FACETIME- Vintage film: Reifenberger makes movies like wine

Bill Reifenberger

Sometimes, you just don't want to drive the big production van in DC traffic anymore. For Bill Reifenberger, that was a defining moment, when he went from trying to find legal parking spaces while working for a Washington film production company to creating projects all his own.

It was history and politics that steered Reifenberger into the documentary-making biz. He came in as a researcher for a project on Senator William Fulbright and the Vietnam War. After a master's degree in documentary filmmaking from Stanford (where his Silverthorn Films associate Lori Shinseki also studied), he returned to Washington to make documentaries for the Discovery and History Channels.

Like so many others, Reifenberger and his wife, a UVA grad, had their eyes on Charlottesville.

"I had an offer from the Discovery Channel to work remote," he says. After doing that for a year here and starting his Silverthorn Films production company in 2000, there was no going back. 

Reifenberger, 41, started teaching at UVA in 2003, the same year his Tuskegee Airmen documentary came out. He agreed to direct Garden Story, the 10-part PBS series with local landscape architects, which demanded a lot of travel time.

"After Garden Story, we stopped and said, there's got to be something here in Virginia," recalls Reifenberger. 

Silverthorn, now located downtown in the Glass Building, has an impressive array of offerings in this year's Virginia Film Festival, including World Peace and Other 4th Grade Achievements, and The Murals of Lincoln Perry, and Reifenberger's newest, homegrown film, Vintage: The Winemaker's Year.

"We followed the '08 vintage from January to mid '09," says Reifenberger of the spec project that covered 14 area wineries, and focused on the agricultural end of the process, rather than beautiful people clinking glasses at beautiful estates. And he sees a lot of similarities between winemaking and filmmaking. 

"In the life of wine, most of it happens in the field," he observes. "Like with us, the premiere is just a small part of the process. In the end, everyone loves to drink the wine, to go to the film, but there's a lot more to it."

"Bill's a big-picture person–- less so on the nuts and bolts," says fellow filmmaker Ben Clore. "What Bill is really good at is finding a story and putting it on the screen."

That interest in real people and how they live their lives makes Reifenberger well suited to make documentaries. "I don't have the patience for feature filmmaking," he says.

But even a public television documentarian has his guilty TV pleasures, like Dexter or The Wire. "I like television," he confesses. "There's more creative energy in that since The Sopranos."

After a couple of years spent making Vintage, the wine and film metaphors continue to flow: "Anyone," he says, "can grow grapes; but not everyone can make good wine."


Vintage: The Winemaker's Year screens at 6pm Saturday, November 6, at the Paramount, and is preceded by a wine reception at 5pm. The Murals of Lincoln Perry will be shown for free at 11:30am Saturday, November 6, in Old Cabell Hall (a free event) and World Peace and Other 4th Grade Achievements, co-produced with director Chris Farina/Rosalia Films, can be seen at 3:15pm Sunday, November 7, at the Paramount Theater.