Charlottesville Breaking News

Global exposure: 'Fourth Grade' film racks up honors

It may not yet have achieved world peace, but a locally-made film has gotten a world stage. John Hunter, the star of World Peace & Other Fourth Grade Achievements as well as the creator of the game that inspired the film, joined such luminaries as Bill Gates, retired Army General Stanley McChrystal, and film critic Roger Ebert as featured presenters at the exclusive TED Conference last month in Long Beach, California.

"He got a standing ovation," says the filmmaker, Chris Farina.

Talking to audiences who'd ponied up no less than $3,500 per seat, Hunter's appearance may have helped the picture rack up new achievements since the film first screened in Charlottesville in February 2010.

"It's beyond our wildest dreams where this film is going," says Farina. "Five years ago, we were scrambling to come up with money to shoot at our local school. Now we're getting calls from Korea."

Indeed, the film has aired on South Korean televisions stations as well as on Al Hurra, a mideast competitor to Al Jazeera. Farina says he's currently negotiating a deal with an American broadcaster, which he hopes will help pay off debt he's still carrying from the film's estimated $120,000 budget.

The connec...

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Eagle flew: But governor welcomes MicroAire's expansion

The eagle has flown, but the orthopedic instruments have landed– as the sprawling warehouse that served as the Charlottesville sorting facility for the U.S. Mail will soon be purchased by a high-tech firm called MicroAire Surgical Instruments with plans to create 51 new jobs.

"We've got to start making things again," said Governor Bob McDonnell, appearing at the close of an April 16 lunch celebrating the deal and awarding a $100,000 grant from Virginia taxpayers.

That gift to the company will be matched by Albemarle citizens, whose leaders (several of whom attended) are handing over $100,000 from the County's so-called Economic Opportunity Fund. The Virginia Department of Business Assistance tossed in another $51,000.

What taxpayers will get (besides a chance at above-average-paying jobs), said Albemarle Supervisor Ann Mallek, is that this formerly tax-exempt government building– assessed for $5.3 million– moves on to the County tax rolls.

Pulling the trigger on a blue bone saw (which he later revealed might cost up to $5,000), company president George Saiz said that MicroAire would soon shutter a California manufacturing plant to place the operation inside the soon-to-be-renovated former postal building.

As he and other speakers were extolling the impending move, high-intensity overhead lamps competed with the human voices to give the event– despite linen napkins and floral arrangements– the aura of a high s...

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Suit dismissed? $200 million action over High's prosecution hits bump

The deadline for serving defendants in the $200 million civil suit against the City of Staunton passed on April 12, and the plaintiff says he's not sure whether his case will now be dismissed after a high-profile defendant allegedly avoided service.

"I'm very disappointed that the mayor– of all people– wouldn't come forward, acknowledge it, and defend the city," says plaintiff Bill Thomas of Staunton Mayor Lacy King, the allegedly uncooperative defendant.

Thomas's suit– which he's waging without the assistance of a lawyer– alleges decades of harassment and a conspiracy by city officials and police relating to a brutal double slaying in an ice cream parlor 41 years ago. Mayor King worked for the Staunton Police Department for 32 years before retiring as Deputy Chief in 2001, and he was elected to City Council the following year.

According to a notice in the court file, Thomas had 120 days after his December 13 filing to serve the defendants. He says he was advised by the U.S. District Court clerk in Roanoke to instead get the defendants to sign a form waiving service. So he sent certified letters to four defendants, including Mayor King, City Manager Stephen Owen, and Staunton City Attorney Douglas Guynn. Owen and Guynn signed, says Thomas.

Victor Santos, the attorney representing the city, says he also s...

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Murder case: Broadcast set for Morgan Harrington program

Investigators have been quiet on the Morgan Harrington case since January, when police led media on a tour of key sites including the John Paul Jones Arena, where the 20-year-old Virginia Tech student vanished during a year-and-a-half-ago Metallica concert. On Monday, April 18, however, the case roars back into a national spotlight as the Investigation Discovery channel debuts an hour-long installment of a popular mystery program.

The Hook was offered a pre-release view of this episode of the Disappeared series. Entitled "Heavy Metal Mystery," it features extensive interviews with parents Dan and Gil Harrington, Virginia State Police investigators Joe Rader and Dino Cappuzzo, newspaper deliverywoman and possible witness Norma Parson, (as well as a brief interview with this reporter.)

In a somber tone, a narrator offers grim facts with some scenes reenacted by actors. Dark lighting lends an ominous mood to the program, which focuses not only on the investigation, but on the terror and devastation the Harringtons have faced as they live through every parent's worst nightmare.

In one particularly chilling scene, a black-clad lookalike stands silhouetted on the Copeley Road bridge with her thumb out. The blonde education major's increasingly erratic behavior is suggested in other scenes.

As extensively reported in the Hook,...

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On track: Wagner's latest film rides high

From political strife in Tibet to Irish dancing to America's polio epidemic, documentary filmmaker Paul Wagner has followed his diverse interests and turned them into award winning films. His latest effort, Thoroughbred, took him deep into the world of horse racing.

"It's really a rich area, with its own little subculture," says Wagner. "I thought it would be great to paint a portrait since it isn't known to most people except once a year."

That once a year takes place in the spring with the Triple Crown races, and Wagner, who won an Academy Award in 1985 for The Stone Carvers, a short documentary on the artisans whose work adorns the National Cathedral in Washington, traces his interest in "America's oldest sport" back to his Kentucky childhood when his father would tell him stories about sneaking through a hole in a fence as a kid to watch the Kentucky Derby.

Opportunity to explore horseracing on film presented itself when Kentucky Educational TV contacted Wagner several years ago asking him to produce and direct a documentary on the subject.

With a budget of "a few hundred thousand," Wagner and his crew, including his filmmaking partner and wife, Ellen Casey Wagner, spent three years making the movie, traveling from Kentucky to Dubai during 2009, interviewing the people who make up the world of horseracing from the modest grooms to one of the richest men in the world, Sheikh Mohammed, royal ruler of Dubai.

"He bid $3...

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