Packed houses: Scenes from a film festival

It was standing room only at this year's Virginia Film Festival. Now in its 24th year, the November 3-6 homage to cinema is more popular than ever, at least judging by the unprecedented 27 sell-outs on the 84-event program. And it wasn't just the headliners like Oliver Stone and Sissy Spacek. Even foreign films like La Rafle or documentaries like Growing Up Cason pulled in hefty crowds.

Last year, the film festival broke attendance records. This year, with the emphasis on not-yet-released flicks and foreign films, it seems poised to do so again if the crowds lined up to get into theaters are any indication.

Once again, the Hook got caught up in filmatic frenzy. Ten movies later, here's our report of the festival's highs– and lows.

But first, a word from our sponsors: Acura provided cars to ferry about the celebs– and a lengthy commercial that ran before each film.

We laughed, we cried: The new George Clooney movie, The Descendants, by Sideways director Alexander Payne, sold out almost as soon as tickets went on sale. It opens November 16, but we saw it here first.

Don't cry for me Argentina: "What Argentinians do with corpses is fantastic," we learn from Evita: The Documentary's director and recent Charlottesville arrival Eduardo Montes-Bradley. Nearly 60 years after Eva Duarte Peron died, feelings still run strong between Peronists and those less enchanted with the movement, as evidenced by the at times testy discussion following  the screening of the film that's banned in Argentina. And Montes-Bradley reveals that before her death from cervical cancer, Evita was lobotomized, and people said she seemed much nicer.

The passion of Oliver Stone: The controversial filmmaker draws a packed house that includes former UVA president John Casteen for the three-plus-hours-long 20th-anniversary screening of JFK and Larry Sabato-led discussion afterward. "People say I was fabricating history," says Stone. "That's nonsense." He compares the assassination to Moby Dick and sees himself as Ahab.

Most disturbing detail from Sabato: There are still 50,000 JFK assassination records held in secrecy in the National Archive.

Most disturbing trend in Culbreth: Even 45 minutes after JFK started, people were still being seated in the back of the theater. One poor guy had to get up three times so latecomers could disruptively find a seat.

Most disturbing trend among moviegoers: Texting during movies. Cellphones were lit up in darkened theaters throughout the festival. One offender was told to cut it off at JFK, and two annoying young women at the Greek film Attenberg November 6 thought it was the perfect time to stay in touch with friends (not to mention the feet propped up on seats in front of them, stretching and hair tossing). What is wrong with you people?

Who knew there were so many Lars von Trier fans? The November 4 screening of the disturbing director's new film, Melancholia, was the sold out at Vinegar Hill Theatre, and even sponsors showing up at the end of the line couldn't find a ticket.

Who knew there were so many Rothstein's First Assignment fans? The controversial documentary on photographer Arthur Rothstein and the people forced to leave their homes to make way for the Shenandoah National Park 75 years ago had an even longer line of people trying to get in Vinegar Hill to the sold-out screening on November 5. Richard Knox Robinson's film ties in the forced evacuations and the eugenics movement in Virginia, which had 8,300 "half-wits" and "imbeciles" sterilized in the 1930s. Mary Frances Corbin, whose family was extensively photographed by Rothstein, was 11 when she was sterilized at  "The Colony" in Lynchburg.

If the Marquis de Sade likes it, we're there: The 1796 gothic novel The Monk about the corruption of the righteous Brother Ambrose was a favorite of the old sadist. The 2011 French/Spanish movie starring Vincent Cassel, which drew a surprisingly large crowd Saturday morning, reiterates that the holier they are, the harder they fall.

Fact we wish we didn't know about Humphrey Bogart: Bogey was bald, and had three wigs for his role in John Huston's Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Ben Mankiewicz with Turner Classic Movies tells the audience before the screening of a restored 35mm print from the Library of Congress.

That's not all that's in the Library of Congress: Porn and violent video games are also housed in its collection at the insistence of Congress, festival regular Rick Sincere discovers at a November 3 screening of the documentary, These Amazing Shadows, about the National Film Registry and film preservation.

Close up on Close: Glenn Close goes makeup-less in her new film, Albert Nobbs, in which she plays a 19th century woman living as a butler in an Irish hotel, says director Rodrigo Garcia, who also reveals that co-star Mia Wasikowska as a child was terrified of Close in 101 Dalmatians.

We're tired, we're cranky, and we don't want to stand in no stinkin' line: That's why the comedy Butter was the perfect film with which to end the Festival after waiting in a long line of ticketholders outside Culbreth at the appointed showtime Sunday night. Jennifer Garner has opened our eyes to the world of butter carving in Iowa and how political candidates are made.

Updated 4:33pm with the correct spelling of Dalmatians.

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"Dalmatians" is the correct spelling, not "Dalmations."

Glad they had a good run.anyone seen Larry Flynt?