Six film festival stories

FILM- Filmed art: Spice Bush bends 'truth'

Department of confusion: Charlottesville filmmaker Kevin Everson says that the audience for his new film, The Spice Bush, can expect "a false narrative." By way of explanation, he says, "Every photo, video, or film is a lie, because it's only a perspective of the author."

Though Everson studied fine art and photography in Ohio, the UVA art prof says he was soon drawn to expressing himself in a "time-based" medium.

His films focuses on working-class black Americans going through the task of "everyday labor," he says. "I grew up in that kind of environment, so I know the deal."

But the everyday subject matter of The Spice Bush soon breaks from its documentary beginnings. "Around the 47th minute, it starts to flip on you," he says, and fiction takes over.

Such a film defies conventional description, and while it deals with the Civil Rights era, "I don't want you to see that this is a window onto anything," Everson says. "You're always going to be reminded that it's a film."

Everson, 39, teaches filmmaking at UVA. His shorts have appeared at the Virginia Film Festival (last year), Sundance, and other festivals.

He describes The Spice Bush as a "collage." That seems apt considering that he uses mini-DV footage and still photography as well as his own 16mm footage, "found" 16mm, and 16mm doctored to resemble found footage.

Everson favors 16mm because "it has an element of past tense to it."

Still, he emphasizes the manipulation of truth. "You're never watching a documentary or a film," he says. "You're always experiencing this art object, but you just happen to be in a dark room with a light object, and you're sitting in a seat. It's a different way of absorbing the content."

Spice's cast includes Everson's three-year-old daughter as "a kind of Greek chorus," and his 20-year-old son. The director's uncle plays a major role, discussing his tenure as a school bus driver during Civil Rights-era Mississippi.

While scavenging for material, Everson discovered how hard it is to get found footage with African Americans in it, unless it's about the Civil Rights movement. "Nobody," he explains, "documented or filmed blacks unless it was newsworthy."

Spice is his first feature-length film. He calls it "a kind of exercise to see if I can sustain this content for a longer period of time."

The Spice Bush shows on Sunday, October 31 at 4pm at the Vinegar Hill Theater.

 FILM- Junior achievement: Senator's son follows NASCAR

Published October 28, 2004, in issue 0343 of the Hook


"I've always been a gearhead, ever since I was a kid," confesses auto racer/filmmaker John Warner Jr. "It's just in your blood."

"You live life at 110 percent," he continues to wax. "It's like being in a war or flying a fighter jet. The risk factor makes it very, very compelling."

Several years ago, however, Warner, 42, found himself more intrigued by a camera's viewfinder than by his jumpsuit, helmet, and goggles. While he was racing at the Texas World Speedway, he conceived of a series of documentaries on NASCAR's history.

"I just fell into it," Warner says. "It was a pet project, and it grew into three films."

First stop: to chronicle the life of pioneering black racer Wendell Scott. Warner found Scott's existing bio-pic, Greased Lightning (1977), "junky," he says. He was surprised that there was no biography of Scott.

Warner interviewed Scott's family– "an amazing bunch of people," he says– for The Wendell Scott Story. He followed it with two more documentaries, the latest of which, The Golden Era of Nascar, also plays at the Festival.

Son of longtime U.S. Senator John Warner, the filmmaker has raced since the '80s. The 1986 UVA graduate formerly designed computer graphics for commercials and film. This will be his first time presenting his work at the Festival.

While the documentaries are a labor of love, he admits that it's also a commercial venture. "We plan to sell the films in a box set to the NASCAR crowd."

Warner points out that NASCAR's popularity is not strictly a Southern phenomenon: It has caught on all over the country as well as in Mexico and Europe.

The Golden Era opens with NASCAR's "really wild" early days just after World War II. Warner says veterans were "the ones who really built the sport" using their wartime knowledge of engineering and aerodynamics.

"That's a component that people don't realize– how brilliant these guys were," he says.

"It's basically a story that's never been told in its entirety before," Warner says. "NASCAR has kind of glossed over its early history. It's changing, now."

Warner hosts a screening of The Wendell Scott Story on Saturday, October 30 at 10:15am in theater 5 of the Downtown Regal Cinema. At 4pm that same day, he hosts The Golden Era of NASCAR in Culbreth Theater.



 FILM- Bullitt's double: The accidental stuntman

Published October 28, 2004, in issue 0343 of the Hook


There's virtually nothing that stuntman Loren Janes, 73, hasn't seen or done in Hollywood. He's donned falsies and doubled as Debbie Reynolds, raced into an exploding house for Earthquake (1974), and careened into hellfire in The Ten Commandments (1956), among countless death-defying feats.

But Janes admits that his life-altering plunge into stunts was inadvertent.

While teaching trigonometry and calculus in Los Angeles, Janes performed dives for students at the school's large pool. One student, the son of "a big shot at MGM," Janes explains, described his teacher's gymnastic acumen to his father. The "big shot" desperately needed a diver for an Esther Williams vehicle, Jupiter's Darling (1955).

Janes was hired– and a stuntman was born.

He went on the double for Steve McQueen in various films including Bullitt and The Great Escape. Work kept rolling in. The school principal handed him a choice of careers: stunts or trig.

"I said, 'See you later,'" deadpans Janes, "and that was 48 years ago."

He remains proud of his profession's upstanding reputation. Stuntmen and -women "know what we're doing," Janes says. "None of us have egos. We don't throw temper tantrums. We're always looking after everyone, to make sure nobody gets hurt."

Of his co-workers, Janes recalls John Wayne with special affection. Wayne deeply respected stuntmen, he says, so much so that when Wayne caught director Otto Preminger abusing one while shooting In Harm's Way (1965), the Duke decked Preminger.

Other co-workers he remembers less amiably. Janes' pithy description of Stanley Kubrick, who directed him in Spartacus (1960): "terrible."

After hundreds of films, Janes became disenchanted with the movie industry. His countless classic co-stars, he recalls, were "just fantastic people." By contrast, he says, "You work with the big stars today, and they're learning their lines on the set... They're just horrible to work with."

He's appalled at how many talented stunt people have been replaced by computer effects, which he claims are "hurting everybody" in films.

While shooting Spider-Man (2002), Janes says, he had an epiphany: "Wait a minute– I've been doing this 48 years. I've never broken a bone. I'm 70 years old. What am I doing this for?"

That was when he quit, he says, and it was on stage 27, the exact soundstage where Jupiter's Darling had been shot.

"I said, 'That's it– I started here, and I'm quitting here.' And that's the finish."

Loren Janes hosts a screening of Bullitt (1968) Saturday, October 30, at 1pm at Culbreth Theater. On Sunday, October 31, he screens a new documentary on his life and career, Diary of a Stuntman, co-hosted by his son-in-law, local WINA radio newsman Bruce Sanborn. Admission for this special screening in Newcomb Hall at UVA is free.



FILM- Chrystal's keeper: An Ozark Mountain daredevil

Published October 28, 2004, in issue 0343 of the Hook


Actor/director Ray McKinnon spent a decade trying to get his first feature film produced.

"Nobody was interested," McKinnon, now 43, recalls. "Who wants to make a hillbilly art film? Finally, I said, 'Heck, I've gotta make a movie.'" The result was McKinnon's 38-minute short, The Accountant (2001).

"If I fail," he recalls thinking, "only a few people will be pissed off... mainly, kinfolk who loaned me money."

But in 2002, when The Accountant won the Oscar for Best Live-Action Short, suddenly producers found the idea of his feature "artistic instead of crazy," he says.

Now complete, Chrystal, stars Billy Bob Thornton as ex-convict Joe, and McKinnon's wife, actress Lisa Blount, as Chrystal, Joe's estranged wife. McKinnon co-stars as the "despicable" Snake, along with his frequent collaborator, Walt (The Shield) Goggins.

As a native Georgian, McKinnon says Chrystal's southern setting was a natural choice. He kids that his hometown's tallest hill was the interstate exit ramp.

McKinnon is recognizable from his acting work in films like Apollo 13 and in HBO's Deadwood. He's perhaps best remembered, though, as the loathsome Vernon Waldrip, Holly Hunter's suitor in 2000's O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Chrystal first occurred to McKinnon while he was visiting his wife's Ozark Mountain relatives. He became fascinated by people who are attracted to living in a place that's isolated and remote– specifically, rural Arkansas.

McKinnon hopes audiences regularly assaulted by mega-budget action movies will be drawn to Chrystal. "If you watch their posture," McKinnon observes of typical action audiences, "they are, literally, pinned back in their seat."

(Although Chrystal does feature violence, he says it's realistic, not cartoonish and admittedly "not pretty to look at it.")

Getting Chrystal distributed is McKinnon's next goal. "We want people to experience it in a theater," he says. "Occasionally," he says, "you need movies where you can move forward, or up."

Ray McKinnon hosts Chrystal's regional premiere at 7pm on Saturday, October 30 in theater 4 of the Downtown Regal Cinema. Also in attendance will be David Koplan, Lisa Blount, and Walt Goggins. Tickets are still available. At 10am that morning, he hosts a free film acting workshop at UVA's Helms Theater.


FILM- Hellman's Blacktop: Make of it what you will

Published October 28, 2004, in issue 0343 of the Hook


One of the most laconic entries in Virginia's "Speed" Film Festival is director Monte Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop (1971). The film follows a cross-country road race pitting two stoic, anonymous racers against a bizarre character known as "G.T.O." Complications arise when an underage hitchhiker vies for the trio's affections.

This simplistic plot and elliptical storytelling of Rudy Wurlitzer became something of a cult classic under Hellman, who spoke recently with the Hook.

After interviewing "every possible actor"– including Al Pacino and Robert De Niro– for his lead, Hellman says he saw musician James Taylor's photo on a billboard and thought he looked perfect. When Hellman interviewed Taylor, "That was it," he says.

The Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson plays Taylor's mechanic.

Hellman's frequent collaborator, Warren Oates as G.T.O. "took the work seriously, but he didn't take himself seriously," Hellman says.

A meeting with teenager Laurie Bird "literally became the inspiration for the role" of the hitchhiker, Hellman says. After Bird auditioned, he spent six months interviewing professional actresses, and only then cast Bird.

Hellman says that he wanted the actors not to become the characters, "but to find a way for the characters to become them."

Was anything cut from the film? "The question is: what wasn't cut?" Hellman quips. Blacktop was condensed to 105 minutes from 210, and he says the extra footage was destroyed– with no regrets. "I didn't keep cutting away if I thought it was gonna be better with it in."

Hellman continued directing after Blacktop, serving as executive producer on Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1991). He and Tarantino planned other collaborations, but these suffered "death by committee," he says.

"In a funny way, it's not my kind of movie," he admits of Blacktop. "I like more story-oriented subjects. I think for what it is, I'm proud of it, and I think it's unique."

Now working on a western, Hellman offers no guidance about interpreting his ambiguous film. "I don't think about those things when I'm making a movie," he states. "I'm just trying to tell the story."

To him, Blacktop works as a kind of Rorschach test.

"If I do have any intent," he laughs, "that's what it is!"

Two-Lane Blacktop screens Thursday, October 28 at 7:15pm, and Saturday, October 30 at 4:15pm, both at the downtown Regal cinema, but Hellman will not be present.


FILM- Mid-life recovery: Preve takes to filmmaking

Published October 28, 2004, in issue 0343 of the Hook


"I always liked film," says local filmmaker Ricardo Preve, "but I never thought I'd being doing it." Now, Preve, 46, wages cinematic war.

Against globalization, that is. A native of Argentina, Preve was laid off from his high-level job with an international paper company three years ago. Stuck in a mid-life crisis, he wondered if he should "go back to making money for a big corporation."

But a director friend, Fernando Spiner, steered him towards filmmaking. Three years later, Preve has produced as many films.

Despite its title, Preve's 2004 globe-spanning documentary, Mondovino, "is not really about wine," he says. "It's about losing your cultural identity, or fighting for it in the face of overwhelming forces to make everything taste the same, look the same, sound the same."

Preve also produced Tango: A Strange Turn, an unusual choice of subject considering that Preve and Tango's director, Maria Garcia Guevara, are from a generation when, if "you were a teenager, you would not be caught dead listening to tango."

That explains why Guevara knew nothing about the dance. But while researching the film, Preve says, "She absolutely fell in love with tango. She listened to more than 2,000 tangos, she learned to dance it, and met the [film's] characters."

The film follows the recent tango revival among Argentina's youth, who are "making some great tango music and reviving a tradition that's very Argentine," Preve says.

Preve has just finished two years spent shooting his directorial debut, a not-for-profit humanitarian documentary about chagas, a disease affecting millions of impoverished South Americans [See "Killer movie: Filmmaker turns disease into documentary," a January 29 story in the Hook].

By Hollywood standards, Preve freely admits, his films' budgets are "probably the bar tab on a slow night on a shooting holiday." That hasn't stopped him, however, from creating two interesting entries in this year's eclectic local festival.

The Saturday, October 30 screening of Tango: A Strange Turn is sold out. A repeat performance has been added for Sunday, October 31 at 7:15 pm in the Regal Cinema downtown where Mondovino plays at 10:15am that morning.