SPECIAL NOTE: Annette Bening has cancelled her appearance at this year's Virginia Film Festival.
October 7, 2009 — After months of anticipation, Jody Kielbasa unveiled the lineup for the 22nd annual Virginia Film Festival – the first under his directorship – in a Wednesday afternoon event at the University of Virginia Art Museum.
Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report on this story by Jane Ford:
The festival, themed "Funny Business" and set for Nov. 5-8 at venues throughout Charlottesville, will offer some 80 films and more than 100 guests to shed light on an array of funny-business topics, ranging from comedy to business to politics to wine and more. The festival is presented by U.Va.'s College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
This year's guest list is scheduled to include:
• Tony and Emmy award-winning actress Cherry Jones joining director Rodrigo Garcia and producer Julie Lynn (a U.Va. alumna), to present a sneak preview of their acclaimed new film "Mother and Child."
• Cult film pioneer John Waters on Nov. 6, presenting his acclaimed one-man multimedia lecture "This Filthy World" in the second annual U.Va. Arts Assembly at 4:30 p.m. in Culbreth Theater; and his films "Pink Flamingos" and "Hairspray" at 7 and 10 p.m. in the Newcomb Theater.
• Academy Award-winning director Norman Jewison presenting a 30th anniversary screening of "… And Justice for All," and "The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!"
• Matthew Broderick, premiering his new film "Wonderful World" as the festival's closing night film, along with the famed dark comedy "Election."
• Alan Ball, presenting a 10th anniversary screening of "American Beauty," which he wrote, and a special discussion of the runaway HBO hit he created, "True Blood."
While the festival's theme, "Funny Business," means the festival lineup will offer plenty of new and classic comedies, Kielbasa points out that punch lines are just one aspect of a multi-layered world in which we live.
"When I sat down to really look at this theme, I started with comedy," he said. "But the more I thought about it, the more I realized there is an awful lot of funny business surrounding us in so many aspects of our lives today. You've got the funny business of business, the funny business of politics. … There is funny business everywhere we turn."
Kielbasa, who arrived in Charlottesville in June following a successful 10-year run as founding executive director of the Sarasota Film Festival, continues his long track record of attracting some of the industry's most notable figures. This year's guest roster represents his vision that the festival should feature exciting new works with classic films that can be seen through a contemporary lens.
"I think it is really important that the people of this community be exposed to new works they may not be able to see anywhere else. That is true of the extraordinary Rodrigo Garcia film 'Mother and Child,' which features a remarkable cast," Kielbasa said. "And it's also true of Matthew Broderick's new film 'Wonderful World.'
"At the same time, I always want to choose classic films that still inform us about our own lives and the lives of others around the world. Few people do this in more consistently creative and signature ways than John Waters, and few have done it as masterfully as Norman Jewison.
"I've always been fascinated with Alan Ball's 'American Beauty,' and you can't get more contemporary than his smash-hit HBO series 'True Blood,'" which Ball will discuss at a special presentation Nov. 8 at 10:30 a.m at Culbreth Theatre. "And I think today's political climate, fortunately or unfortunately, makes Matthew Broderick's 'Election' as relevant as ever."
One of the most interesting, and regionally relevant films is the opening night presentation, "Marching Band." The documentary, made by French filmmaker Claude Miller, looks at the 2008 presidential election through the eyes of the marching bands of the University of Virginia and Virginia State University.
The film will literally provide the festival with its own fanfare thanks to an opening night appearance by the U.Va. Marching Band outside Culbreth Theatre.
This year's festival will feature a centerpiece film, "Mother and Child" (Nov. 7, 7:30 p.m., Paramount Theater), a heartbreaking and heartwarming drama about the intersecting lives of a 50-year-old woman, the daughter she gave up for adoption and an African-American woman looking to adopt a baby. The film is produced by Julie Lynn, and features an all-star cast, including Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington, Jimmy Smits, Samuel L. Jackson and others.
• "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee" (Nov. 6, 10 p.m., Culbreth), directed by Rebecca Miller and starring Robin Wright and Alan Arkin. This heartwarming comedy showcases a May-December relationship between a promiscuous young woman and an aging publisher who saves her from her dangerous lifestyle until health problems shatter their new life together.
• "Tenure" (Nov. 5, 10 p.m., Culbreth, and Nov. 6, 5 p.m. at Newcomb), directed by 1993 U.Va. graduate Mike Million, stars Luke Wilson as a professor whose tenure track is anything but a straight line, thanks to an elderly father with a penchant for escaping nursing homes, a long line of publishing rejections, a friend who needs him to help find Bigfoot, tempting students and an increasingly acclaimed colleague.
• "… And Justice For All" (Nov. 7, 4 p.m., Paramount), one of the film world's most famed courtroom dramas, is the story of idealist Baltimore defense attorney Arthur Kirkland, memorably played by Al Pacino. When things begin to unravel on nearly every front, Arthur finds himself torn between the quest for justice and a nemesis he must now defend in the same setting that held their greatest battles. The screening will be followed by a discussion moderated by noted film critic David Edelstein.
For the first time, the festival will host a special closing night event featuring one of its major guests, when director Josh Goldin and producer Glenn Williamson present their new film, "Wonderful World" – joined by its star, Matthew Broderick – at Culbreth Theatre on Nov. 8 at 5:30 p.m.
The film tells the story of Ben Singer, a failed children's folk singer and halfhearted weekend dad with a serious pessimism problem. His only happiness comes in regular chess games and game theory debates with his Senegalese roommate, whose sudden illness and visit from his sister change Ben's life forever.
The film will be preceded by a screening and discussion of Broderick's "Election" at 3 p.m., also at Culbreth Theatre.
This year's film lineup will also feature a strong Virginia flavor, Kielbasa said.
"When I looked into this opportunity, I heard a lot about the vibrant filmmaking community here. When I arrived and began to delve into it further, I was amazed by the level of talent and commitment and knew that I wanted to make this work an important part of our festival," he said.
One of these films is "Locked Out: The Fall of Massive Resistance" (Nov. 7, 5 p.m., Culbreth), a documentary produced by WHTJ/PBS and U.Va.'s Center for Politics to mark the 50th anniversary of the decision to close Charlottesville schools rather than accept integration.
"This is a remarkable film that serves as a perfect bookend to films like 'Marching Band,' which celebrate the history we made as a nation last year," Kielbasa said. "There's no way to truly capture that historic moment without looking at where we came from, and this film does this in a powerful way."
The screening will be followed by a panel discussion led by U.Va. politics professor Larry Sabato, director of the University's Center for Politics, and featuring former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, among others.
Virginia films in this year's festival include:
• "9500 Liberty" (Nov. 6, 5 p.m., Vinegar Hill), a powerful look at Prince William County as the epicenter of America's immigration policy debate, when a law is passed requiring police officers to question anyone they have "probable cause" to suspect may be here illegally.
• "With These Hands" (Nov. 7, 5 p.m., Regal 3), a timely and devastating look at the aftermath of the March 2007 closing of a Martinsville furniture factory.
• "Bedford: The Town They Left Behind" (Nov. 8, 12:30 p.m., Regal 3), which recalls a small town's disproportionate and heroic sacrifices in World War II as a new generation of young men face enemy fire in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The festival also will look back at several films that are celebrating milestone anniversaries and have a particular relevance to this year's theme. These include one of Hollywood's most famous looks at the political world, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (Nov. 6, 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., Culbreth), which is now celebrating its 70th anniversary.
"First of all, Jimmy Stewart is my favorite actor," Kielbasa said. "But on top of that, when you look at the political landscape today, it is all about insiders and outsiders. The question becomes 'Who are the heirs to the Jefferson Smith legacy?' Ronald Reagan? Barack Obama? Sarah Palin?
"We'll combine the movie with an in-depth discussion moderated by Washington Post writer Liza Mundy, whose original article on this topic launched this idea for me." The panel will also feature CNN political correspondent Candy Crowley and others.
Joining "American Beauty" and "Election" on the anniversary roster will be films including Buster Keaton's "Sherlock, Jr." (85th anniversary), "Some Like it Hot" (50th anniversary), "Police Academy" (25th anniversary), "Sex, Lies and Videotape" (20th anniversary), "Do the Right Thing" (20th anniversary) and "Pulp Fiction" (15th anniversary).
The Funny Business of … Comedy
As one might suspect, this year's festival is chock full of comedies – everything from classic screwball to brand new this fall. Comic highlights include Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times" (1936), the Marx Brothers' "Duck Soup" (1933), "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (1975), along with "Police Academy" (with special guest Hugh Wilson) and "Pulp Fiction."
The Funny Business of … Politics
Politics will be front and center throughout the festival, including the aforementioned student and public screenings of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."
Other politically themed films include "By the People," a documentary on the 2008 election produced by Edward Norton, and "Convention," documentary filmmaker A.J. Schnack's look at the interconnected stories of convention characters as they produce, participate in, protect and report on the 2008 Democratic Convention in Denver.
The Funny Business of … Wine
One of Virginia's hottest commodities and signature calling cards gets its close-up in this year's festival, thanks to a screening of new and recent vintage films.
One is "Mondovino" (2004), a documentary on globalization in the industry focusing on writer Robert Parker and consultant Michel Rolland and the money of the Mondavi family brand.
The other, "Corked" (2009), is a "mockumentary" that skewers that pretentiousness of the northern California wine scene.
Around the World
Again this year, the Virginia Film Festival spotlights leading films and filmmakers from throughout the globe. The films include the Academy Award-winning Japanese film "Departures," about a cellist who learns his symphony has been disbanded and returns to his hometown to take a job preparing dead bodies for the ceremonial "encoffination" prior to cremation.
Other international highlights include "Gigante" (Uruguay), winner of prestigious "Silver Bear" at Berlin Film Festival; "For My Father; A Matter of Size" (Israel); a screening to include newly restored 35 mm print of Kurosawa's iconic mystery "Rashomon" (Japan); "The Joy of Singing" (France); "Mid-August Lunch" (Italy); "Pachamama" (Bolivia); "Patrik, Age 1, 5" (Sweden); and "Shameless" (Czech Republic)
Community Matters: Family Day
"I am a firm believer that one of our most important missions is to engage this community, and we will be doing that this year in a variety of ways," Kielbasa said.
Virginia Film Festival Family Day is scheduled for Nov. 7 at the Paramount Theater. The day will include a trio of screenings (featuring a $1 admission price), along with an array of interactive events for all ages.
The screenings will include:
• "Pixar Shorts," a collection of short animations from the revolutionary studio, including "Luxo, Jr.," "For the Birds," "Tin Toy" and others. (10 a.m.)
• A 20th anniversary presentation of Disney's "The Little Mermaid," a rare chance to see the Disney film on the big screen. (11:30 a.m.)
• "More Than a Game," a documentary following pro basketball megastar LeBron James and his Ohio friends from the start of their athletic careers through their highly publicized high school careers and James' ascension to his current status as international icon. (1:30 p.m.)
On the Downtown Mall, children will be able to take part in their own "red carpet walk," complete with clamoring paparazzi; explore "green screen" technology that puts kids in the middle of the action; view debuts of films by members of the Young Filmmakers Academy and Lighthouse; take in special exhibits at the Virginia Discovery Museum (with free admission from 1 to 3 p.m. with a film festival ticket stub); and get a sneak peek at this year's Sprout Film Festival (hosted by PREP/Parent Resource Center), with musical guests from the Music Resource Center.
The Virginia Film Festival Family Day is supported by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Whole Foods, the Charlottesville Newsplex and Charlottesville Radio Group.
Lectures, Panels and Classes
• The Adrenaline Film Project, a popular 72-hour filmmaking blitz, is back under the guidance of Charlottesville's own Jeff Wadlow and his producing partner Beau Baumann.
Teams of aspiring filmmakers must conceive, write, film, edit and deliver their short films in just three days. The final results are screened before a panel of judges and a packed house of audience members. (Nov. 7 at 10 p.m.).
• Three of the leading forces on the American independent film scene will discuss the state of independent film today and its future direction. They include Ron Yerxa, a Virginia Film Festival Advisory Board member with an award-packed resume, including films such as "Little Miss Sunshine," "Cold Mountain," "Election," "Little Children" and others; Peter Biskind, noted journalist and author known for books chronicling various aspects of life in Hollywood, including "Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance and the Rise of Independent Film"; and Bingham Ray, producer and co-founder of independent film powerhouse October Films. The panel will be moderated by New York University film professor Harry Chotiner, a former vice president of 20th Century Fox. (Nov. 6, 7 p.m. Culbreth)
• Virginia Film Festival Fellow Maria DiBattista, a noted Princeton University film scholar and author of the book "Fast Talking Dames," will deliver a lecture on the screwball comedy genre Nov. 5 at 4 p.m. at Monroe Hall, room 134.
"I always want people here to be able to participate in this festival as many ways as possible, and one great way to do that is by celebrating it with the filmmakers and actors themselves," Kielbasa said.
These opportunities will include:
• The Opening Night Gala (Nov. 5). The Sandridge Lobby at the John Paul Jones Arena will be the site of the weekend's kickoff celebration, following the opening night presentation of "Marching Band." The event will include drinks, a light buffet and musical entertainment, plus an opportunity to mingle with festival guests. Tickets for the event are $75 per person.
• It's a Wrap … Party! (Nov. 7). Open to the public for the first time, the event will be held at X-Lounge and will include a free light bar and snacks as well as specially priced signature festival cocktails. Tickets are $45.
Additional premieres and special guests will be announced in the weeks between now and the festival.
The complete schedule for the 2009 Virginia Film Festival is now online at www.vafilm.com. Tickets will go on sale Friday at that Web site, at the U.Va. Arts Box Office in the Drama Building on Culbreth Road, and by phone at 1-800-UVA-FEST.
The festival is co-sponsored by Acura, Regal, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the Virginia Film Office, the City of Charlottesville and the County of Albemarle.