New look: Kielbasa puts stamp on 23rd Film Fest

news-stanley-nelson1Stanley Nelson discusses his documentary after the screening of Freedom Riders.

At 10am on Saturday, with a day of screenings left to go, the Virginia Film Festival broke its all-time box office record, Festival director Jody Kielbasa announced before The Last Picture Show.

Bigger and better was the unofficial theme at this year's fest, Kielbasa's second but the first on which he really could impose his vision. (Last year, he inherited the "Funny Business" theme, a festival tradition that had pretty much run its course, and which he immediately ditched.)

Attendance jumped 25 percent over last year to 23,750, as did ticket sales, ringing up at $90,158.

Kielbasa also unveiled a new logo that says both Virginia and Blue Ridge Mountains, although one wiseacre we know sees a bondage theme in the celluloid wrapped around the state.

And Kielbasa did make us suffer, with more movies–- 132–- than ever before, making it even harder to choose what films to cram into the November 4-7 fest.

Innovations we liked a lot: The emphasis on contemporary foreign films and the "Six from '60," a way to screen classic movies from 50 years ago. We're hoping next year has "Six from '61."

Adding a box office at the Main Street Arena on the Downtown Mall made it really convenient for us at the Hook a block away.

And Culbreth Theatre used to be a wasteland for food options. This year, the upgraded Fine Arts Caf© made it possible for famished filmgoers to find the sustenance to carry on.

Attracting star power has always been one of the toughest lots of festival directors. This year didn't have a Matthew Broderick or Morgan Freeman, but Festival Fellow Peter Bogdanovich is an icon. And there was that TV guy, Josh Radnor, whose new movie, happythankyoumoreplease was a sellout. But then again, so was Tiny Furniture. Overall, 17 screenings sold out, including Jews and Baseball.

So how was the festival with a new sheriff in town? The Hook took in a dozen movies, attended parties, and stayed up way past our bedtimes to find out.

Hottest ticket in town: Not only was highly anticipated opening night movie, Black Swan, sold out, people were seeking tickets on Craigslist.

Who knew ballerinas could be so scary? Black Swan's star Natalie Portman scared the weasels out of us, and the latest effort by director Darren Aronofsky is more Requiem for a Dream than The Wrestler.

Liked it or hated it: Audience reaction to Black Swan didn't seem to fall in the middle.

How to really enrage hardcore movie lovers: Because Black Swan hasn't been released, Fox Searchlight insisted on security to prevent the crowd at Culbreth from recording the film, even though the Virginia Film Festival has screened plenty of unreleased movies over the years without bootlegged versions ending up in Taiwan. A security guard walked in front of the ticket-buying audience throughout the movie, provoking complaints from anyone who expected to watch a film without that sort of distraction.

And while we're on a roll here: We were so happy to hear an audience member ask a text-er to cut off his or her cellphone. What's wrong with you people? Texting in movies is not okay.

Kudos for Kluge: Albemarle Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier reminds us at the opening night gala that winemaker Patricia Kluge, who's going through a rough patch now with the looming foreclosure of her winery, was pretty much responsible for the film festival getting started in 1988.

Not all movies from China are kung-fu: Hot Summer Days is a romantic comedy set in Hong Kong and Beijing with an ensemble of Chinese stars sweating it out and finding true love.

A story of our shameful past and extraordinary courage: Racists firebombed a bus trying to integrate interstate travel in 1961 with passengers aboard in Anniston, Alabama. Stanley Nelson's Freedom Riders documents the young people who decided to challenge whites-only bus terminal waiting rooms and restaurants, even knowing they'd be beat up in Alabama and jailed in Jackson–- or worse. Last wills and testaments were de rigueur for Freedom Riders, and this documentary of the civil rights movement was the most frightening film we saw, and its characters the most heroic.

Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor are so gay: Carrey plays a real-life conman who broke out of prison four times to be with the man he loves in I Love You Phillip Morris, which opens in theaters December 3 and didn't have the annoying security guy walking in front of the audience.

It's not all German expressionism for F.W. Murnau: Fortunately, in slashing much of the classics element out of the film festival, Kielbasa left the traditional Saturday morning silent movie. The Last Laugh, the 1924 film by the director of Nosferatu veers toward realism and is silent-film high art, with virtually no subtitles to convey the drama. Star Emil Jannings was the first man to win an Academy Award.

news-bogdanovich-adrenaline1Who's your mentor? Bogdanovich, left, helps out with an Adrenaline Festival team.

How many times can Peter Bogdanovich mention Orson Welles in 15 minutes? At least three by our count following the screening of The Last Picture Show.

Black and white is "the actor's friend": Bogdanovich quotes Welles, who convinced him to film The Last Picture Show that way.

Other Bogdanovich preferences: Closeups are "overused to death now," and he's not that fond of music scores or Sergio Leone.

At every Film Festival, we have regrets: And this year, ours is leaving witty and charming Bogdanovich to catch the Cannes prize-winner, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. We'll never trust the Palme d'Or again.

Hey, was that catfish-on-woman action? While we'd be pretty hard pressed to say exactly what was going on in Uncle Boonmee, the sex scene with a catfish is something you don't see every day.

"It'll be a total failure if it doesn't scare the sh*t out of you": Producer Mark Johnson quotes no-show director Guillermo del Toro's goal in Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, and it definitely changed how we feel about the tooth fairy.

A reference to a trailer park in Dillwyn, Virginia, turns up in a critically acclaimed television series? That would be because Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan is from Richmond, and he's a Film Fest success story. In 1989, he won the Governor's Screenwriting Award for Home Fries, which became a Drew Barrymore film, and he credits that contest for giving him his start.

"Marilyn Monroe used to tuck me into bed": Guest programmer Gary Springer shares that anecdote to make the point that he grew up around famous people and has never gone gaga over an actress until he saw Paprika Steen in the 2009 Danish film Applause, and he's lobbying for her to win Best Actress. She has our vote.

And the Czech nominee is...: Kawasaki's Rose, the second great foreign film we saw on Sunday, makes us wonder, how would we have behaved under Soviet occupation with the secret police applying the screws for unwilling collaboration?

A kinky–- and scary–- finale: Peeping Tom nearly destroyed the career of British director Michael Powell when it came out in 1960, and now it's considered a masterpiece. An aspiring filmmaker and voyeur murders women to capture the fear in their eyes, implicating movie audiences for our own voyeurism in watching other people's lives.

Updated November 9 with attendance figures.

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Well done, Jody!

Bogdanovich was amazing...that Jimmy Stewart impression alone was worth the ticket price!

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I had so many people tell me they enjoyed the festival better this year with no theme. I as a driver for the film festival ,I get to enjoy the company of the movie stars ,producers and there friends i see a whole other look to the festival than everyone else I keep the guest happy and on time .I truely love my position with the festival and think that there are so many thanks yous that need to go out to alot of great folks Jody and wes and jen and judy judy judy si becker cindy chuck and everyopne else in this great american film festival THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH !!!!!!!! hers to 2011 hope to see all again soon thanks for my wonderful 4 days of fun sandy cason