Film Office, the City of Charlottesville, the County of Albemarle and the AV Company.

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