NEWS-Film fest benediction: We believe
Cinema gods Morgan Freeman and Robert Duvall shepherded their flocks to the 19th Virginia Film Festival, which served up the sacred and the profane in this year's "Revelations: Finding God at the Movie"-themed ritual.
Near miraculous was the number of movies that were sold out before the Festival even began October 26– at least a dozen, an act of God we can't remember happening in film fest history. Success for the fest became a plague upon those who showed up at the box office and found no room at the inn. Sure, one expects Tender Mercies or the new Freeman flick, 10 Items or Less, to sell out, but Tibet: A Buddhist Trilogy or Jesus Camp?
Verily, a blessing was the Festival's decision to ditch Culbreth Theatre as a venue and center more events downtown, with the occasional pilgrimage to Newcomb Hall– although festival director Richard Herskowitz doesn't rule out a return to Culbreth in the future.
"We're big enough to support the Paramount and Culbreth," he says, and behold, 32 sold-out events and record-breaking attendance of 14,699 over last year's 13,139– a 12 percent increase– are proof.
And at the opening night gala at the Music Resource Center, the former Mount Zion Baptist Church, well, lo, I say unto you, such debauchery that former house of God has probably not seen.
It would take divine intervention to cover all of the more than 60 events during the four-day moviethon. Your humble servant, the Hook, prays for strength to reveal the heaven– and the hell– at this year's fest.
Looks good on paper– er, film: Charlottesville, the uncredited star of Swedish Auto, the October 26 festival opener by native son Derek Sieg, is beautifully photographed, and we thrilled to see the Lawn, Mel's Cafe, Chaps ice cream, the pink warehouse, and the Downtown Mall on the big screen at the Paramount.
Don't try this at home: The authorities would no doubt frown upon Swedish Auto's blatant train-track crossing; in real life they'd ticket stars Lukas Haas and January Jones. And we're pretty sure swimming is forbidden in Beaver Creek Reservoir.
How autobiographical is Swedish Auto? Writer/director Sieg denies he's a stalker and voyeur.
Whereas Evan Almighty rented every hotel room in town: "I think there are a lot of people here who ended up with a gaffer in their spare bedroom," Sieg tells the sold-out Paramount crowd, offering a tip on how to deal with the hidden costs of filmmaking in Charlottesville.
How's this for cheap? WINA reporter-by-day, subversive filmmaker-by-night Bruce Sanborn claims he spent $17 to produce his seven-minute short, Esperanza– by getting everyone to work for free.
"This film has been edited for content and subtitled by the Christian Parents Decency Council": The Spanish dialogue sounds like "prostituta," but the subtitles on screen say "virtuous young woman" in Sanborn's hilarious adventure of a sleazebag pedophile.
When you know someone 50 years, you get the good roles: Robert Duvall reminisces about his friendship with Horton Foote, who hired him to play Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird, and who wrote Tender Mercies, for which Duvall won best actor. "I forgot to thank him when I got my Oscar," confesses Duvall at the October 27 sold-out screening of the 1983 film.
We sense a trend here: Duvall refers to Foote as a "hillbilly Chekhov." And he calls Billy Bob Thornton the "hillbilly Orson Welles."
More Duvallisms: A 90-something preacher "could make Mahatma Ghandi look like a Nazi," Duvall tells the crowd after The Apostle. The Washington Post is "homophobic," and Miramax founder Harvey Weinstein is "like a Jewish Idi Amin."
Duvall and Ellen Barkin? The actor indulges in innuendo about his Tender Mercies co-star.
Show him the money: Morgan Freeman repeatedly insists at the 10pm October 27 screening that he came to the film fest and did the comedy 10 Items or Less "because they paid me a lot of money." His production company, Clickstar, made the film, which will be available for downloading.
Thank God for a gravitas-free Freeman film: "If you see an ounce of gravitas, promise me you'll cut it," 10 Items director Brad Silberling says Freeman demanded while playing himself in the movie.
Thank you for not talking about your art: "I don't do altruism," intones the God of Evan Almighty, who also tells the faithful, "I generally don't do challenging roles," the exception being a stage production of Othello.
Yes, there are stupid questions: Two disciples in the 10 Items audience feel the need to testify to their worship of Freeman in what can be the most dreadful aspect of the festival– opening the program to questions– or in this case, proclamations– from the audience. Do it on your own time, people.
Okay, a not-bad question: Leo Smalls Jr. in Street Smart is Freeman's favorite role.
"He's quite hunky now": Chronicles of Narnia producer Mark Johnson preps the audience for the October 28 appearance of 19-year-old William Moseley, who was 16 when the movie was shot and suffered from "pimples" that had to be removed in a couple of his close-ups, UVA alum Johnson blabs. "Ask him embarrassing questions," he encourages.
Nope, no incest here: Moseley, who plays Peter Pevensie in Chronicles, denies any hanky-panky with the actress playing his sister in the movie.
"My favorite bad movie": How a moviegoer enticed us to The Rapture, a 1991 film by The Player writer Michael Tolkin that stars Mimi Rogers.
Love those Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: "I've seen people walk out of this movie with 32 seconds left to go," Tolkin teases before The Rapture, which he says has turned people to God— and to atheism.
Love the sinner, hate the sin, : Mimi Rogers goes from swinger to born-again to nutcase, prompting us to ponder, why aren't there more Mimi Rogers movies?
Unexpected gravitas: Scream star Liev Schreiber wrote and directed Everything Is Illuminated, based on the acclaimed Jonathan Safran Foer novel, which screened October 28.
Maybe it was all those black-and-white films: Schreiber's mother, who now lives at Yogaville, wouldn't let him see color movies until he was 12.
Sunflowers of the field: Schreiber goes low-tech and actually grows a field of sunflowers in the Czech Republic for the most vivid scene in the movie. "Everyone thinks they're CGI," he says.
One last burst of adrenaline: The October 29 Volvo Adrenaline Film Project, in which 10 teams make a movie in 72 hours, had nary an empty seat, unlike other sold-out events.
Props for Miracle Whip: Each team had to include the line, "I want to believe it," and a bottle of Miracle Whip, which took the starring role in the winning film, Taste of Evil, by Ben Haslup, Brian Wimer, and Ruth Monton.
May the cinema gods bless you and keep you: Go forth, and see movies. Amen.
The packed crowd at the Paramount for the October 27 screening of 10 Items or Less practically prostrated itself before screen legend Morgan Freeman.
PHOTO COURTESY VIRGINIA FILM FEST
Chronicles of Narnia star William Moseley confesses the zeal with which he attacked co-star Tilda Swinton, the White Witch, with his rubber sword.
PHOTO COURTESY VIRGINIA FILM FEST
Liev Schreiber, left, wanted to tell the story of his Ukrainian grandfather, and Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything Is Illuminated fit the bill. Harry Chotiner interviews Schreiber at the October 28 screening.
PHOTO COURTESY VIRGINIA FILM FEST