Funny business: Yuks and yucks from the Film Fest

news-alan-ballAlan Ball charms and amuses at True Blood and American Beauty screenings– and in the lobby of Culbreth.

The projectors have stopped running, the popcorn has been swept up and bleary-eyed moviegoers have emerged back into the daylight. The 22nd Virginia Film Festival is a wrap.

This year's fest was the debut of director Jody Kielbasa, who inherited the "Funny Business" theme when he was hired five months ago, and reports record attendance and near-record ticket sales at this year's fest.

More than once, we heard moviegoers say, "I thought this was supposed to be funny." Screening films that have zilch to do with the theme is nothing new for this festival, and Kielbasa expanded the yuk-fest theme to take in the funny business of politics and business. Some of the movies made us both laugh and cry.

Instead of the usual star-studded opening night of a Virginia-made film, UVA's marching band was the star in the star-less documentary Marching Band.

Another festival first: Some of the headliner shows had reserved seating, disrupting seating arrangements for those who didn't purchase tickets together.

Traditionally, Sunday has been a slow day as the festival winds down. This year, events with True Blood creator Alan Ball and actor Matthew Broderick made it a not-to-be missed day.

The down side to such a wealth of guests is that festival goers were stuck at Culbreth Theatre, the worst venue for a daylong movie marathon because of its lack of food options and uncomfortable seating. And the back-to-back programming of events barely left time for bathroom breaks, much less time for foraging food and beverages.

Okay, the lack of sleep, the hunger headaches and the paralyzed spines were worth it. The Hook offers its sampling of the November 5-8 cinematic smorgasbord.

Why didn't we go to His Girl Friday? Traditionalists that we are, we went to the opening night screening at Culbreth Theatre of the documentary Marching Band, which follows the Obama election through the eyes of a few students in the Virginia State University and UVA marching bands. The Virginia State band rocked outside the theater beforehand. For those who are band members or students at either school, or who like movies with no conflict or story, this is the perfect film.

Norman Jewison is a god: We'd worried that the 1965 Cold War comedy, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming would be dated. Instead, it captures the fears of the era with humor and an all-star cast that includes Carl Reiner, Jonathan Winters, Brian Keith, Eva Marie Saint, and, in his film debut, Alan Arkin.

"Canadian pinko": Making a movie about detente two years after the Cuban Missile crisis wasn't a popular idea at the time, says Jewison. Once it was released, he got invited to Moscow when no one went behind the Iron Curtain. "Those were strange times and showed you the fear one country can have for another," says Jewison.

Home grown... in Uruguay: Former local resident and documentary filmmaker Ricardo Preve debuts his first fiction feature film, Jose Ignacio, shot in his home, where he also housed the cast, in the resort town of Jose Ignacio. "Everybody in town was in the movie," says Preve. "The butcher in the movie was actually the butcher."

"The university is embracing the arts in a new way": Vice Provost Beth Turner introduces John Waters, and hey, no kidding. His sold-out, one-man show at Culbreth November 6 had the audience laughing, and feeling deliciously filthy.

John Waters' advice to parents: Be glad your kids get in trouble. Be glad they're a bad influence ("I was," he says) and understand the tough choices in life. "Wouldn't you rather your child be a drug dealer than a drug addict?" he asks.

It was an educational experience, as well: Womb raiders, sploshing, and upper decker are new terms we learned from Waters. Oh, and you can freeze poppers.

Notice–- John Waters will not introduce Hairspray: Some audience grumbling was reported when the filmmaker did not appear as promised in the festival program.

Sometimes, memory is better than the real thing: Pink Flamingos debuted in 1972. The Hook went to see it for the last time in 2009.

"I forgot the chicken sex scene": Audience comment post-Pink Flamingos.

Silent movies are not silent: Nor did they have sex scenes with chickens. Matthew Marshall and the Reel Ensemble provide musical accompaniment to Harold Lloyd's 1923 Safety Last!, the movie with the iconic image of him hanging off a clock, and Buster Keaton's 1924 Sherlock, Jr., real funny business and a virtually extinct movie-going experience.

"If this movie doesn't move you, you can't be moved": Larry Sabato introduces Locked Out: The Fall of Massive Resistance at the sold-out screening of the WCVE documentary about Virginia closing its schools 50 years ago to prevent black children from attending, what Sabato calls one of America's "primary examples of misguided leadership." Governor Douglas Wilder attends the screening on the 20th anniversary of his election as the first African-American governor in the United States.

news-broderick-yerzaMatthew Broderick and producer Ron Yerza didn't realize Election would become such a profitable cult hit.

Everyone else has to wait until Mother's Day to see this: UVA alum/producer Julie Lynn brings a sneak preview of Mother and Child, another Rodrigo Garcia-written and directed masterpiece to screen at the Paramount. The top-notch cast includes Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, and Cherry Jones.

"It was like an act-off all day": Lynn relays a comment from her buddy, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, who was on the set one day watching Bening and Jones.

The inevitable Jack Bauer question: Shakespeare-trained actress Cherry Jones describes working on the TV series 24: "It's real easy, a lot easier than stage." And when Kiefer Sutherland is on the set, "The temperature does drop in the room," she says.

Guess who never wants to see Police Academy again? The writer and director of the 1984 movie, Hugh Wilson, who lives in Charlottesville and still likes movies geared toward 18- to 24-year-old males, like that one with McLovin, Rick Sincere reports.

Remember Mystery Science Theater 3000? True Blood creator Alan Ball provides stream-of-consciousness commentary on an episode of his hit HBO series to a packed Culbreth house Sunday morning.

Sneak preview of True Blood's next season– only some details are lies: Werewolves, somebody will die, Bill and Eric will sleep together, a musical episode, and one in which a tornado comes through and destroys the town are some of the tantalizing clues dropped by Ball.

"What if it's dated and stupid?" Ball confesses his fears about watching 1999 best picture American Beauty 10 years later. It's not. Ball reveals that the screenplay, for which he won an Academy Award, was a reaction to being a "serous sitcom hack" for Cybill.

We've always wanted to hear an actor say this: "The performances made it all better–- mine in particular," quips Matthew Broderick after a 10th anniversary screening of Election.

How Broderick captured the character of civics teacher Jim McAllister: "Something about a short-sleeve button-down shirt with tie seemed to do most of the work."

Please don't let this be a film festival trend: "Will you sign my copy of Ferris Bueller?" asks audience member "Matt" during the Q&A. "Yes, if you bring it here," replies Broderick. "I'm not coming there."

Most welcome words: "This is number 85 of 85 films shown this weekend," says festival director Jody Kielbasa before the screening of Broderick's new movie, Wonderful World, in which he plays a failed kiddie folk singer with a really bad attitude.

Updated November 10 at 1:15pm.


I totally agree with the assessment! I've gone to every festival since I moved here in '06, and while I want to be forgiving to Kielbasa and crew for this being a freshman effort on his part, there were some things that did not jive.

1) Rushing audiences out of theaters (ahem, Culbreth) because you packed the schedule a little too tightly - not cool. Doubly not cool - charging $15 for said experience.

2) Implementing Family Day - fair enough and a great idea. Failing to give families notice of how politely enjoy a movie-going experience was really disappointing. Not only were the Pixar Shorts impossible to hear over all the crying and chatter (and popping balloons), but the family constantly getting up for snacks and blocking my view/stepping on my toes during the Little Mermaid kinda ruined the nostalgia trip for me. Notes to Kielbasa and company: Please have theater staff make an announcement at the beginning of family-friendly offerings to let everyone know that other patrons will be trying to enjoy the show!

3)WTF was the deal with not offering swag on the ticketing website as in years past? I tried to get my usual t-shirt, but was informed at the Visitor Suite that a) that was the only place to purchase souvenirs and b) they only had size small.

4)If you're trying to tie in a random assortment of films under one cohesive theme, have some intro at the beginning of each film explaining its place under that theme. Rashomon was fantastic, but really, really out of place.

5) Kielbasa - whatever it was that you were yelling at the box office people about on Friday night before Pippa Lee - not cool to do it in public! Also, if you're going to pack the schedule as tight as you did, it'd be a good idea to start films on time and start letting people into theaters "a half hour before the show" as promised. Starting The Private Lives of Pippa Lee half an hour late...really not cool.

And not a word about Family Day. Mayor Dave was there and everything...

OK now...I have just read Jen's post for the third time and am more amazed each time I do. Let me get this straight. You are COMPLAINING that the FAMILIES at FAMILY DAY were too loud and compromised your movie watching expderience of FAMILY movies? And you are suggesting there should have been a speech prior to the film that told kids how to behave at a kids movie?

Perhaps you should petition someone to get your ONE DOLLAR back.

Here's another perspective. I had my two kids there for both of those films and all of the other activities and they were still talking about it at the bus stop this morning. Makes me think....I dunno...that maybe the event was more geared towards THEM than it was YOU? Just a guess.

I for one applaud the festival for a huge success with this event and already look forward to next year.

It's not about the money, obviously - it's about common courtesy. Part of the whole ethos of going to the movies is the opportunity to become totally absorbed and yet part of a group experience. If kids (and parents constantly checking their phones, going to get snacks, etc.) aren't taught that, then what's the point of going to a theater?! Rent the DVD if you can drag yourself away from your busy life long enough to appreciate it.

As I understand it, Family Day is meant to foster an appreciation for films in the younger generations, and thus open up the festival to a wider demographic. It's not my job - or the Paramount's, or the festival staff's - to babysit your kids! I applaud Jody Kielbasa's efforts to engender a love in film in kids, and hope the tradition continues, but with better guidelines.