19th Annual Virginia Film Festival Finds God at the Movies and a Record-Breaking Success at the Box Office

November 01, 2006
Nov. 1, 2006 -- The Virginia Film Festival set out this year to examine the process of finding God at the movies and ended up finding unprecedented success as well. The four-day cultural extravaganza lit up screens and ignited imaginations across Charlottesville with its unique combination of screenings, discussions and musical events, boasting a record 32 sold out events and drawing a record 14,699 attendees. The figure represents a 12 percent jump from last year’s event, which attracted 13,139.

“We could not be happier with the response to this year’s Festival,” said Virginia Film Festival Director Richard Herskowitz.  “The screenings that put Charlottesville front and center on the silver screen — Thursday night’s locally filmed Swedish Auto and Saturday night’s Live from the Hook — turned into joyful celebrations.  Our featured actors Morgan Freeman, Robert Duvall, and Liev Schreiber certainly felt the spirit, and really enjoyed both their on-stage conversations after screenings and their combined forum with U.Va. acting and directing students. I was particularly pleased to hear from many audience members that they were appreciating the wide range of world religions represented on screen, and that they were finding the discussions at controversial films like Jesus Camp and A Flock of Dodos stimulating and important.”

Stars Came Out

Among the many highlights…film legend Robert Duvall, after receiving the Virginia Film Award from the Festival and the Virginia Film Office, treated the sold-out house at the Paramount Theater to a screening of his remarkable 1997 film The Apostle.  Following the screening, Duvall and noted film critic/writer David Edelstein (of NPR and New York Magazine) engaged in a fascinating and thoroughly entertaining on-stage discussion that covered territory ranging from the sadly-wasted genius of Marlon Brando to James Caan’s skinny rear end to the magic of his adopted home state of Virginia (which his wife calls “the station before heaven”).

No sooner had he cleared the stage than fellow legend Morgan Freeman strode onto it to introduce his new film Ten Items or Less.  Accompanied by the film’s director, Brad Silberling, producer Lori McCreary and fellow producer (and UVA alum) Kelly Thomas, Freeman talked about the joys and challenges of working on a low budget independent production.  The group also discussed the film’s unique digital strategy being undertaken by his aptly-named production company, Revelations Entertainment.

Actor and Director Liev Schreiber introduced his 2005 directorial debut Everything is Illuminated to a sold-out Newcomb Hall audience and participated in a post-screening discussion with noted film expert and educator Harry Chotiner.  Schreiber shared that all of his writing and acting is inspired by his Ukranian-Russian grandfather.  He also said that that while this film is about a very specific culture and people, it is also meant to make connections between diverse groups of people – much like the Virginia Film Festival program in which it was screened.

Chronicles of Narnia co-star William Moseley told the audience at a special screening of the film that he is still amazed by the experience of making the film and can’t believe his luck.  There were plenty of teenage girls in the audience who felt the same way about being in the same room with the young heartthrob.

January Jones sang the praises of her director, Derek Sieg, for helping her develop her performance in Swedish Auto, and gave a shout out to her former “employers” in the audience, Mel and Arthur Walker of Mel’s Diner, for whom her character worked as a waitress in the movie.

Hometown Heroes

Charlottesville filmmaker Derek Sieg entered his opening night screening of his acclaimed directorial debut Swedish Auto with a good bit of trepidation.  In fact, the hometown crowd, he said, made him 50 times more nervous than some of his other screenings.  The film once again charmed and captivated the packed theater, just as it did the viewers at the Athens International Film Festival in Greece who gave it their audience award last month.

Saturday night at the Paramount proved one thing beyond the shadow of a doubt…Charlottesville Rocks!  The debut of the documentary Live from the Hook thrilled the audience with its look back at the thriving local music scene of the late 1970’s and the 1980’s, and its impact on the present (including the origins of the Dave Matthews Band).  “It felt,” said Herskowitz, “like both the music scene and the movie were created by the 1,000 people in the room, and that there was an eruption of pleasure and pride at what our community had wrought.”

With its priceless “vintage” footage and current day interviews, the film shows off a collection of artists who avoided the pitfalls of competition and instead encouraged one another to adapt to the changing styles of the day.  “The film shows how their energy blasted out of Charlottesville and up and down the East Coast,” Herskowitz said.  As soon as the credits rolled, the energy blasted from the screen to the stage where a collection of musical stars from the film and had the audience dancing in the aisles.

Speaking of palpable energy, the scene at Newcomb Hall on Saturday night for director Tom Shadyac’s presentation of Bruce Almighty (and first look at the completed trailer for Evan Almighty) was positively electric.  Shadyac turned the theater, packed with extras from the film, into a moviemaker’s revival tent.  “There was an unbelievable rapport between him and the audience,” Herskowitz said, “there is just so much affection that the local extras and crew members feel toward him, and the feelings are definitely mutual.”

Finally, on Sunday, the Festival wrapped up with its usual healthy dose of pure adrenaline.  This year’s Volvo Adrenaline Film Project featured ten teams of filmmakers who endured the challenges of writing, shooting and editing their films over the course of 72 hours.  The screening and awards presentation played to a packed Newcomb Hall audience who saw Charlottesville filmmakers Ben Haslup, Brian Wimer and Ruth Monton walk away with both the Audience and Jury Awards for their hilarious and innovative entry, Taste of Evil.  The film noir take on a power struggle among traditional refrigerator inhabitants (all of which play themselves), also swept the “Best Performance by a Condiment” category.

The theme and dates for next year’s 20th Anniversary of the Virginia Film Festival will be announced in February.  To keep up to date with the presentations and activities of the Film Society, and to participate in the selection and development of the theme on the Director’s Blog, visit www.vafilm.com.

The Virginia Film Festival is hosted by the University of Virginia. For more information on the Virginia Film Festival and the year-round activities and events of the Virginia Film Society, visit www.vafilm.com.