HOTSEAT- Sieg-way: Local boy opens film fest

Derek Sieg is calling from upstate New York. The youthful filmmaker is at the Woodstock Film Festival, his third festival this year. He's done L.A., he's done Athens; but in some ways, the most important event is still to come: opening night at the Virginia Film Festival. 

Although Variety gushed that his freshman film, Swedish Auto, "weaves the kind of spell that can only come from a sure-handed storyteller," the impending hometown premiere is giving this writer/director a wee bit of nerves.

"There's enough anxiety showing to strangers," he says, "but we shot the film here, I grew up here, and the Virginia Film Festival is the only film festival I'd ever been to." At least until this year.

Starring Lukas Haas and January Jones, Swedish Auto premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June, and that was a "red-carpet kind of spectacle," Sieg says. "When we premiered, we had lots of friends and family. You want to think people liked it– not just family and friends."

The Western Albemarle/UVA grad probably couldn't get an audience full of strangers at the October 26 Paramount screening if he tried. Especially since he filmed Swedish Auto last fall in Charlottesville, including location shots at Mel's Diner and U-Haul on West Main Street.

Sieg says he doesn't remember a cathartic moment when he knew he was going to make films– but he does remember always making movies when he was a kid. "I would ask teachers if I could make movies instead of turning in a paper," he says. "I thought I was getting out of writing a paper. I didn't realize it was something that clicked for me.

"But I always liked to write," adds the English major, who has the requisite unpublished novel tucked under his bed.

Like any aspiring filmmaker, he headed out to L.A. after film school. "L.A. is a good experience because it makes you focus and ups the energy level," he says. 

But it was his Charlottesville roots that proved instrumental for Swedish Auto. "People I know in Charlottesville provided the defining forces in getting it made," he says. "The community was most helpful."

Sieg says he can see living here down the road. "It's easier for a director," he notes, to be out of the L.A. scene.

He's still looking for distribution for Swedish Auto, which he made with fellow UVA grad/producer Tyler Davidson. And Sieg has penned another script, The Anthropologist, on which the two will also collaborate. They hope to film it in Harper's Ferry next spring or summer.

In the meantime, there's the Charlottesville premiere at the Paramount, and if any homies decide to heckle their boy, Sieg is ready.

"I'll have to give them an Indian rug burn if they do," he promises. 

Age: 30

What do you like best about Charlottesville? Downtown

Least? 29 North

Favorite hangout here? C&O downstairs

Most overrated virtue? Subdivisions

People would be surprised to know about you: My favorite beer isn't Budweiser (but it's a J.W. Sieg product).

What would you change about yourself? I wish I were more patient.

Proudest accomplishment? Winning the Audience Award at the Athens International Film Festival

People find most annoying about you: My persistence 

Whom do you admire? Anyone who thinks for him/herself

Favorite book? The End of Oil by Paul Roberts

Subject that causes you to rant? Iraq

Biggest 21st-century thrill? Seeing my movie play with Greek subtitles

Biggest 21st-century creep out? The End of Oil by Paul Roberts

What do you drive? Honda Civic Hybrid

In your car CD player right now: M. Ward

Next journey? Germany for the Mannheim Film Festival

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Acting in a "love scene" in a student film when I was a teaching assistant (she was six years older than I was, not that they cared).

Regret: That love scene

Favorite comfort food: Chicken parm hero

Always in your refrigerator: Cilantro

Must-see TV: World Cup

Favorite cartoon: Family Guy

Describe a perfect day. Walking to a sidewalk café for a coffee, an afternoon movie, a game of Scrabble on the porch, corner pub for pints

Walter Mitty fantasy: Should I know him?

Who'd play you in the movie? Henry Thomas

Most embarrassing moment? Not knowing who Walter Mitty is

Best advice you ever got? Don't look down.

Favorite bumper sticker? Jesus is coming – Look busy.

Derek Sieg