Virginia Film Festival Kicks Off With Special 70th Anniversary Broadcast of "The War Of The Worlds"

September 01, 2008

Sept. 1, 2008 – They're out there. Or are they?

The Virginia Film Festival will kick off its "Aliens!"-themed event this year Oct. 30 with a special 70th-anniversary rebroadcast of Orson Welles' classic radio play, "The War of the Worlds" and a screening of the 1953 George Pal film of the same name.

"Not only is this the perfect way to open our festival this year, it is also a great way to honor one of the more bizarre evenings in Charlottesville history," said Richard Herskowitz, the festival's artistic director.

"On the night of Oct. 30, 1938, Welles' ultimate hoax had the whole nation on edge and our city was no exception," he said.  "Citizens were so nervous, in fact, that the McCormick Observatory had to open its doors just to prove with its telescopes that the skies were not in fact filled with alien spaceships," Herskowitz said. "Just to be sure history doesn't repeat itself, we've asked the observatory to have telescopes at the ready to reassure our spectators that the skies are safe."

The radio show will be presented Oct. 30 at 7 p.m. in the McCormick Observatory.

Afterward, the festival will offer science-fiction fans a 10 p.m. Culbreth Theatre screening of George Pal's classic "War of the Worlds." The film will be introduced by Pal biographer and Charlottesville resident Justin Humphreys.

McCormick Observatory will remain open from 7 to 10 p.m. every night of the festival,  serving up spectacular heavenly views and hosting a series of films in a specially created "McCormick Observatory Microcinema." The series will feature three programs of experimental and independent films about space, curated by luminaries of the avant-garde film world, including Craig Baldwin, Jeanne Liotta and Ed Halter.

In addition, underground filmmakers George and Mike Kuchar will present four of their most hyperbolic alien invasion spectacles, "Blips," "Ascension of the Demonoids Death," "Quest of the Ju-Ju Cults" and "Secrets of the Shadow World."

According to Ricky Patterson, senior scientist in the University of Virginia's Department of Astronomy, the Nov. 1, 1938 issue of the Daily Progress featured the headline, "Leander McCormick Telescope Shows No Mobilization on Mars."

"Jumping nerves of seventy-five or more students and residents of Charlottesville were at rest today after they peered at Mars last night through the big telescope at the University of Virginia's Leander McCormick Observatory and saw no evidence of mobilization for an attack upon the earth," the paper reported.

In the end, the paper wrote, "Leander McCormick astronomers assure the public that there is no increased activity on the big planet. As a matter of fact, they are unable to see a soul on Mars, which hasn't changed very much in a good many years."

The rebroadcast and McCormick Observatory series will cover just one aspect of the "Aliens!" theme, which will feature some 80 films and 100 guests exploring the fearful and alluring images of immigrants, outsiders and extraterrestrials alike.

To address images of human aliens who migrate across national borders, the festival and the U.Va. Media Studies Department welcome their first Festival Fellow, Hamid Naficy, a film scholar and John Evans Professor of Communication at Northwestern University. His book, "An Accented Cinema," explores the themes and styles of filmmakers who live and work away from their country of origin.

He will make his first festival appearance Sept. 25 with a lecture entitled "Making Films With an Accent" at 4 p.m. in the Newcomb Hall Kaleidoscope Room. The event is free and open to the public.

Naficy will also offer a keynote talk, entitled "From Accented Cinema Toward Multiplex Cinema," on the festival's opening day at 4 p.m.; lead a four-day, one-credit course on "Accented Cinema" on Monday through Thursday of festival week; and participate in and lead various discussion events throughout the weekend.

U.Va. students wishing to take part in the course are required to register by Sept. 12. For information about registering, which will be open to non-students, contact Judy McPeak at

The festival will screen "Koryo Saram – The Unreliable People," a film executive-produced by recently appointed U.Va. Dean of Arts & Sciences Meredith Jung-En Woo.

The film, honored as "Best Documentary" at the 2007 Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival, tells the harrowing story of Stalin's massive ethnic cleansing campaign in 1937 that resulted in the forced deportation of Koreans living in the coastal provinces of Far East Russia near North Korea to the unsettled steppe country of Central Asia, some 3,700 miles away. Dismissed by Stalin as "unreliable people," and enemies of the state, the deportees were forced to integrate into the Soviet system while working under punishing conditions in Kazakhstan.

Today, the Koreans there are part of that rapidly modernizing independent state – a story that resonates with the experiences of many Americans who have been forced to assimilate and form new cultures themselves.

Full details of the festival program will be available in late September. More information on the Virginia Film Festival is available online, where visitors may sign up for a newsletter highlighting festival news and events.

The Virginia Film Festival is hosted by the University of Virginia.