Profit and loss: Film Fest highs and lows

After four days of nonstop movie-going at the 16th Virginia Film Festival, The Hook crawled home and emptied its pockets of ticket stubs, which rained down like betting slips from a day at the racetrack. And like gamblers at the racetrack, we had bet on winners– and losers– at this year's fest.

A faint malaise and some grumbling about the lack of stars were evident opening night. But as the festival progressed, the wheat separated from the chaff– or in this case, the true film lovers from the merely star-struck. For the devoted, the absence of a name-brand star provided benefits: easier parking and less crowded theaters.

For four days, film buffs looked at how money plays a powerful force in our lives both for haves and have-nots. Was it a good investment? Absolutely.

If it's a movie about a sex change operation, it must be a Frank Pierson film: The writer of Dog Day Afternoon and director of Soldier's Girl, both based on real-life events involving a transsexual, inspires some speculation about this theme in his oeuvre.

What makes Pierson cringe at seeing Dog Day Afternoon  30 years later: How the police act about the sex change operation for Al Pacino's gay lover. Oh, don't go PC on us now, Frank. That reaction rings true for 1972, when the movie was set.

Thank God that heckler woofing during the opening night presentations wasn't some deranged Wahoo: No, it was featured guest John "Sir Little John" Wojtowicz, the real bank robber upon which Dog Day was based, who explained that barking is like applause in New York.

Another benefit of low star wattage: The opening gala at the second floor of the University Art Museum was not wall-to-wall people, making it possible to maneuver through the upstairs rooms without having a panic attack.

Elegant square glass plates and pizza: Not everyone at the gala got the connection between the pizza being served in boxes and the meal in Dog Day Afternoon.

Oddest use of a translator: A partygoer who tried to chat up Aboriginal star David Gulpilil at the gala reported that his translator repeated the conversation back to Gulpilil in English– with an Australian accent.

Reasons to take the Brazilian film industry seriously: Ilha das Flores (Isle of Flowers) uses a style suitable to educational films to explain mankind and the process that allows people to feed on garbage deemed not fit for pigs. Shown on a double bill with Domesticas (Maids), a 2001 film by City of God director Fernando Meirelles that flips the usual screen role of maids who merely enter a room to serve coffee. Instead, the mistresses are never seen, and the film proves that it doesn't necessarily follow that if you're poor, you must be unhappy.

Most impassioned anti-war crowd: The audience at Three Kings on October 24.

Most emotional discussion: UVA professor Abdulaziz Sachedina bursts into tears following the screening of Three Kings. "I could cry," he says. "...I have seen the suffering of the [Iraqi] people." And fellow prof Ruhi Ramazani and journalist Helena Cobban eviscerate U.S. Middle Eastern policy, explaining how the current war in Iraq was inevitable following the Gulf War.

Priciest prosthetic rack: "It was about $75,000 for those tits," Frank Pierson tells the audience at Soldier's Girl, his made-for-Showtime film based on the real life story of Private Barry Winchell, who falls in love with a transsexual chanteuse and is then bludgeoned to death with a bat in his barracks.

Third generation Hollywood royalty: Jane Fonda's son, Troy Garrity, stars as the besotted Pfc in Soldier's Girl.

Technical support breakdown: Pierson and producer Doro Bachrach aren't offered stools or a podium during the discussion at Vinegar Hill October 24, and so they have to stand and pass the microphone back and forth.

Man in the news: Before coming to Charlottesville, Pierson, president of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, negotiates a compromise that will allow Academy members to get videos of nominated films in return for their promise to keep them out of the hands of bootleggers.

Perfect sad sack: William Macy's luck is so bad, he makes a career of it in The Cooler, which is set in that den of lucre and luck, Las Vegas.

Scene we never thought we'd see Macy in: Having hot sex. Talk about somebody's whose luck takes a drastic turn...

Way we like to hear our tax dollars are being spent: Restoring old film prints, "thank you very much," says Library of Congress rep Mike Mashon, who introduces a struck-from-the-original print of Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Let's clear up some confusion on the part of a beer drinker: The movie about how gold corrupts is not the Treasure of the Sierra Nevada.

It could be a line from a blues song: "I used to play the trumpet, until my brother hocked it," director Charles Burnett tells the audience at the screening of The Blues: Warming by the Devil's Fire.

The church did it: Reason Burnett says it took the blues so long to be recognized as a legitimate art form.

Question we wished someone would ask Burnett: What are your favorite dirty blues lyrics?

Who says silent film is dead? The screening of Buster Keaton's Seven Chances with accompaniment and vibrant original score by Anne Watts and Boister, and Laurel and Hardy's Big Business, accompanied by pianist Donald Sosin, drew the best crowd we saw at Culbreth.

Event we wish we'd spent more time at: The Fringe Festival at the old IGA is the perfect venue for the starving artist portion of the $-themed festival.

Movie we wish we'd seen: The "Your Name Here" Story earns rave reviews in the anti-consumerism sector.

John Wojtowicz backlash at the Filthy Lucre for Starving Artists party: The former thief is followed by a film crew and fawned upon by festival goers, prompting one Big Apple resident to fume, "Nobody cares about this guy in New York."

After sitting through movies for three days, they're ready to shake it: Young and old, rich and poor, dance for all they're worth Saturday at the closing night party.

"Australia's Sidney Poitier," David Gulpilil, is probably the only film fest guest who knows how to hunt and skin a wallaby.


Frank Pierson, who wrote
Dog Day Afternoon, meets John Wojtowicz, the bank robber who inspired the movie and who stretches his 15 minutes of fame at the Virginia Film Festival."