No hogs: A different kind of Film Fest

OR Director's cut: Why Herskowitz likes a star-free festival

Virginia Film Festival director Richard Herskowitz has dollar signs in his eyes. After ending the drought with last year's "Wet"-themed festival, this year's $ theme is a sure bet to turn the economy around.

Well, maybe. This is the 10th festival Herskowitz has programmed, and he says, "It feels extremely different."

Herskowitz isn't talking about this year's lack of a name-brand star. That he sees as almost a blessing. In truth, he's always been a little annoyed at the public demand for a marquee name because of how much big stars detract from the array of events he's scheduled.

"Much broader attention is paid to the whole festival when there's not one figure to hog the limelight," he explains. And he doesn't have to deal with the clamoring for tickets to star-studded events that sell out immediately.

No, Herskowitz is talking about other things that are different this year, like the festival's big new offices on West Main Street. He says, "The experience is so much more healthy and exciting" compared to the days of being housed in two cramped offices– a renovated janitor's closet and dark room– in the basement of the Culbreth Theater building.

Now there's a lounge with a screening room, and space for the Fringe Festival, the interns and volunteers. "Morale is higher than it's ever been," he says.

Herskowitz is also jazzed about the Festival 101 program, in which 15 college and 12 high school students enroll in a class based on this year's festival. The new digs provide a place for the class to meet.

Herskowitz calls this year's festival quirkier, with "a more interesting and fascinating mix of people than before." He's talking about people like David Gulpilil, who will perform the didjeridoo at the Fringe Festival. Ze Frank, who won the 2002 Webby Award for best personal website (, will share some of the finer points of videogame hacking. Of Charles Burnett, the leading black independent filmmaker, Herskowitz admits, "I've been chasing him for years." He calls Pierre Huyghe, winner of the Hugo Boss Prize, "the most celebrated artist in the art world."

Stresses Herskowitz, "To have people from the pages of Entertainment Weekly is not the reason for the Film Festival to exist."

This year has more free panels than ever before, and to accommodate them, the Regal is providing an additional theater. Herskowitz predicts that panels like "Storming the Media, A Forum for Future Filmmakers," "The Art of the Deal" and "Where's the Money?" will attract folks from the worlds of money and art.

He's divided the festival into movies about too little money and too much money. "It gave me the chance to address the extremes of poverty versus the extremes of wealth," says Herskowitz. "And then there are the extremes of low budgets."

The money theme also gave him an excuse to show Citizen Kane again, as well as The Philadelphia Story, Grapes of Wrath, and Treasure of the Sierra Madre. "I don't know if we've done as many classics before," he notes.

One thing is not different at this year's festival: Events are selling out. At press time, the Frank Pierson shot-by-shot workshop on Dog Day Afternoon was on the verge of selling out, and tickets for Scarface and the premiere of Robert Altman's The Company were going fast.

King Richard.