Roll 'em: Phantom of the projection booth

Jerry Sandy won't see his name in lights, get hounded for autographs, or face any adoring crowds at the Virginia Film Festival. He is, however, the man most responsible for making the Festival's films look as good as is humanly possible its cosmetician of light and sound.

Since the Festival began 16 years ago, Sandy has regularly trekked down from Delaware. As vice president of Metro Technical Services, which originally provided much of the Festival's 35mm projection equipment, he continues to oversee its screenings as the chief projectionist.

His film career goes way back. Sandy's father began the family's association with the picture business as a representative for Pickfair, which became United Artists. For three decades, Sandy leased independent films from Washington, D.C., mainly those of American International Pictures, the drive-in champion behind hits like I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), She Gods of Shark Reef (1956), and 1,000 Convicts and a Woman (1971).

About a decade ago, Sandy lured American International's legendary cigar-chomping president, Sam Arkoff, to the Film Festival to host a screening of a Poe adaptation.

Back in showmanship's heyday, Sandy was responsible for stunts like hiring a Baltimore drive-in employee to walk atop a drive-in's screen in a gorilla suit and then swing in front of the screen on a rope, a spotlight illuminating the beast for the screaming crowd.

Would you let this man handle a VCR, let alone real movie projectors? UVA does. "We're really all over the campus," Sandy says proudly.

Now 79, Sandy has outgrown all the ballyhoo and sees to it that the right perforations hit the right sprockets and that Festival screenings proceed smoothly.

The bane of a projectionist's life, he says, are heavily traveled movie prints that contain "shredded stuff." To counter the problem, Sandy says, his people inspect each print by hand in the projection booth.

Festival screenings in the County Office Building rank as Sandy's sole failure. Why? "The layout was terrible," he explains. Not designed as a screening venue, the place had problems galore– from hard seats to poor sound.

"As far as I'm concerned, Jerry's the patron saint of the Virginia Film Festival," says Festival director Richard Herskowitz. "His relaxed good humor and his affection for everyone who works for the Festival really calm us all down and relieve the pressure we're feeling.

"Since he's always been with the Festival," Herskowitz adds, "I honestly can't imagine doing it without him."

Jerry Sandy