COVER- And the nominees are...: Nine people we'd like to see run the Virginia Film Festival


With Virginia Film Festival director Richard Herskowitz ending his 14-year tenure and riding off into the Oregon sunset at the conclusion of this year's festival, all of Charlottesville's cinemaphiles wait with bated breath to find out who will lead the venerable institution into the future. As it turns out, this town has connections to some of the best and brightest in the movie-making business, any one of whom would make a great successor to Herskowitz. 


So, to the Virginia Film Festival board, we humbly submit the following slate of nine nominees to fill the director's chair and keep our annual flick fest hopping with lights, cameras, and action.


Jeff Wadlow, seen here at the 2006 festival, would provide the Festival with an extra shot of "Adrenaline."

Jeff Wadlow: The Charlottesville native, the filmmaker behind such major studio releases as Cry Wolf and Never Back Down, is a perennial contributor to the Festival, when he and frequent collaborator Beau Bauman mentor budding filmmakers in the Adrenaline Film Project– to create an entire short film from script to final cut in 24 hours.


It's always a big hit with festival-goers, so why not extend the idea to the whole festival? Can you imagine Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Quentin Tarantino running all over town trying to shoot an idea they thought of on a Red Bull binge the night before? Given the results from previous years' Adrenaline screenings, if anyone can make it happen, it's Wadlow.

Mark Johnson won an Oscar in 1989 for producing Best Picture winner Rain Man.

Mark Johnson: He might not be a household name in Charlottesville, but this UVA alum and frequent Festival participant (he's back this year with Lake City), has the connections that could make the stars come out. Imagine the following events Johnson could program, just from movies he's produced: Robert Redford talking about what it was like to swing a bat in The Natural; Robin Williams bouncing off the Paramount Theater walls while talking about Good Morning Vietnam; Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise reuniting to discuss Rain Man; Johnny Depp opining whimsically about the experience of making Donnie Brasco. If you want star wattage, Johnson's your man.


Soderbergh got his start in films at Buford Middle School.

Steven Soderbergh: Of course, the only locally connected guy with more Hollywood connections than Johnson is Steven Soderbergh. The director of such critical and commercial hits as Out of Sight, Traffic, and Erin Brockovich spent some of his formative years as a student at Buford Middle School and formative years as a filmmaker living in Charlottesville, just after his Oscar-nominated breakout Sex, Lies, and Videotape made him a much-in-demand filmmaker. The Ocean's 11 movies alone could provide enough star power to put Charlottesville in the same conversation as Cannes, Park City, and Telluride. Can't you just imagine George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon playing late-night billiards at Miller's while Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones sip martinis at the X-Lounge? Well, we can dream, can't we? 


Hugh Wilson didn't have to travel far to direct 2006's Mickey. It was written by John Grisham and shot at Grisham's Cove Creek Park in southwestern Albemarle.

Hugh Wilson: He's best known as the creator of the '70s television classic WKRP in Cincinnati, but the man wrote some highly under-appreciated comedy classics that are begging to be unearthed at our humble Festival. Not only did he write and direct the original Police Academy– which belongs in any top-five list of law-enforcement comedies– but he was also the filmmaker behind Nicolas Cage protecting curmudgeonly First Lady Shirley MacLaine in Guarding Tess, he got Diane Keaton, Bette Midler, and Goldie Hawn to exact hilarious revenge in The First Wives Club, and you can thank him for letting Burt Reynolds crack wise and chase Loni Anderson as a NASCAR driver in Stroker Ace. November is dreary enough, and any Wilson-curated Festival is bound to have a lighter side.


Tom Shadyac knows how to pack 'em in at the theaters. His comedies usually gross in the hundreds of millions at the box office.

Tom Shadyac: If the Crozet-based production of Evan Almighty proved anything, it was that nobody knows how to make it rain (figuratively and literally) like Tom Shadyac. This UVA alum could raise mucho moolah for the Festival, considering Evan had the biggest budget of all time for a comedy, and that the majority of his slapstick comedies, which include Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, the Eddie Murphy version of The Nutty Professor, Bruce Almighty, and Liar Liar have all grossed in the hundreds of millions at the box-office. Plus, how cool would it be to start a new tradition at the Film Fest by building a giant set piece like the ark in Evan Almighty based on that year's theme– a huge spaceship for this year's "Aliens!" for example. Hey, with the dough that Shadyac could bring in, cost will be of no object.


Jack Fisk and Sissy Spacek are a bona-fide Hollywood power couple living here in Charlottesville. But why haven't the tabloid media coined a snappy moniker for them like Brangelina or Bennifer? Probably because Jackisssy or Sissack just don't have the same ring to them.

Sissy Spacek: Okay, we know this is an obvious choice since she's the only Academy Award-winning actor living in these parts, but forget her Oscar for a second. Forget the fact that she's one of the most respected actresses working today. Even forget the fact that she's worked with some of the greatest actors, writers, and filmmakers of all time. The Festival always coincides with Halloween, and what better way to celebrate that most horrifying of holidays than with the woman who played Carrie! Come on, you know you'd pay good money to see a live demonstration of those infamous telekinetic powers. That movie is way too scary for that to have been a special effect.


Jack Fisk: He's often marginalized as merely being Mr. Sissy Spacek, but make no mistake about it, when it comes to creating a setting that's burned-in-your-brain memorable, there is hardly any art director better suited for the job than Fisk. The scorched deserts of California oil country in There Will Be Blood? Fisk's. The tripped-out horror of a high school gym in Carrie? Fisk's. The nightmarish streets of Los Angeles in Mulholland Drive.? Fisk's again. Were he Festival director, we'd love to see him turn the Downtown Mall into a surreal dystopia once a year. Perfect for Halloween!

David Lynch used to live in Charlottesville when he wasn't busy befuddling moviegoers in the '80s.

David Lynch: A little known fact: in the '80s, when he wasn't busy making such mind-blowingly bizarre classics as Blue Velvet, The Elephant Man, and Dune, director David Lynch lived right here in Charlottesville. Perhaps his good friends and frequent collaborators Spacek and Fisk can persuade him to come back? The promotional possibilities for a Lynch-curated Festival are endless. A Twin Peaks-themed scavenger hunt for clues to find out who killed Laura Palmer; a lecture in which he finally explains what the hell Mulholland Drive was about; outfitting Newcomb Hall with seat cushions made of Blue Velvet; and, of course, official Virginia Film Festival pencils with Eraserhead eraserheads.


We give Roger Ebert a thumbs up to be the next director!

Roger Ebert: Quite simply, the Virginia Film Festival would not be what it is today without the help of Roger Ebert. There was a time when the dean of American film criticism was a bi-annual Festival attraction, as he would conduct on-stage interviews with the likes of Nicolas Cage and Anthony Hopkins and do scene-by-scene breakdowns of such classics as Citizen Kane, Chinatown, and Raging Bull. His paper, the Chicago Sun-Times has fallen on some not-so-sunny times lately, so the door may be open to get the Pulitzer Prize-winner to come back to Charlottesville full-time. 


Were he director, one thing would be for sure: Ebert would ensure that audiences would keep quiet during the movie. Once when he waas describing a scene from Vertigo as the most erotic in cinema history, someone from the peanut gallery asked if Ebert wanted the audience to leave so he could watch the scene by himself. Without missing a beat, Ebert deadpanned, "No, but you can leave."




Lust for Ecstasy: George Kuchar keeps the underground alive




Kings of Kuchar world, brothers George and Mike land in Charlottesville.

"Everybody," says one of the Virginia Film Festival's highlighted guests, "can now make a good or bad movie look great with the equipment available today." He oughta know.


In the 1960s, alongside superstars like Andy Warhol, George Kuchar and his brother Michael, who'll join him here, were fervently producing demented epics on nonexistent budgets for midnight screenings– over 200 titles to their credit. And what titles.

George and Michael Kuchar mastered the art of the gloriously lurid moniker. Their collaborations include Lust for Ecstasy (1964), The Craven Sluck (1967), and The Devil's Cleavage (1975); but their most popular work remains Sins of the Fleshapoids (1965), a delirious science fiction thriller-cum-Roman epic.

"If I wanted to make something, I made it with the existing material at hand," Kuchar, now 66, says via email. "The financial insult fuels the energetic desperation needed to infuse the production with creative vitality."

He and his brother transformed fragments of their favorite wonderfully lowbrow movie melodramas into comic book-like cinematic pastiches. Garishly lit, with a bombastic Hollywood soundtrack, home-brewed props, and starring non-actors, a typical Kuchar movie is wildly intense, with an endearing respect for those fabulous B-movies that film snobs despise. Directors John (Hairspray) Waters and Todd (Happiness) Solondz rank among the Kuchars' devotees.

Kuchar, says he considers movies "a cheap vacation that's color-coordinated and filled with attractive people." Unlike, say, George Lucas who creates empires from studio millions, Kuchar admits he conjures an "invisible empire" by "just using our time to make what looks like maybe a big movie."

And he celebrates the advent of computer editing after years of painstakingly splicing grainy 16mm film. Today, enough time spent on iMovie can make footage "look good no matter how wretched the original material," he says. "You don't have to smell glue or sit around and wait for the splices to dry."

He maintains that a meager budget is a filmmaker's best friend, and his own films remain inexpensive, owing to his vast collection of filmmaking hardware.

"We all do it for fun, so no one gets paid, and there's no lab costs," he says. "Everything is done at home or in a motel room."

Currently teaching filmmaking part-time at the San Francisco Art Institute, he says he enjoys guiding budding cineastes through the rigors of ultra-low-budget moviemaking.

"I get to see the young generation fool around with imagery and genres that are reinterpreted with eyes different from mine," he enthuses. "It makes for a sharper depth of field that benefits us both."

With the moviemaking process so thoroughly democratized, Kuchar seems wryly delighted to see it potentially revitalize the cinematic underground that he helped establish.

"The best thing about all this is that the glut of product makes an individual more invisible," says Kuchar. "Therefore, you can pretty much make what you want as nobody will be paying attention to it anyway. This freedom is truly refreshing."


George and Mike Kuchar will host the following screenings: "Blips, Demonoids, and Ju-Ju Cults" at 9:30pm  Friday, October 31, at the McCormick Observatory; "Kuchars in Space" at 1pm Saturday, November 1, at the Vinegar Hill Theater,  and at 9:30pm November 1,  George will introduce his Secrets of the Shadow World solo at the McCormick Observatory. 



Aussie twist: Aboriginal plays Marilyn



Australian documentary filmmaker Darlene Johnson's latest film, River of No Return, began percolating when Frances Djulibing, an Aboriginal woman, was visiting Johnson in Sydney to help her with translations for Johnson's film, Crocodile Dreaming. There, Djulibing revealed that "she always wanted to be an actor, just like Marilyn Monroe," Johnson recently told the Hook.

"And I thought to myself, 'You can't get further removed from Aboriginal traditional culture than Marilyn Monroe,'" Johnson, 38, recalls.

It wasn't mere matinee idolatry, either. Djulibing "was actually saying how she connected or identified with Marilyn's spirit and sense of humor," Johnson explains. "And what I thought was really brilliant is that she never, ever saw her own skin color or her cultural background, being a tribal woman from Arnhem Land, or the fact that she came from a very remote part of Australia as being a barrier to achieving her childhood dream." 

Djulibing's wish was granted at age 44 when director Rolf (The Tracker) de Heer cast her as Nowalingu, the female lead in his Ten Canoes (which played at the Virginia Film Festival in 2006). The film was a hit. Her family already had a cinematic history: her uncle is Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil, who joined Johnson in 2003 in Charlottesville for a screening of her documentary on him, One Red Blood. 

River's title alludes ironically to Monroe's film of the same name. Aside from Djulibing's deep connection with Monroe, River concentrates on how Djulibing dealt with her sudden notoriety– potentially, a river of no return. After Djulibing starred in the film, "Then she goes back to the bush where she came from," Johnson says. "How does someone like her go about getting some more acting experience or pursuing that childhood dream of hers? To gain more experience and get more work. 

"So it was really looking at just how practical that was, and if a traditional Aboriginal person could actually make that transition from that cultural world to Western white culture, and to see if that was actually feasible."

Meanwhile, Djulibing remains as devoted as ever to the late screen goddess, whom she credits with inspiring her to act. "There was something about [Monroe's] vulnerability and her humor and her womanness– whatever" that first sparked that wish, Johnson says. "And she believes that Marilyn is with her in spirit."

Johnson encourages locals to turn out for this, her third Virginia Film Festival appearance. 

"How often do you get to meet a traditional Aboriginal woman from Australia in Charlottesville, Virginia?" she posits. "I mean, virtually never." 


Darlene Johnson and Frances Djulibing will host a screening of River of No Return at the Regal Downtown Theater #4 on Sunday, November 2, at 1 pm. There will be a Q & A session afterwards. 



Aliens-ated: Herskowitz looks back– and forward




Richard Herskowitz is outta here November 12.

Shortly after the lights go out on the 21st Virginia Film Festival, the man behind the curtain will head west. That man is Richard Herskowitz, who for 15 festivals has put together theme, programs, and guests, leaving an event that nearly went under in 1996 now firmly established in the film festival pantheon as the academically cool one where filmmakers get taken seriously for their intellect. Really. And that's no small feat.


"He's really enhanced what makes it unique," says Bob Gazzale, an early festival director. 

"There are film festivals all over the world," says Gazzale, now president and CEO of the American Film Institute. "There are film festivals about red carpets. There are film festivals about skiing. I think Richard Herskowitz has enhanced that academic reputation."

The festival was the brainchild of former Governor Gerald Baliles, who was looking for a way to lure filmmakers to Virginia to drop production dollars into the local economy, and he used Charlottesville in autumn as the bait. He recruited billionaire John Kluge and his then wife, Patricia, and they launched a splashy festival in 1988. The early years starred A-listers like Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck, and Ann-Margret.

In fact, those early festivals were so splashy that they created some immediate problems for Herskowitz, who arrived as programming director in the summer of 1994.

He'd come from Cornell, where he'd been film programmer and adjunct curator of film and video at its Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art. In 12 years, he'd delivered just one celebrity: Christopher Reeve.

"This year– 1994– had Andre Gregory, Griffin Dunne, Roger Ebert, Jules Feiffer, and Judy Lewis," he observes of his freshman outing. "As a group of guests, they were way more stellar than I had ever had."

Guests like Charlton Heston in '91, Sidney Poitier in '92, and Robert Mitchum in '93 created the expectation that the film fest would always land major stars.

"Do you know how hard it is to get A-listers to Virginia?" asks Herskowitz. "And the media response was so shocking to me: 'Why can't this guy line up anyone?'"

The star thing has always been the bête noire for Herskowitz, because he never knows until fairly late who will come to the festival, especially among working actors. Like in 2006, when Morgan Freeman, Robert Duvall, and Liev Schreiber, William Mosely, and now red-hot January Jones created a flood of names for "Revelations: Finding God at the Movies."

"Normally, for every 25 invitations we send out," says Herskowitz, "we get one."

He attributes the stars that do come to a "powerhouse" board. "They help leverage the stars," he says, and he relates the story of Jason Robards, who was here in 1997, telling Herskowitz about being double-teamed by producer Marc Abraham in Los Angeles and then in New York, where producer Lewis Allen touted the glories of Charlottesville in autumn. 

Herskowitz says high-profile guests enjoy the Festival as "an intellectual retreat where they could come and recharge their batteries."

If the stars are "the icing on the cake," Herskowitz says he's thrilled by this year's filmmakers like Guillermo Arriaga (Babel), Abderrahmane Sissako (Life on Earth), and Gregory Nava (El Norte) who are "international superstars" in the film world, even if they're not "Entertainment Weekly names." ("I hope for my successor," he adds, "there's less pressure for that superstar icing.")

Shortly after Herskowitz arrived, the name of the event, originally the Virginia Festival of American Film, dropped "American" in recognition that filmmaking is an international affair.

One thing that hasn't been dropped are the themes, a rarity in the world of festivals. Before Herskowitz's arrival, they had been devoted to genre: musicals, film noir, romance.

"I was inclined," says Herskowitz, "to take themes that were more conceptual, that were springboards."

Thus ensued "Cool" in 1998, "Wet" in drought year 2002, and in 1997, "Caged!" which also featured an exclamation point like this year's "Aliens!"

"I think the topics have grown more political over the years– 'In/Justice,' last year's 'Kin Flicks' touching on the marriage amendment," says Herskowitz. "Aliens!" came when "it was fairly obvious that immigration was going to be the theme last year after [Congressman] Virgil Goode went after illegal immigrants."

 His favorite was 1995's "U.S. and Them," which, he concedes is a similar theme to Aliens! "I do think this one is a return to 'U.S. and Them' theme. I felt like I barely skimmed the surface, and the concept of aliens overlaps the fear of slimy extraterrestrials and that of people coming over the border."

Other themes, he admits, were harder for him, such as "Revelations: Finding God at the Movies." The religious theme was "really outside my areas of interest and expertise," he says. "I didn't want to offend anyone."

Another change hit the festival in 1996 when the Kluge support ended, the festival budget was slashed from $600,000 to $200,000 and along with programming the film festival, Herskowitz was saddled with teaching responsibilities. That year's theme, "Wild Spaces, Endangered Places," hit closer to home than many realized.

"He looks at topics that are topical," says Rita McClenney, head of the Virginia Film Office.

"It's a massive puzzle to put together with 80 moving parts: theme, people, programming," says McClenney. "It's not just screening films. It's thoughtful programming, building on a central theme, bringing many points of view."

One of the people who's most influenced Herskowitz while he's been here is film critic Roger Ebert, who made about half a dozen Charlottesville appearances over the years– always providing multi-day workshops on a classic film.

"I have to admit, I was a bit of a snob when I came here," says Herskowitz, "I thought Roger Ebert was one of these thumbs up, thumbs down guys.  But the way he did shot-by-shot, he made me a better teacher."

His favorite Ebert story comes from 2002, right before the critic was going to interview Nicolas Cage, who'd come to the festival to screen a film he'd directed, and who'd brought an entourage that included his soon-to-be ex-wife Lisa Marie Presley. 

"My publicist said a number of tabloid reporters were in the audience and were going to ask about Lisa Marie during the question and answer period," recalls Herskowitz. "Of course Ebert did it beautifully, and no one noticed he didn't open it up to questions."

Another favorite Ebert interview moment: "Anthony Hopkins was enjoying it so much, he began jumping up and acting out his parts– Hannibal Lecter, Richard Nixon," recounts Herskowitz. "It was electrifying. Ebert said, 'Tony, I've done hundreds of interviews, and I've never seen anything like this.'"

Although Ebert, struggling with medical problems, hasn't been here since 2002, Charlottesville was a place for him to recharge as it was for other special guests in the industry, says Herskowitz.

As for his dream guest, that would be Paul Newman, who died September 26. "I tried for so many years," says Herskowitz. "He was [wife] Jill [Hartz]'s favorite actor. There's a lost opportunity."

Herskowitz moves to Eugene, Oregon, to join Hartz after she lost her job as head of the University Art Museum late last year, much to the chagrin of many in the local art community who credit her with dusting off the museum's fusty image. In previous years, they collaborated, and her absence explains why there will be no multi-media art exhibit tied to this year's 'Aliens!' theme.

At University of Oregon, he'll be teaching and developing exhibition programs, and possibly a new film festival. (And he has part-time gig as curator of the newly formed Houston Cinema Arts Society, which he describes as a cross between a film fest and an art show, with mixed media performances, music, dance and more.)

"My dream film festival may be the one in Houston," says Herskowitz, who has always had a fondness for experimental film and interactive media. "As a programmer, you have to be a gatekeeper. You can't just show films you like. In Houston, the focus is primarily experimental and interactive media. I'm absolutely gleeful to be able to indulge myself."

Despite his wife's unexpected firing from Mr. Jefferson's U, "I am extremely fond of this university," he stresses. "What really made this film festival unique was its association with the university and the interaction with its faculty, students, alumni, and community. It's an absolutely great university that I cherish."

He pauses, then continues. "I feel about the university much the way I do about this country: I love this country, but I have some problem with its administration."

And his concern for the future of the Virginia Film Festival is what he sees as a trend to focus on serving the academic community at the expense of the community at large. 

"I really hope the larger community that wants this festival to continue to be the Virginia Film Festival knows it's really important to maintain this public outreach," warns Herskowitz. "The art supporters in the community need to step up so it can serve a larger community."

"He's had to be a major politician," says producer and UVA alum Mark Johnson. The maker of such blockbusters as The Chronicles of Narnia and Rainman, the charter Festival board member has experience in dealing with super-sized egos.

"I think the politics alone," Johnson says, "would have done me in."

Johnson says the board was constantly impressed by Herskowitz's ability to find fresh themes and films that fit them, and fellow board member Gazzale agrees.

"Time and time again when Richard reports to the board," says Gazzale, "his ideas for the program are ideas I've never heard before. That's rare in the film festival world."

It's a rare treat for Herskowitz too. At Cornell, he programmed different movies every night but yearned for the opportunity "to be like a museum curator" and explore in-depth a topic for a year. He had that here, and now moves on to develop new festivals with Houston and maybe the University of Oregon. 

Richard Herskowitz has found his medium.



May we suggest? Hook experts pick best pix




Lindsay Barnes


Four film buffs choose five films to winnow the field of 80 events at this year's Virginia Film Festival.


Lindsay Barnes

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

If you were a fan of last year's Best Picture winner No Country for Old Men, then you have to check out this other existentialist masterpiece set in the Texas desert starring Tommy Lee Jones, who turns in one of his best performances as a rancher who seeks justice by tracking down the Border Patrol agent (Barry Pepper) who shot his best worker, and taking him on an unusual journey south of the Rio Grande.

1pm Sunday, November 2, Culbreth Theatre with writer Guillermo Arriaga 


King of the Corner 

If you only know Peter Riegert as Boon from Animal House, check out this directorial debut of his from 2004. An anatomy of a midlife crisis, it boasts the amazing cast of Isabella Rossellini, Eli Wallach, Eric Bogosian, and Beverly D'Angelo with a score by legendary rock 'n roll keyboardist Al Kooper.

10:15am Sunday, November 2, Regal Downtown, with Peter Riegert


Sunshine Cleaning 

Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, two of the funniest up-and-coming actresses today, get to play alongside a legend in Alan Arkin (fresh off his comedic turns in Little Miss Sunshine and Get Smart) in this dark comedy about a business specializing in cleaning up particularly messy crime scenes. Written and directed by promising but largely untested young filmmakers, it could be this year's Juno. 

7pm Saturday, November 1, Newcomb Hall with writer Megan Holley and producer Glenn Williamson 


West Side Story

Even if you've seen it before, endless imitations and parodies have obfuscated the brilliance of this Best Picture winner in the 47 years since its original theatrical release. See it on the big screen, and ask yourself if the issues of race, immigration, gang violence, and forbidden love that it took on in 1961 still aren't relevant in 2008. 

1pm Friday, October 31, Culbreth Theatre


The Mark of Zorro

While it's not The Dark Knight or Iron Man, this in many ways was the original action flick, starring one of Hollywood's original box office heroes, Douglas Fairbanks, as the titular swashbuckler. For old timey fun, make the trip down to Scottsville to watch this classic with live musical accompaniment by Matt Marshall and Elizabeth Leverage of the Reel Music Ensemble, just as it was meant to be viewed when released in 1920.

1pm Sunday, November 2, Scottsville Victory Theatre

Lindsay Barnes is a reporter and the special sections editor for the Hook.


Justin Humphreys

Justin Humphreys


"Game over, man, game over!" James Cameron and his Academy Award-winning crew produced this miracle of economy in 1986 for a paltry $17 million. There's a lot to love about Aliens: the magnificent (and blessedly CGI-free) special effects; the cast (with especially high praise due for Bill Paxton's Hudson and Lance Henriksen's Bishop); its vehement dislike of corporate scum; but more than anything, Cameron's uncanny ability to manipulate his audiences' emotions like Jascha Heifetz played the violin. 

4pm Sunday, November 2, Culbreth Theatre



Through this outstanding 1959 film, Luis Bunuel reminds us how thoroughly he hated everyone– the uncomprehending established church, apathetic upper and middle classes, and the belligerent lower class– with perhaps the exception of the film's titular padre. Through Father Nazarin, Bunuel posits the idea that, in a place as wretched as our modern world, a priest who attempted to truly emulate Christ's humaneness and unswerving generosity would be considered a raving lunatic, tormented, and imprisoned. And that's how Bunuel treated characters that he liked!

Friday, October 31, Regal Downtown


Close Encounters of the Third Kind 

Whatever qualms people have with Steven Spielberg, he deserves high praise for lovingly making science fiction films devoid of the condescension and snobbery they're so often treated with. In his 1977 hit, he makes stunning use of that most basic, primal, and effective of cinematic devices– light– in the form of the overwhelming alien Mother Ship (the handiwork of effects geniuses like Douglas Trumbull and Greg Jein). 

10am Sunday, November 2, Culbreth Theatre


Cat People 

RKO producer Val Lewton excelled at making sublime, gorgeous, infinitely subtle horror masterpieces christened with deceptively lurid titles. His Cat People (1942) is arguably foremost among them. The gorgeous, feline Simone Simon stars as the tortured Irina, a Serbian immigrant suffering under an ancient curse, and battling her own fierce sexual frigidity. Noir specialist cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca outdid himself with this one. 

4 pm Sunday, November 2, Regal Downtown


Bad Day at Black Rock 

The brilliant and underrated Robert Ryan delivers a show-stopping performance in a film chock-a-block with them. The town Black Rock's signature desolate landscape is as intense a presence as anyone portraying its cowed citizens or the redneck trash that bully them. Made in 1955, it's one of director John (The Great Escape) Sturges' finest films. 

10am Friday, October 31, Culbreth Theatre with Michael Sturges 

Justin Humphreys worked on the visual effects crew of the recently-released Starship Troopers 3: Marauder, appropriately under the direction of Robert Skotak, who won his first Academy Award for—appropriately enough—Aliens. His second book, Interviews Too Shocking to Print!, is due out next year, and his authorized biography of filmmaker George Pal is currently being vetted for publication.


Laura Parsons

Laura Parsons

"Space Brothers and Others" with curator Craig Baldwin

What do movies about space invaders and our current paranoia about illegal immigration have in common? More than you might think, as curator Craig Baldwin, a filmmaker best known for his masterful use of found footage, shows in this series of shorts exploring xenophobia that range from pieces by artists Bjorn Melhus, Rodney Ascher, and Bill Brown to footage from the Ford Motor Company. A highlight is Baldwin's 1991 Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America, which collages found footage into a comic story about spaceships, the CIA, and Latin America.

8:15pm Thursday, October 30, McCormick Observatory


"Desired Constellations" with curator Jeanne Liotta

Mention "Joseph Cornell," and most art aficionados immediately think of collaged boxes. But— surprise— Cornell was also among the first to create avant-garde films using found footage. Experimental filmmaker Jeanne Liotta presents a veritable history lesson in the movers and shakers who took celluloid into the realm of art with this series of 12 shorts, including rarely seen work by Cornell, James Whitney, Hollis Frampton, and others. 

 7pm Friday, October 31, McCormick Observatory


"Kuchars in Space" with George and Mike Kuchar

This is a collection of science-fiction-esque films by twin brothers George and Mike Kuchar, who have gone from being the infants terribles of campy underground cinema in the 1950s to being the grand old masters of wackness in the 21st century. Sins of the Fleshapoids— need I say more?

1pm Saturday, November 1, Vinegar Hill


Little White Feather and the Hunter

The last time Pocahontas was larger than life on the silver screen was in Terence Mallick's The New World. You remember the story, right? John Smith, rescue, trip to England... or do you? British artist Anna Lucas visited Virginia in 2007 and asked people here and in England to tell her what they knew about Pocahontas. From these accounts, she constructed this documentary-like film that explores the fictionalization of reality. With native son Derek Sieg's latest, Wasteland.

4pm Saturday, November 1, Vinegar Hill, with Derek Sieg


"Ancient Astronauts" with curator Ed Halter

A highly entertaining shot of nostalgia for those who lived through the 1970s and an introduction to what used to pass as "documentary" for those born later, this illustrated lecture by micro-film expert Ed Halter examines the phenomenon of Sunn International, which released pseudo-scientific films exploring Bigfoot (yours truly saw that one at the drive-in), the Bermuda Triangle, and UFOs. Not to be missed, Halter's presentation will include the kitsch classic, Chariots of the God, in its entirety. 

7pm Saturday, November 1, McCormick Observatory


Laura Parsons is the Hook's art critic.


Steve Warren

Steve Warren

El Norte

One of the first immigration sagas made after the U.S. put the lid on the melting pot, El Norte (1983) was a forerunner of such recent films as The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Trade, and, yes, Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Gregory Nava, who went on to direct My Family/Mi Familia and Selena, details the difficult journey of teenage Guatemalan Indians, brother and sister, traveling to Los Angeles to escape persecution at home. Though a moving personal story, it's unusually epic in scope for an independent film.

7pm Saturday, November 1, at the Regal Downtown with director Gregory Nava


A Jihad for Love

While our government would have us fear all Muslims as potential terrorists, some of them are afraid of the governments in their own countries. They're gay men and lesbians, whom Islamic extremists would execute. A Jihad for Love introduces a few, with their friends and lovers. Documentarian Parvez Sharma visited 12 countries to find and film his subjects, sometimes accompanying them as they fled their homelands to seek asylum abroad. Most insist on having their faces blurred, fearing retaliation against their families. Aside from the blurring, the cinematography is so beautiful the film would have made a worthy travelogue without the gay content.

4pm Friday, October 31, at the Regal Downtown with director Parvez Sharma


The Wrestler

No one, except maybe Mickey Rourke, could have cared less than I did whether Rourke ever made a comeback. But reading reactions to The Wrestler from the festival circuit– including Venice, where it won the Golden Lion– you can't help but feel happy for the guy. He plays Randy "The Ram" Robinson, who is making the same kind of comeback on the pro wrestling circuit Rourke is making on the acting circuit. It's also a comeback of sorts for director Darren Aronofsky, who followed Pi and Requiem for a Dream with the atrocious The Fountain.

7pm Friday, October 31, at Culbreth Theatre


Lake City

Our own Sissy Spacek reportedly scores again in this film that sounds a bit like A History of Violence. Troy Garity plays Spacek's estranged son who returns to her Virginia farm (filming was done in the Richmond area) to hide from drug dealers who are chasing him. Of course they'll find him before the movie's over. Charlottesville's own Dave Matthews is in the supporting cast, as are Rebecca Romijn, Colin Ford, Keith Carradine, and Drea de Matteo. It's the first feature for writer-directors Hunter Hill and Perry Moore.

7pm Thursday, October 30, at Culbreth Theatre, with Sissy Spacek, Troy Garity, and producer Mark Johnson


Galaxy Quest

Tim Allen as William Shatner– what a concept! GalaxyQuest (1999) is a lightweight comedy that far exceeded critical expectations and did pretty fair business, too. Allen, Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman play the stars of an old cult TV series who are recruited at a fan convention by extraterrestrials who have seen and believed the show and think the actors can help them conquer their interplanetary enemies. It's an affectionate spoof, so don't expect edgy, but every festival should have such comic relief.

10pm Friday, October 31, at Newcomb Hall


When Steve Warren isn't portraying a zombie in the occasional indie horror flick, he reviews movies for the Hook.