Peter Pan Works His Magic on Family Day at the 20th Virginia Film Festival

November 08, 2007

Nov. 8, 2007 — Appropriate to the 20th Virginia Film Festival's theme, "Kin Flicks," festival artistic director Richard Herskowitz and planners devoted a portion of the four days of activities and screenings to families.

The Lee triplets were up bright and early on Nov. 4 for an opportunity to make family movies at the Discovery Museum. Seated on red fuzzy pillows, Claudia and Sam were joined by their mom and dad, while brother Jacob stood to the side. Prompted by two Monticello High School students, brothers Dave and Chris Brown, the 2-year-old triplets told their names and ages as cameras rolled. When asked who is the funny one in the family, they pointed to each other. Asked to describe his bedroom, Sam said he had a cozy blanket. Dad asked Claudia if boys were allowed in her bedroom, she shook her head no.

"I think it will be fun for them to see when they are older," said Abby Lee, the triplets' mother. Each of the families who signed up will receive a DVD of their family interview.

The Lee family, who recently moved to Charlottesville from San Antonio, were happy to participate in the event, a collaboration between the festival, the Discovery Museum and Light House, the Charlottesville media education center for teenagers.

Dave and Chris Brown are Light House veterans and found the experience "different, but cute."

"It's a very different experience for teenage boys to try to engage toddlers," said Cassandra Burnett, Light House managing director. "It also fits into our mission of personal storytelling and recording people's oral histories."

As filming was taking place inside the Discovery Museum, others took their turn at the "Chalking Movies" event, a collaboration with the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression. Children up to age 12 were invited to draw a picture inspired by their favorite movie on the Free Speech Monument on the Downtown Mall. Seven-year-old Chris Wood-Smith was the first to put his artistic interpretation on the wall. His pirate ship even included a flag detail.

"His favorite movie is 'Pirates of the Caribbean' and his favorite class is art," said Chris' mother, Chrissi Wood-Smith, as she watched her daughter, 3-year-old Elle, draw a pumpkin.

By the end of the day, one whole side of the monument was covered with images inspired by the "Wizard of Oz," "Shrek," "High School Musical," "Harry Potter," "Rocky," "King Kong," "Phantom of the Opera" and Mickey Mouse.

Families also had the opportunity to view movies together. Screenings of "The Tillamook Treasure" and two foreign-language films, "For the Oysters" and "Girl Stars: Anita the Beekeeper," at City Hall Council Chambers were offered by Kids First!, the Coalition for Quality Children's Media.

The matinee screening of the 1924 silent film production of "Peter Pan" was the Family Day highlight. The Paramount Theater audience of children and adults who are children at heart was thrilled by the event. Beforehand, Hollywood screenwriter Stewart Stern, who at 85 recalled his introduction to "Peter Pan" in a stage version at age 8, shared his lifelong fascination with and love of the character and story. His voice was filled with child-like excitement as he told the audience that as a boy he always dreamed of flying and begged his mother to make him a Peter Pan costume. He wore it constantly and even clutched a knife in his mouth to ward off any attack by Captain Hook while he stretched out on his stomach doing his homework.

Stern has a family connection to the 1924 version being screened — the film was produced by his uncle, Adolph Zukor, founder of Paramount Pictures. As he spoke, Stern clutched a treasured figurine of the silent film's star, Betty Bronson, as Peter Pan that had stood on his Uncle Adolph’s desk when Stern was a boy. He concluded his remarks with: "Have a wonderful life and may your fairy dust never, never come out in the wash."

The magic continued with a chorus from Broadus Wood Elementary School in Earlysville, Va. The group of about 29 second-graders worked with singer and songwriter Terri Allard, who is the local director of Kid Pan Alley, to write and perform three songs that accompanied the screening. Before the theater darkened, they gathered on the stage to sing their creation, "Let's Make Believe."

"Kids make the best co-writers," Allard said. "They have incredible imaginations."

They sang "All you need is a pinch of fairy dust if you just trust your imagination. Then you can fly like a kite and fly through the night," as Allard and Kid Pan Alley creator Paul Reisler on guitar led the group.

They then joined musicians Donald Sosin and Joanna Seaton in the orchestra pit to lend their voices during the screening. Sosin and Seaton, creators of music for silent films, returned to the Virginia Film Festival for the fifth year to provide musical accompaniment to the silent screening of the film.

The epic film version of the story J.M. Barrie wrote 107 years ago kept everyone charmed for almost two hours. Although the movie was made more than three-quarters of a century ago, the story of a child's outlook on life and Peter's determination to never grow up still appealed to the child in every member of the audience.