Update: Guillermo del Toro has canceled his appearance.
October 5, 2010 — The Virginia Film Festival, coming off record-breaking attendance in 2009, will once again share the magic of the movies with audiences from Charlottesville and beyond when it returns for its 23rd year Nov. 4 through 7.
The Virginia Film Festival is presented by the University of Virginia's College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
Festival director Jody Kielbasa, now in his second year at the helm, unveiled this year's program Tuesday in a press conference held at Charlottesville's X-Lounge. The festival will feature more than 100 films, including first-run features, classics, documentaries and shorts. The weekend will also feature an array of guests, special events, parties and community events.
The festival's opening night film will be "Black Swan," a major hit at the Toronto and Venice film festivals. The psychological thriller from director Darren Aronofsky stars Natalie Portman as a veteran dancer in a New York City ballet company who is threatened by the emergence of rival dancer, played by Mila Kunis. Also featured in the film are Barbra Hershey and Winona Ryder.
"We are so happy to give our audiences a sneak peek at one of the most-talked about and critically-acclaimed films on the major festival circuit this year," Kielbasa said.
Joining the previously announced Academy Award-nominated writer, director and actor Peter Bogdanovich on the festival's 2010 guest roster will be:
• Writer, director, producer, screenwriter and designer Guillermo del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth," the "Hellboy" franchise), who wrote and produced "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" and will be presenting the film with producer Mark Johnson. The movie stars Katie Holmes.
• Actor/filmmaker Josh Radnor (known to television audiences for his role as Ted in "How I Met Your Mother"), with his film "happythankyoumoreplease," winner of the Audience Award at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.
• Actress Paige O'Hara, the voice of Belle in the Disney classic "Beauty and the Beast." O'Hara will perform songs from the film and present it at The Paramount Theater as part of the festival's annual Family Day activities.
"This year marks a new era for the festival," Kielbasa said, "as we leave behind the concept of a single, overarching theme in favor of a focus on presenting the very best of contemporary cinema, and presenting classic films through a more contemporary lens. My goal this year, as it is every year, is to create a dynamic and diverse experience for our audiences and for all in this community."
The program, he said, represents that quest for diversity in a number of ways.
"As you look at our program this year, you will find some of the most acclaimed films on this year's festival circuit. You will find classic films with distinctly modern implications; you will find an extraordinary collection of documentaries covering topics of local, regional, national and international interest; and you will find plenty of opportunities to celebrate what has been an outstanding year for Virginia films and filmmakers."
Audiences will have the opportunity to hear from a slate of festival guests who will shed light on their films and the industry as a whole, including many whose talents extend beyond traditional industry titles and roles.
"In many ways, this is the era of the 'hyphenate' in the film world, with so many incredibly talented artists wearing every conceivable hat by working as writer-actor-director-producer and more. This year's Festival Fellow, Peter Bogdanovich, has done this as well as anyone in Hollywood ever has, charting his own course and in the process creating some of the most unforgettable stories and characters we have ever seen on screen."
Bogdanovich will present his award-winning "Paper Moon" at noon on Nov. 5 at Culbreth Theatre and present and participate in a Q-and-A around his career-defining classic "The Last Picture Show" with noted film critic David Edelstein on Nov. 6 at 1:30 p.m. at Culbreth Theatre.
Few in Hollywood today rival the versatile talents of del Toro. "Here is a guy who it seems is literally everywhere you turn in the entertainment industry today," Kielbasa said. "He made one of the most fascinating and visually stunning films in recent memory in 'Pan's Labyrinth.' He is responsible for the very successful 'Hellboy' series; he has recently signed on with Disney to create a series of family films; he just last month released the second in his series of vampire novels … The list of credits is mind-boggling and seems to be growing every day. We are honored that he will be joining us this year with 'Don't Be Afraid of the Dark,'" along with executive producer and U.Va. alumnus Mark Johnson.
Coming up in the next wave of multi-talented, multitasking movie makers is actor-director-writer-producer Radnor. His film "happythankyoumoreplease" will serve as the closing-night film of the festival.
"This film was one of the most enjoyable of all the films I saw at Sundance this year," Kielbasa said. "He took what has become a sort of predictable formula in Hollywood, focusing a film on a group of neurotic young New Yorkers, and in a sense turned it on its head by making the characters incredibly relatable and likeable. I think our audiences will also find him, as Sundance audiences clearly did, to be quite charismatic and engaging."
The festival will present a series of some of the most talked-about films on this year's festival circuit, including:
• "Leaves of Grass," starring Edward Norton and featuring executive producer and U.Va. graduate David Koplan, along with producer Bill Migliore.
• "Casino Jack," a cautionary tale of a high-flying lobbyist's fall from power, starring Academy Award-winner Kevin Spacey in a role inspired by Jack Abramoff.
• "I Love You Philip Morris," starring Jim Carrey as real-life criminal Steven Russell, a staid Virginia family man turned famously flamboyant prisoner who falls in love with his cellmate (Ewan McGregor) and engineers a series of audacious-but-unsuccessful escape attempts.
• "127 Hours," the latest film from Academy Award-winning director Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire"), starring James Franco as mountain climber Aron Ralston, who, trapped by a falling boulder that had landed on his arm, made a fateful and famous choice to save his life.
This year's festival also will celebrate a banner year for the Virginia film scene in its "Spotlight on Virginia Film" event, Kielbasa said.
"Here in Charlottesville alone this year we've seen three films receive tremendous national acclaim," he said, citing Meghan Eckman's "The Parking Lot Movie," Chris Farina's "World Peace and Other Fourth Grade Achievements" and "Thoroughbred," by Charlottesville's Academy Award-winning filmmaker, Paul Wagner.
In addition to these films, the festival will highlight Virginia filmmakers through collections of short films that will be presented Nov. 6 at Vinegar Hill Theater.
Another Virginia highlight on the festival program is Bill Reifenberger and Ben Clore's documentary "Vintage: The Winemarker's Year." Shot during 2008 at wineries throughout the state (with a special focus on Charlottesville-area wineries), the film chronicles that particular year's vintage and shines a spotlight on the Virginia wine scene as a whole.
The screening will be presented at 6 p.m. at The Paramount Theater, and will be preceded by a 5 p.m. reception saluting Virginia wines and featuring a variety of area winemakers in the Paramount's Founders Lounge. A $20 ticket includes both the reception and the film.
"This film is another example of my desire to showcase and reflect the things that define our region and that matter greatly to people here and throughout Virginia," Kielbasa said. "It's a beautifully made film that serves not only as a sort of love letter to this growing industry and the people behind it, but also takes a compelling look at the industry in what is a critical time in its continued evolution."
To celebrate the movie as well as the industry, The Main Street Arena (formerly the Charlottesville Ice Park) will host a tasting room that will highlight a variety of Virginia wines throughout the festival.
The Main Street Arena will also serve as the new festival headquarters, and will include a box office to supplement the U.Va. Arts Box Office.
"This is the first time we have had a full box office available downtown, which we think will be very convenient for our customers," Kielbasa said.
Another highlight of this year's festival will be "Freedom Riders," the new documentary marking the 50th anniversary of the more than 400 Americans who risked their lives, and in some cases endured savage beatings and imprisonment, for violating Jim Crow laws by traveling together on buses and trains through the deep South in 1961.
Presented in association with U.Va.'s Center for Politics, the screening will feature a panel of guests, including award-winning documentarian Stanley Nelson ("Jonestown: The Life and Death of People's Temple") and several of the Freedom Riders themselves.
It will be presented twice on Nov. 5 – at 10 a.m. for as many as 1,000 local students at Charlottesville High School's Martin Luther King Performing Arts Center, and at 6 p.m. in Culbreth Theatre for the public. Both presentations will feature a panel moderated by political expert Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics.
This year's festival also marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most important years in the history of film with a special sidebar entitled "Six from '60."
"This was a sea-change year for both American and international cinema," said Wesley Harris, the festival's associate programmer. "We will be showing the newly-struck 35-mm print of 'Breathless,' which is in the midst of a national tour this year for its 50th anniversary. It's a film that shows the first ripples of a New Wave in filmmaking and we built this sidebar from there."
Other "Six from '60" films will include Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa's "The Bad Sleep Well"; Billy Wilder's "The Apartment," featuring Jack Lemmon; Robert Drew's "Primary," a cinema verite documentary on the 1960 primary race between John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey; Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" (which gave the world the world to the term "paparazzi"); and "Peeping Tom," British filmmaker Michael Powell's haunting story of voyeuristic obsession.
The series, according to Kielbasa, dovetails with the festival's year-round programming. "This sidebar, like our year-round film series, is a chance for us to showcase our commitment to not just showing classic films, but placing them in an interesting cultural context that allows our audiences to get even more out of them were they presented in a vacuum."
Another key to Kielbasa's approach, he said, is presenting a program that speaks to the interests and passions of the community the festival serves.
"Sustainability and green living are topics that resonate deeply with the people in Charlottesville. It's a community where people practice what they preach," he said. "We are happy to be partnering with an organization that is one of the true leaders in this local movement, the U.Va. Food Collaborative, who will be joining us to lead discussions on the topic."
The films presented as part of "Sustainability Matters" will include:
• "On Coal River," the story of four activists who transform themselves from victims to experts on mine safety reform, putting a human face on the costs of coal and strip-mining. Filmmaker Adams Wood and some of the townspeople featured in the film, will be on hand to discuss the film.
• "Sweetgrass," the story of a group of Montana cowboys taking a herd of 3,000 sheep into a million-acre mountain range for the very last time. The film captures the beautiful and essential truths about the relationship between man and animal, and the relationship of both to the larger natural world. Filmmaker Ilisa Barbash will be on hand.
Other films presented in the sidebar will be "Burning in the Sun," which follows a young man of West African and European descent back to his homeland of Mali to start a business building solar panels; "Queen of the Sun," an award-winning documentary that traces how man's relationship with bees has been harmed by highly mechanized industrial practices and uses the global honeybee crisis as a catalyst for change; and "Alamar," a semi-documentary about a young boy's journey of a lifetime with his Mexican father to the largest coral reef in Mexico.
Other festival highlights include:
• Tom Shadyac: "I Am"
The comic mind behind box office bonanzas "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" and "Bruce Almighty" returns to the festival with a film aimed at understanding what true happiness means. Shadyac suffered serious injuries in a mountain bike crash, including broken bones and a severe concussion that left him dealing with significant depression issues. After countless and varied efforts to battle it, the depression lifted some eight months after the crash, causing Shadyac to ponder his own life and, specifically, the great disparity between his material possessions and general unhappiness. His quest for answers leads him to experts in spirituality, academic leaders, everyday people and some of his high-profile Hollywood colleagues.
• A World of Inspiration – Foreign Films
This year's festival will feature a selection of acclaimed international films, including the 2010 Palme d'Or winner at Cannes, "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall his Past Lives," from Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. "We are proud to be showing a number of films that are creating great deal of buzz for the upcoming awards season," Kielbasa said. Highlights include:
• From Brazil – "Only When I Dance," the story of the artistic journey of two teens from Rio's most notorious slums to New York, Switzerland and beyond as they use dance as an escape route from a life of poverty.
• From Czechoslavakia – "Kawasaki's Rose," Academy Award-winning Czech director Jan Hrebejk's film about a scientist on the brink of being honored for his extraordinary work, only to have his secret past as a government informant exposed.
• From Denmark – "Applause," featuring film and stage actress Paprika Steen as a recovering alcoholic actress emerging from rehab to confront the choices she made, the family she left behind and the uncertain future ahead.
• From France – "White Material," Claire Denis' account of French colonials running a coffee plantation in an unnamed African country.
• From Germany – "Everyone Else," a new film by director Maren Ade, in which a young couple finds their relationship tested when they bond with another couple during a Mediterranean holiday, exposing hidden fears, desires and tensions.
• Also from Germany – "Keep Surfing," a kinetic and fast-paced documentary, 10 years in the making, that profiles six surfers in Munich, the river surfing capital of the world.
• From Hong Kong – "Hot Summer Days," a romantic comedy set in Hong Kong's hottest summers featuring seven intertwining stories that provide a variety of angles on the true meaning of love.
• From Poland – "All That I Love," a coming-of-age drama, set in 1981, about a young Polish punk rocker whose band's controversial lyrics put its members' families in danger during a Communist crackdown.
• Small Screen, Big Impact: "Breaking Bad"
The festival will follow up last year's highly successful event featuring "True Blood" and its creator Alan Ball by spotlighting one of the most critically acclaimed television shows in recent memory, AMC's "Breaking Bad." The show's creator, Vince Gilligan, will come to Culbreth Theatre on Nov. 7 at 11 a.m. to present live commentary on an episode and take questions from audience members.
• Family Day Returns
After attracting more than 3,500 people to its daylong series of family-friendly events in and around the Paramount Theater and on Charlottesville's Downtown Mall, the festival is celebrating the return of Family Day with another lineup of free programs and events for all ages.
Highlights will include:
• "Beauty and the Beast" – A rare chance to see the Disney classic on the big screen, complete with a visit from its biggest star – Paige O'Hara, the voice of Belle. The first animated film to ever be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, "Beauty and the Beast" has recently been released as the second installment in Disney's Diamond Collection.
• "Louder Than a Bomb" – A powerful and inspirational story of four inner-city Chicago high school teams preparing for the world's largest youth poetry slam and their ability to use words and art to connect with each other, themselves and the sometimes challenging world in which they live.
On the mall, children will once again be treated to their own "Red Carpet Walk" (complete with clamoring paparazzi); green screen technology that puts kids in the middle of the action; debuts of films by members of the Young Filmmakers Academy, Journey Through Hallowed Ground and Light House Studio; free admission at the Virginia Discovery Museum (from 1-3 p.m. with a film festival ticket stub); healthy snack tastings from Whole Foods and Relay Foods; Bounce-n-Play inflatable; live music and entertainment throughout the day on the Family Festival stage on the Downtown Mall, and more.
Family Day is presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
• Another Shot of "Adrenaline"
The Adrenaline Film Project returns for another year of highly-caffeinated filmmaking fun. Led by director Jeff Wadlow and assisted by a team of mentors from throughout the industry, 10 to 12 teams will pitch, write, shoot, edit and present their films in only 72 hours, topping off the experience with a Nov. 6 screening that is one of the most anticipated events of the festival every year.
• Digital Media Gallery
The festival will once again celebrate student and community film and video in this state-of-the-art gallery setting located on Charlottesville's Downtown Mall. Curated by U.Va. professor and award-winning filmmaker Kevin Everson, along with Greg Kelly and James Ford from The Bridge Progressive Art Institute, this collection of experimental films will include the work of local artists who will be on hand to discuss their work and inspiration. The Digital Media Gallery will be located at 101 East Main St., on the corner of First and Main streets on the Downtown Mall.
• Parties and Events
The festival offers plenty of opportunities for everyone to share in celebrating throughout the weekend.
• Opening Night Gala – Nov. 4, 9 p.m., Alumni Hall, U.Va.
This year's festival kickoff celebration, which will follow the screening of "Black Swan," will include beverages, light buffet refreshments and live musical entertainment, and plenty of chances to mingle with friends and festival guests. Tickets are $75.
• Green Fairy Party – Nov. 5, 10 p.m., The Southern
This follow-up to last year's "Dirty Pink Polyester" party celebrating John Waters is destined to be one of the area's best dance parties of the year. Tickets are $5 (21 and over only) and will be available at the door.
• Late Night Wrap Party – Nov. 6, 10 p.m., Main Street Arena
Tickets are $45.
Additional premieres and guests will be announced in the coming weeks. For a full schedule and information regarding the Virginia Film Festival, visit www.virginiafilmfestival.org.
Tickets will go on sale Friday, on the festival website, at the U.Va. Arts Box Office (in the Drama Building on Culbreth Road) and by phone at 434-924-3376.
Premiere sponsors for the 2010 Virginia Film Festival are the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Acura, AV Company, Regal Entertainment Group and the Virginia Film Office.