Belmont life: filmmakers shoot for the hip

Who would think that the characters passing by a Belmont porch on any random summer evening could rival the characters in the street scene of a town as famously wacky as San Francisco?

Mark Edwards and Mary Michaud not only think that's true, they know it, and they made a movie to prove it.

Edwards and Michaud are the creators of Still Life with Donuts, a highly praised documentary about all things Belmont– trains, gardens, Elvis, and, of course, Spudnuts donut shop that aired to appreciative crowds at the Vinegar Hill Theater last spring.

Why Belmont?

"We would sit on our porch drinking wine and watching people go by," Michaud says, "and we said to ourselves, 'We should document this.'"

The project that began as a desire to capture the individuality of folks in the neighborhood quickly ballooned.

"When we started to do research," Michaud says, "we found that people have such pride in living in Belmont, but feel like underdogs. We wanted to do something to promote the neighborhood."

The result is Still Life, filled with loving shots of rumbling trains, the coaling tower, flapjack-cooking, and children's impromptu dancing accompanied by a soundtrack of Belmont natives: the Hogwaller Ramblers, Darling Dot Collier, and Jeff Melkerson and Woody Luckett "playing" shopping cart and cans.

The film was such a hit at its premiere at the Vinegar Hill Film Festival last spring (at 5:30 on a Tuesday afternoon!) that the theater decided to show it again, at a Sunday matinee, which was just as popular.

"They were handing out Spudnuts to everyone who bought a ticket," remembers Vinegar Hill manager Reid Oechslin. "The line of patrons stretched up Market Street. I heard lots of laughing from the theater and nothing but positive comments as people were leaving."

The next project on the couple's agenda is "just as exciting," according to Edwards: a documentary about the life of John Armstrong Chaloner, an heir of the Aster fortune who lived on a farm in Keswick in the '20s and '30s.

Among Chaloner's many eccentricities– and undoubtedly the trait that most endears him to this filmmaking duo– was a program of "Movies for Farmers," which he screened for local residents, both black and white, in his barn. The three-part shows in the early days of silents– consisted of educational films and newsreels followed by a feature presentation, usually a Hollywood cowboy flick. According to Michaud, Chaloner even had an elegant player piano in the barn to accompany the shows.

Perhaps inspired by Chaloner, Michaud and Edwards will screen Still Life on September 13 in the theater in the V. Earl Dickinson building at PVCC to benefit the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society.

It won't be in a barn, but it may be just as much fun.


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