FILM- Cinematic Passport: Film Festival goes globetrotting.

When the Virginia Film Festival began in 1988, foreign films were excluded, and its original name reflected its strict focus: the Virginia Festival of American Film. But here in 2010, it could well be called the Virginia Festival of American, British, Polish, French, Italian, and Japanese Film.

Around a quarter of the films at this year's Festival are foreign–- no surprise coming from Festival Director Jody Kielbasa. At another festival he headed, the program included films representing every continent. ("Except I didn't really get the Antarctic," he confesses.)

Why this sudden foreign influx?

Kielbasa says that in a "culturally diverse" community like Charlottesville, "I don't see, frankly, how we can really have a dynamic film festival without having a fair representation of international cinema."

It's also "a particularly strong year for foreign films," Kielbasa adds.

Among the Festival's crop of imports are several films that have been submitted for Academy Award consideration, including the Czech film Kawasaki's Rose. This year's Palme D'Or winner at Cannes, Thailand's Uncle Boonmee Who can Recall His Past Lives, will also be screened.

Other multicultural entries include a "beautiful Polish film," Kielbasa says, All That is Love, the Brazilian Only When I Dance, and Germany's Saviors in the Night.

Kielbasa also chose an "unbelievably cool" and startling German documentary, Keep Surfing: "Who knew that there was some serious surfing going on in the Rhine River in Germany!" he exclaims.

Imported comedies include Four Lions, a tale of four terrorists. It "succeeds wildly," he says, at the precarious task of dealing with its difficult and dark subject from a comic standpoint. There's also the "wonderfully wacky" English film, The Drummond Will.

These wildly disparate films serve a unified purpose: Kielbasa believes that they act as cinematic goodwill ambassadors communicating cross-culturally. "I think it's particularly interesting sometimes when stories are being told that resonate in this country even if they're from another culture," he says. "You may come across somebody who has a very different culture, a very different world, but they face a lot of the same everyday challenges and stories that we do. And I think that that can be really eye-opening."

Kielbasa also chose to screen these films because they are usually sparsely distributed stateside, which, he explains, is "sometimes emblematic" of American culture.

"If you turn on CNN, everything tends to be dealing with either news about the United States or areas that we're focused on outside of the United States," he says. "But if you're traveling through Europe and you turn on CNN, it's a dramatically different CNN you'll watch–- the coverage is much broader."

It's one way the Virginia Film Festival offers a global community.

"We're part of it," Kielbasa says, "but we're only one small part of the world at large."