Charlottesville Breaking News

Production values: Jack Fisk finds days of heaven

Cismont resident Jack Fisk has a charmed career. Few movie production designers have worked on so many critically acclaimed films or as consistently with extraordinary directors, such as Terrence Malick and David Lynch. Like them, Fisk favors art over commerce.

Yet versatility is a hallmark of Fisk’s designs. He recreated a hauntingly accurate 1950s America in his breakout film, Malick’s Badlands (1973) and more recently in The Tree of Life (2011). He built the prom that Carrie White incinerated in Carrie (1976). For Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood (2007), he earned an Academy Award nomination for replicating California’s ragged early oil towns and rigs. 

With boyish enthusiasm, the utterly unpretentious Fisk, 65, says his love of building artificial worlds began in childhood when living in a wooded area in Richmond.

"I built a lot of forts.” As an adult, he says, “They turned into sets.”

After Fisk graduated from art school, director Jonathan Demme gave him his first production design assignment for $100 a week on the 1971 biker movie Angels Hard As They Come. Bewildered, Fisk called cinematographer Stephen Katz to find out what an art director does.

“And he said, ‘I don’t know,’” Fisk laughs. “So, to cover my a**, I did everything: I did costumes and props and went crazy, but I loved it.”

Since they met in ninth grade David Lynch has figured heavily in...

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Barn storm: Farm manager not guilty in Bronfman case

It was the case of a billionaire versus a farm manager, what a friend of the accused describes as a steamroller attempting to crush a gnat. But when the jury rendered its verdict on embezzlement charges October 27, the gnat– actually a towering former UVA linebacker– walked tall from the Albemarle County Courthouse amid grateful sobs from his daughter.

The 82-year-old patriarch of the family enriched by the Seagram liquor fortune, New York-based Edgar Bronfman Sr., had accused 52-year-old Michael Nemeyer of illegally enriching himself with bank accounts and credit cards that should have been devoted to Georgetown Farm, Bronfman's sprawling weekend retreat near the northwestern county village of Free Union.

Trial testimony indicated that after Bronfman announced his intention to sell the property about two years ago, Nemeyer expressed an interest in settling what he claims he thought were loans. That acknowledgement, says jury foreperson Ellen Schmidt, was a key factor in the jury's view that there was no criminal deception.

"When the owner said he was selling," recalls Schmidt, "Michael said, 'Well, I still you owe you money.' There was no evidence that he went out of his way to hide anything."

Yet the court file indicates that Nemeyer once penned a letter to the farm's bookkeeper (who separately stands accused) in the billionaire's name. And one of the exhibits introduced at trial was a letter Nemeyer sent Bronfman a...

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Travel plans: Will Bypass bypass peds, bikes, and transit?

The proposed Western Bypass, the resurrected $235 million road project that will cut a 6.2-mile swath from Forest Lakes South to the North Grounds of the University of Virginia through neighborhoods west of Route 29, will not include bike or pedestrian access. Yup. And that's a fact that frustrates advocates for alternative transportation.

"We implore you to focus not only on the roadway design," writes Len Schoppa with the Alliance for Community Choice in Transportation, in an email to the Albemarle Board of supervisors, "but on design elements that impact the ability of this project to improve bicycle, pedestrian, and transit connectivity in our region."

"The Bypass RFP makes it clear that the Bypass will not allow bicycles or pedestrians," says County Supervisor Dennis Rooker, who has convened a task force to add recommendations in an addendum to the RFP in the hopes of getting a better Bypass, 55 percent of which lies in his district.

As Schoppa points out, the current RFP for the project includes few mentions of bicycles and pedestrians, no mention of public transit, and only vaguely touches on "the need for more trails."

"This is an understatement," says Schoppa, who says the project could be a great opportunity to assist alternative modes of transportation. "All community surveys of parks and recreatio...

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'110 percent sure': Jurors say no doubt in Abshire's guilt

"There's a verdict!"

The cry at the Orange County Circuit Court at around 4:20pm on Tuesday, October 25 brought family and friends of the late Justine Swartz Abshire racing up to the third floor courtroom, terrified that they'd hear an acquittal after the jury deliberated less than two hours.

"I've waited so long for this to be right," sobbed Justine's maternal aunt Tracie Rossman inside the courtroom as she waited for return of the four-man, eight-woman panel. "It better be right."

Legal analyst David Heilberg says a jury's quick return is often good news for the prosecution, but not always.

"There are some cases where they go out and are back in five minutes with an acquittal," he says. "The only predictable thing about a jury is its unpredictability."

At 4:38pm, with the jury in place in two rows of chairs in front of Judge Daniel Bouton's bench, the court clerk read aloud words the Swartzes have waited five years to hear: "Guilty of first degree murder."

The pronouncement prompted several of the victim's family members to sob audibly; and...

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They're back! Locals stock up on anti-stink bug artillery

Fall should mean apple cider, changing leaves, and fuzzy sweaters, but in the past few years, something less charming has been added to that autumn list: stink bugs. First there's one, crawling harmlessly on the side of your house. Then suddenly there are hundreds: crawling on every surface, finding their way into sleeves, curtains, even your hair.

But is the problem getting better or worse this year?

"It's spotty," says Brian Cecil, an employee at Martin Hardware. "In some places it's worse, in some places it's not. But overall, they're a problem."

As reported in the Hook last year, the brown marmorated stink bug, also known by its scientific name Halyomorpha halys, was first officially documented in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 2001. Since that time, the Asian insect that releases a pungent odor when stressed has spread up and down the East Coast unhindered by natural predators and seeking a warm place– your house– to hibernate during winter.

Their numbers can be startling.

"You could hear them crawl," says Cecil, recalling the sight of a tarp outside a house in Faber covered so completely that "you couldn't see any blue."

"It was unsettling," he says with a chuckle, noting an influx of customers to the Preston Avenue hardware emporium seeking stink b...

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