Cut! He cried when Kaye bounced
Virginia Film Festival director Richard Herskowitz was traumatized by film at age four. His mother took him to see a Danny Kaye movie called Merry Andrew at Radio City Music Hall. When Kaye bounced on a trampoline, "It terrified me, and I started crying," recalls Herskowitz. "I had to be taken out and never have seen the whole thing."
Has his whole career been an attempt to expunge old demons? More likely it was other movies that made less terrifying impressions on him, particularly those he saw as a teen at the Cornell Cinema Film Society while his family was spending summers in Ithaca, New York. "I saw the Marx Brothers, Ingmar Bergman..." he says. "I became hooked."
And in one of life's interesting twists, as an adult, Herskowitz returned to become director of the Cornell Cinema for 12 years before he took over the Virginia festival in 1994.
Herskowitz clearly grooves on being able to bring great movies to Charlottesville. The downside of his job? Fundraising. "I devote two-thirds of my energy to making this a break-even, survivable organization," he laments.
Gearing up for his ninth festival here, Herskowitz extols the genre closest to his heart– experimental film– in this year's Wet-themed program because water is so "inherently cinematic."
The phone rings continuously at his Culbreth office, but Herskowitz takes it in stride. "After October, no one will call," he says.
What brought you here? The opportunity to program the Virginia Film Festival. The best thing about moving here is that my wife [Jill Hartz] found an even better job than mine. She directs the UVA Art Museum.
What's worst about living here? There aren't enough alternative, noncommercial films screened.
Favorite hangout? Mudhouse
Most overrated virtue: Being virtuous
People would be surprised to know...: I have a greater passion for music than for movies. I buy and download a lot of new music.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I'd be more productive in the morning instead of late at night.
What accomplishment are you proudest of? My film programs, particularly the Robert Flaherty film seminar I programmed in 1987, and the "Cool" and "U.S. and Them" programs here in Charlottesville.
What do people find most annoying about you? I'm a workaholic.
Whom do you admire? Ken Jacobs, the experimental filmmaker, was my mentor in college and shaped my thinking more than anyone else.
Favorite book? Ursula LeGuin's The Dispossessed
What subject causes you to rant? Virginians' phobias about taxation. Public services are being wiped out in Virginia because of politicians pandering to voters' selfishness.
What thrills you about life in the 21st century? The Internet. I love the immediate access to information, the opportunity to stay in touch with developments in the film and art worlds everywhere while living here.
What creeps you out about life in the 21st century? I live too much of my life on the Internet.
What do you drive? A used Ford Escort.
What's in your car CD player right now? Anne Watts and Boister. They're accompanying a Buster Keaton film at the Festival. They sound a little like Laurie Anderson with finer, jazzier, and funnier musicianship.
What's your next journey? I recently got back from the Toronto Film Festival, and I can't even think about traveling until the festival here is over.
Most trouble you've ever gotten in? A couple of antiwar demonstrations where I got arrested. The trouble was with my parents.
What do you regret? That I couldn't convince Warner Brothers to let us show Singin' in the Rain during the Festival because it's the 50th anniversary and they're saving it for bigger cities.
Favorite comfort food? Pizza
What's always in your refrigerator? Shelves
Must-see TV? Curb Your Enthusiasm and other HBO series. I wish cable TV here would offer the Sundance Channel, Independent Film Channel, and MTV2.
Favorite cartoon? A computer-animated cartoon called "Reboot."
Describe a perfect day. I learn that private and corporate contributions are pouring in, and so I can focus my attention on just choosing great movies.
Walter Mitty fantasy? Making a movie that's a hit at other festivals. I reject Sundance and give Virginia the premiere.
Who'd play you in the movie? I'm afraid they'd have to ask Stan Winston to construct me.
Most embarrassing moment? Introducing Paul Wagner's Windhorse as Out of Ireland. But most of the audience thought I was being intentionally funny.
Best advice you ever got? Why go to law school when you clearly love the arts? That was from a successful lawyer who saved me from making that mistake just before I graduated from college.
Favorite bumper sticker? The public access TV bumper sticker: "Don't watch TV, make it."
Movie can you always watch, no matter how many times you've seen it? Andy Warhol's Chelsea Girls