Deceleration: Backward glances at the Speed fest

03Engines revved, idled– and sometimes stalled out– before finally cruising to a halt four days later with the last reel of the Speed-themed 17th Virginia Film Festival October 28-31.

The warm sunshine and golden leaves of the weekend didn't stop dedicated filmgoers from heading into the dark.

It was a hometown fest, with local filmmakers dominating the bill and selling out screenings with some pretty impressive productions.

Ticket sales took off, making it a record year for sold-out shows. It's no surprise that Sandra Bullock's appearance for Miss Congeniality would be a sell-out. But so were films with Charlottesville ties like The Woodsman, Angels, and Mondovino.

And one nice innovation this year: more repeat screenings of popular films such as Tango: A Strange Turn, Two-Lane Blacktop, Undertow, Chrystal, and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! gave festival-goers a second chance to catch movies that inevitably are scheduled at the same time as something else they want to see.

The Hook strapped itself in and raced to as many events as possible. That extra hour's sleep helped us make it to the finish line on Sunday to report the highs and lows of this year's fest.


Requiem for Culbreth Theatre: Never our favorite theater for movies, the good news is the Paramount is poised to step in as next year's big venue.

Requiem for the University Art Museum? Traditionally the site of the opening night gala, the museum basked in an orange Halloween glow October 28, its fate for next year's fest TBD.

Please, take it somewhere else: An overlong award presentation before Nicole Kassell's The Woodsman– however well deserved by someone with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries– has some audience members threatening to slit their wrists.

Problems encountered trying to make a film about a pedophile: "Financing was virtually impossible," says Kassell.

Pick-up line you don't want to hear: "Want to sit on my lap?" asks Kevin Bacon in his astounding, Oscar-worthy performance as the pedophile.

Monster  was a tough sell, too: Newmarket, the same company that distributed Charlize Theron's Oscar-winning performance as a serial murderer, has picked up The Woodsman.

"Well, that was an existential morning": Quote from the audience after viewing Robert Bresson's The Pickpocket October 29.

Coffee achiever nightmare: Though two excellent coffee houses sit within sight of the Regal, the theater allows no outside beverages, instead forcing the caffeine-desperate to buy the house swill– with powdered creamer, no less.

Thank god for that change: Instead of the usual three-day shot-by-shot sessions that Roger Ebert does so well– though you have to suffer increasingly inane audience remarks– this year Paul Schrader's shot-by-shot of The Pickpocket was encapsulated into two hours, mercifully limiting audience participation.

We're with you, Paul: "As I get older, I only ask a couple of things of art– that it be great, and that it's short," says the screenwriter of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull.

Name dropping and delicious gossip that make the festival so rewarding: "Pauline Kael called Bresson a thin little man who screwed thin little boys in thin little rooms," Schrader shares.

Oh no, not another award: The October 29 screening of Angels opens with the Governor's Award for screenwriting. And Bullock gets the Virginia Film Award October 30– and the adoration of the Culbreth masses.

Charlottesville turns out: Director/surgeon's daughter Nicole Kassell draws a near full house with The Woodsman, and there's nary an empty seat for Paul Wagner's October 29 premiere of Angels. Of course the cast and crew accounted for a large number of those seats.

"So many of the best films I see are depressing as hell": The lament of one festival-goer wasn't the case for Angels, which avoided the sappy, and provided a few laughs about death– "I met the devil in a bar in Staunton"– and the boringness of Wim Wenders in the film's improvised ending.

Need a 37-room mansion to film in? No problem: Former Value America exec Rex Scatena and his wife, Jane, an associate producer on the film, offered their humble abode for Angels.

Movie that made us ask, "Why?": The un-scary, un-speedy, ho-hum Birth "premieres" at the film festival even though the Nicole Kidman flick is already showing as part of the Regal's regular fare.

Single most painful scene in a festival movie: During Undertow's opening chase sequence, Jamie Bell's character jumps down onto a piece of wood with a long nail sticking out of it, crunchily impaling his foot.

 George Loper is muzzled: Before the press conference with Sandra Bullock, reporters are warned not to ask any political questions.

Most shocking erotic moment: Experimental filmmaker Martin Arnold reveals a surprisingly intimate encounter between Andy Hardy and his mother in Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy October 30.

Surprise sell-out: Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus on October 30 with musician Jim White.

You sure have a purty 427 Chevy engine: James Taylor and Dennis Wilson may not be noted for their acting skills, but they're hot behind the wheel of a '55 Chevy in the 1971 Two-Lane Blacktop.

Discover the Ozarks: Ray McKinnon, writer, director, and actor in Arkansas-filmed Chrystal, aptly points out that you can't rant about the "faking of America and then shoot this in Romania" at the October 30 screening.

Discover Lisa Blount: The Ozark native's performance as the psychically and physically pained Chrystal more than holds its own against Billy Bob Thornton.

Find a distributor, quick: UVA grad/Chrystal producer David Koplan says the film should be in theaters in May.

A home movie like you've never seen: Tarnation, in which Jonathan Caouette documents in avant-garde style his life growing up as a gay teen with a mentally ill mother.

But there's still this truism about home movies: They're always most interesting to the people in them.

Filmmaker with whom we'd most like to hang: Undertow director David Gordon Green, wearing a hoodie and looking all of 17 at age 29, freely uses the adjective "cool" while offering brilliant insights into film history and the influences he's incorporated into his storytelling.

Sure makes you want to have a glass of wine, especially after running 135 minutes: Charlottesville producer Rick Preve premieres Mondovino and sells out both screenings, although the audience was flowing like wine out of the theater before the final credits rolled October 31. Preve also sells out the October 30 showing of his other film, Tango: A Strange Turn.

Wine vocabulary to drop at your next tasting: Terroirists– those who favor wine that tastes like the place it comes from rather than a globalized brand. Also "wine whore" (a wine that comes onto you strong at first)– and "limp wine."

Additional reporting by Laura Parsons

Sandra Bullock admits she's not sure what she's done for Virginia at a press conference before she takes home the Virginia Film Award, according to


Film Festival Director Richard Herskowitz leads the Q&A after Nicole Kassell astounds festival goers with
The Woodsman, her sympathetic yet scary portrait of a pedophile, starring Kevin Bacon.

Auteur Ray McKinnon plays "Snake" in
Chrystal, which he also wrote and directed.