Virginia Film Festival, Nov. 1-4, Celebrates 20th Year In a 'Family' Way

October 04, 2007

Oct. 4, 2007 -- The Virginia Film Festival is celebrating turning 20 with a huge "family" gathering. "Kin Flicks," the theme of this year’s festival, Nov. 1-4, will feature an array of filmmakers exploring the dynamics of family life from every possible angle and for every possible audience.

The festival will be highlighted by a family reunion with the return of independent film legend John Sayles.  Sayles, who was honored at the second Virginia Film Festival in 1989, is extending the family theme, as he will be joined at this year’s festival by longtime producer and life partner Maggie Renzi.  The pair will present their new film "Honeydripper," a look at the origins of rock’n’roll in the deep South.

Sayles' participation is particularly appropriate given this year's programming approach, said Virginia Film Festival Director Richard Herskowitz.  "As we looked at our 20th year, we thought it was particularly appropriate to make the filmmakers our stars," he said.  "We could not be happier with the extraordinary lineup of directors we have assembled.  Together, they represent an extraordinary range of talent and inspiration, and appropriately, each has explored cinematically our cultural norms of family life."

This year's lineup also features the festival's strongest-ever collection of new releases, Herskowitz said, including many that have wowed festival audiences from Sundance to Cannes to Toronto and figure to be Oscar contenders. "Tracking films on the festival circuit this year, I had a strong sense that this is a truly remarkable year for filmmaking. I was, of course, particularly interested in the great new films exploring family ties, and I feel very lucky that major distributors have given us some of their strongest upcoming titles."

Dramatic features include:

"Honeydripper," from Emerging Pictures, whose cast includes Danny Glover, Charles Dutton, singer-songwriter Keb’ Mo’ and U.Va. alumnus Sean Patrick Thomas. Director John Sayles explores a time when juke joints were the place one could find release after a hard week in the cotton fields, all the while documenting that pulsating moment when the blues became rock'n’roll.

"The Savages," the new Fox Searchlight release starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney as siblings caring for a hated father. The film is directed by Tamara Jenkins, who will be on-hand for a special post-scree ning discussion with noted critic and Virginia Film Festival returnee David Edelstein.

"Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead," the new Sidney Lumet-directed ThinkFilm release, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as two brothers who plan to rob their parents' jewelry store.

"The Diving Bell and Butterfly," the upcoming Miramax release dramatizing the miraculous creativity of the paralyzed author Jean-Dominique Bauby, for which Julian Schnabel captured the Best Director prize at Cannes.

"Starting Out in the Evening," from Roadside Attractions, starring Frank Langella in an amazing performance as an aging writer and Lauren Ambrose as the graduate student whose thesis on the writer gets very personal, to the consternation of his daughter, played by Lili Taylor.

"Randy and the Mob." According to Herskowitz, "This is a family reunion for us, since guest actor-director Ray McKinnon and actress-producer Lisa Blount brought their earlier films to the VFF, and have a big following here." Herskowitz points out that the film also relates to an event that was instrumental in the conception of this year's theme.  "The passage of the 'marriage amendment' in Virginia, which enforced a strict definition of what constitutes a legal family, was a huge inspiration for the ‘Kin Flicks’ theme. This film is rollicking, Southern movie entertainment about two warring brothers, both played by Ray McKinnon, one of whom is in a gay marriage. McKinnon is a major voice of a more progressive South, challenging with this film an exclusionary definition of 'family.'"

Documentary features include:

"Autism: The Musical," produced by U.Va. alumnus Perrin Chiles. This HBO film project follows a woman who decides to produce a theater production featuring autistic children, including her own. The film offers an unflinching look at the challenges autism creates in families, and the viewer becomes deeply caught up in the small, yet monumental, improvements in the childrens' performances and communication. The film will be co-sponsored by the Virginia Institute of Autism and will feature a Q&A session featuring Chiles, director Tricia Regan and a panel of parents of children with autism, including U.Va. Assistant Professor of Drama Michael Rasbury.

The world premiere of "Hoop Realities," the follow-up to one of the most successful documentaries of all time, "Hoop Dreams." The film follows the story of Arthur Agee, one of the two subjects in the original film, and his efforts to give back to inner-city youth chasing their own basketball dreams while looking to escape the harsh realities of their inner-city lives. Agee will be joined by Lee Davis, a Spike Lee protégé, directing his first documentary.

"Strange Culture," the unforgettable story of artist Steve Kurtz of the Critical Art Ensemble, who called 911 to help his critically ill wife, only to be brought in by authorities on suspicion of terrorism, thanks to the art materials in his apartment related to genetically engineered food research. Kurtz will be on hand to discuss the film and update audiences on his remarkably Kafka-esque tale as it stands today.

A New ‘Focus’

The new "Focus On" feature will allow audiences to delve into the work of seven extraordinary filmmakers, who have consistently put family issues at the heart of their work. The group includes:

Tamara Jenkins, who based her acclaimed "Slums of Beverly Hills" on her own family and will show that film with her short, "Family Remains." She will return with her latest, "The Savages," a rich exploration of two siblings dealing with a long-estranged, dying father.

Charles Burnett, one of the most important African-American filmmakers. His ”Killer of Sheep" is fresh from a restoration and rediscovery and will be shown along with the recently recut and restored "My Brother’s Wedding."

Nick Broomfield, the legendary documentarian, who will present two programs devoted to his recent turn to producing verite dramas using nonprofessional performers to dramatize real events. He will present "Ghosts," last year's recreation of the Morecambe Bay tragedy involving Chinese immigrant workers. He will also give a presentation featuring highlights from his latest docudrama on a war atrocity in Iraq, "Making 'The Battle for Haditha.'"

Alan Berliner, whose works include"The Family Album," "Nobody’s Business" and "Wide Awake," plus "The Early Films of Alan Berliner." A magnificent "re-editor" of family footage, he has built a fascinating career of exposing the complex undercurrents of family rituals and poses.
Macky Alston, creator of "Family Name," "The Killer Within" and "Hard Road Home." His "Family Name" traces the African-American and Caucasian branches of the Alston family tree. In "The Killer Within," he follows the story of a daughter who discovers that 50 years prior her beloved father had gone on a shooting spree at a college campus.

Su Friedrich — "The Ties that Bind" and "Sink or Swim" — who is a groundbreaking avant-garde filmmaker who skillfully mixes experimental narrative and documentary forms. She will present her two masterworks respectively exploring her relationships with her mother and her father.
Jane Gillooly, whose work includes "Leona’s Sister Gerri," a critically acclaimed documentary focusing on the subject of a photo that galvanized the abortion rights movement, and "Today the Hawk Takes One Chick," a work-in-progress that examines the grandmothers (called "gogos") holding African families together while the AIDS epidemic rages.

Musical Performances

Animator Brent Green will showcase his dark, uncanny vision in a performance with musicians Howe Gelb and Brendan Canty at the Gravity Lounge. Green shouts his narration preacher-style while the musicians deliver their classic brand of raucous indie rock. Gelb will perform a special one-night-only show at Gravity Lounge with Paul Curreri.

"Peter Pan"– The 1924 silent film will be accompanied by festival favorites Donald Sosin and Joanna Seaton. This year they will be joined by a chorus of Charlottesville children singing songs they have composed as part of the Kid Pan Alley project headed locally by Kid Pan Alley founder Paul Reisler and local singer-songwriter Terri Allard.

"The Kid," Charlie Chaplin's classic, will be presented at the Victory Theater in Scottsville, accompanied by Matt Marshall.

Family Day

The Virginia Film Festival will join with The Virginia Discovery Museum and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression in the first-ever Family Day.  Highlights will include a participatory film production led by the students of The Light House Studio; free admission to The Virginia Discovery Museum, including special art and film-themed exhibitions, two free programs of international family films programmed by Kids First and presented in City Council chambers, and the matinee performance of "Peter Pan" at the Paramount, with tickets costing $1 for children under 12.

"Another inspiration for the ‘Kin Flicks’ theme was our desire to broaden the festival audience to include more families with kids, and reach them with adventurous film selections and activities. And just as the Adrenaline Film Project grew out of our 'Speed' theme, we hope that this Family Day presentation becomes a staple of our festival for many years to come," Herskowitz said.

Free Screenings

Night owls can enjoy free midnight screenings at Gravity Lounge on Friday ("Mommie Dearest" with John Waters commentary) and Saturday ("Grey Gardens"), plus a free Sunday afternoon screening of "Tick Tock Lullaby," presented with the Water Bearer Films GLBTQ Film Series.

Classes and Panels

The popular Volvo Adrenaline Film Project returns for its fourth year under the direction of Charlottesville native Jeff Wadlow and his producing partner, Beau Bauman. The pair will once again lead several teams through a guerilla filmmaking experience over the course of 72 often grueling, many times inspiring and always entertaining hours, culminating in a Newcomb Hall screening/competition. Information is available at

The Festival Symposium with Harry Chotiner returns for its second year, with the NYU teacher and former vice president of Twentieth Century Fox introducing college and adult learners to leading screenwriters, directors and producers.  Tuition for the symposium is $150 and there is a maximum enrollment of 20 students. Information is available at

The 20th year of the festival delivers a double shot of the annual favorite Regal Shot-by-Shot Workshop. The first will see U.Va. film scholar and longtime festival contributor Walter Korte leading a session on the Italian cinema and the films of Luchino Visconti. The second will feature "Rebel Without a Cause" screenwriter Stewart Stern talking audiences through a screening of the film and discussing the experience of seeing his screenplay adapted by director Nicolas Ray and actors James Dean and Natalie Wood.

Mining the Home Movie will feature Patricia Zimmermann (author, "Reel Families: A Social History of Amateur Film" and "Mining the Home Movie") and Pamela Wintle, senior archivist from the Human Studies Film Archives at the Smithsonian, conducting a presentation and discussion of rare home movies from the archives. Included in the program will be "Think of Me First as a Person," filmed in Virginia, the first home movie selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

The annual Darden Producers Forum will offer an agent's-eye view of the industry with guest Jeremy Zimmer of United Talent Agency. A special “Women In Film” panel, moderated by Media Studies Department Chairman Andrea Press, will include Duke University film scholar Jane Gaines and feature guest filmmakers and producers to be announced.


The festival’s rich history of showcasing classic films continues with a lineup including "Rebel Without a Cause," Alfred Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt," Joan Crawford in "Mildred Pierce" and immortalized in "Mommie Dearest" and Visconti’s "Rocco and His Brothers" and "Sandra

The complete schedule for the 2007 Virginia Film Festival will be online beginning today as tickets go on sale at  For more information, call 1-800-UVA-Fest.

The Virginia Film Festival is hosted by the University of Virginia. For more information on the festival and its year-round activities and events, visit