Aliens-sated: Human supremacy preserved

Mexican screenwriter/director Guillermo Arriaga (left) blows away the crowd at the Paramount with the U.S. premiere of The Burning Plain. Hamid Naficy moderates.

This year's Virginia Film Festival may have been the best ever. And we're not just saying that to suck up to festival artistic director Richard Herskowitz, whose imminent departure lent a certain poignancy to the four days of moviegoing. Nor did a 21 percent drop in ticket sales put a damper on festival goers, who found it easier to get into events.

Has the festival matured after 21 years, or have we? This year seemed to hold fewer film fest annoyances– ticket location mix-ups, difficult parking, and questions after a screening that go on waaaay too long (or maybe we've just become more adept at leaving when the questions get lame).

With Culbreth Theatre back in action along with a convenient parking deck, the angst of not finding a space there was eased, and with only minor fretting about getting between downtown and UVA grounds on homecoming weekend, the biggest challenge was deciding among the richness of the offerings.

The festival morphed into the "Peter Riegert Film Festival." Riegert, with actor David Morse, left, talks to UVA drama students.

Although the theme was Aliens!, the festival never lets a theme get in the way of a star or a premiere, especially if local ties can be found for opening night. This year was no exception with UVA alum-produced Lake City with Sissy Spacek, which was one of three festival sell-outs.

Peter Riegert and Guillermo Arriaga turned out to be the real stars of the festival: Riegert for his affability– he told the Hook that despite his churlish answers, he didn't really hate doing the HotSeat in last week's issue– and for representing his generation on the screen from Animal House to the middle-aged King of the Corner– and Arriaga for his brilliance in Amores Perros, The Burning Plain and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, a tour de force of cinema to see all at once that still has our head spinning.

The Hook stamps "A-OK" on the visas of this year's immigrants, outsiders, and extraterrestrials at the Virginia Film Festival.

Troy Garity and his mom Jane Fonda appear for the screening of his new picture, Lake City.

Barbarella lands at Culbreth: Forty years after the 1968 erotic sci-fi thriller that still elicits a "grrrr" from men of a certain age, Jane Fonda, now 70 and still looking marvelous, takes in festival opening night and the screening of Lake City that stars Troy Garity (her son with Tom Hayden) and Spacek and Dave Matthews.

Troy Garity is easy: When "Ĺ’ber producer" Mark Johnson contacted Garity about a small movie starring Sissy Spacek, "I said I'd do it," Garity recounts after the screening. Johnson said, "You can read the script." Responds Garity, "I said I'll do it."

Why 58-year-old Spacek did her own stunts in Lake City: "I thought, I'm getting way up there, and it may be the last time I'll be chased through a cornfield," she says. "I got a charlie horse and nearly bought the farm."

Dave Matthews isn't too proud to beg: Matthews auditioned for the Lake City bad-guy part when he was in Los Angeles doing a concert, says co-director Perry Moore, another UVA alum who as an undergrad met producer Johnson at Culbreth. "They literally badgered us to death," alleges Moore, who describes Matthews' performance as "deranged" and his character as "pathetic."

Why Spencer Tracy rules: He's the stranger who shows up in John "Great Escape" Sturges' Bad Day at Black Rock, his 1955 town-with-a-secret movie, and he kicks Ernest Borgnine's derriere with one arm. Tracy also confronts Robert Ryan, Lee Marvin, Walter Brennan, Anne Francis, and racism– in Cinemascope.

This is not a special effect: The back of a man after receiving 100 lashes in Iran is a harsh reminder of just how abhorrent Islam finds homosexuality in Parvez Sharma's documentary, A Jihad for Love, produced by formerly in-the-closet Republican Michael Huffington.

Another festival first: Passengers director Rodrigo Garcia is unable to attend the October 31 screening of his new movie starring Anne Hathaway, so he appears via Skype.

Why Skype may not be the way to accommodate no-show guests: Garcia looms over the Newcomb stage while 6'4" David Morse, the most recognizable actor whose name you may not know and who lists The Green Mile, Dancer in the Dark and John Adams among his many film credits, barely gets in a word.

Movie aficionados got treated to heavenly gazes along with the flicks shown at UVA's McCormick Observatory.

It was a dark and scary night: The unlit hill going up to McCormick Observatory makes it the perfect Halloween venue for the Kuchar brothers low-budget look at aliens.

Thank God we got out before Ascension of the Demonoids: The audience flees after sitting through George Kuchar's Blips and Mike Kuchar's Death Quest of the Ju-Ju Cults, an experience one moviegoer describes as "audience abuse."

From George Kuchar's Blips, we learn: That UFOs seem to sexually arouse humans, that pubic fashions have really trimmed down since the '70s, and that there really are men in black.

Domo arigato, Senor Arriaga: Our vote for best festival flick goes to Amores PerrosLove's a Bitch– written by Guillermo Arriaga, closely followed by his newest film, The Burning Plain.

Testimonial for drug legalization: Arriaga describes the "amazing" power of corruption from drug trafficking wealth that he sees in his hometown, Mexico City. A friend of his 15-year-old son is kidnapped, the teeth of the boy's driver are all pulled out before his throat is slit, and although the ransom is paid, the teen is killed. A cop who refuses a bribe receives the head of his 10-year-old son in a box.

The Arriaga method: "I think it's artificial to tell stories in a linear way," says Arriaga, and he doesn't like the three-act format either. Not surprisingly, his favorite author is William Faulkner, who lived here, and Arriaga spent nine months reading The Sound and the Fury.

How often do you hear this? Arriaga has no complaints about how directors have filmed his screenplays, and he says he's found Hollywood "a very generous community of filmmakers."

And for his sophomore directorial effort: Kim Basinger and Charlize Theron star in Arriaga's The Burning Plain, which has its U.S. premiere November 1 at the Paramount in Charlottesville.

Cormac McCarthy, Edward Hopper and hunting: Three things Tommy Lee Jones and Arriaga discovered they had in common before shooting The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.

Why Peter Riegert remains expressionless throughout Local Hero: "I didn't have to work because the people are so weird," he says of his co-stars in the Scottish-set cult fave of 1983, which had a 25th anniversary screening November 1. Despite his lack of animation in the movie, Riegert provides a mean imitation of the "loquacious" Burt Lancaster.

Movie we felt most guilty for not attending: The 30-minute film, The Response, in which Riegert appears, is based on transcripts from Guantanamo tribunals and is followed by a two-hour discussion on the detainee situation, which one audience member describes as being between Orwell and Kafka.

Is Hollywood open to Riegert as a director? "Um, no," he says after screening King of the Corner, and his Oscar-nominated short, By Courier, both of which he directed. "Distribution really is everything," Riegert reminds. And that's a constant festival sub-theme.