Monday, April 24, 2006

Some Guest Invitations

Ever attentive to your suggestions, I did snag a copy of THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL and will try to watch it next week, on my flight to the San Francisco Film Festival. The festival’s new Executive Director, Graham Leggat, who is impressing everyone out there, is an old friend, and he invited me to be a juror. I’m proud to say I gave him his first film job about fifteen or so years ago. I knew it would get me a free trip to SF if I waited long enough.

I read the article on Tom Shadyac recommended by another commenter, and an even more fascinating interview in Catholic Exchange. Tom Shadyac’s in Charlottesville right now shooting EVAN ALMIGHTY with Steve Carell, and I have invited him to come back in the fall. He is very passionate and articulate in advocating for a Christian cinema that is not pre-cleansed of all sin, and he’d be an exciting guest.

We’re also inviting to the festival BRUCE and EVAN ALMIGHTY’s  co-star, Morgan Freeman, whose film company happens to be called  …. Revelations Entertainment.  I will refrain from saying there’s a divine hand in this. But in the last few days, I ran into the glorious poet Rita Dove, who mentioned that she had a cameo appearance in Freeman’s upcoming movie, 10 ITEMS OR LESS, and that he and his producing partner, Lori McCreary, are considering attending in the fall. A few days later, one of the film’s producers, Julie Lynn, visited my film class (and George Sampson’s) at UVA and offered more encouragement. Julie’s the board member who brought us NINE LIVES, Rodrigo Garcia, and Kathy Baker last year, and she was one of VARIETY’S 10 Producers to Watch in 2005.

Julie was in town to help launch the new free speech monument, which is a public chalkboard, installed by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression. I walked by it tonight on the way to the Wilco concert at the Charlottesville Pavilion (they were incredible, by the way). The chalkboard is getting many more comments than this blog, and I’m okay with that. Josh Wheeler of the Center called earlier this week to remind me that he’d like us to plan a festival program at the monument. Any ideas what we should project and stage there?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Awesome Suggestions

The programming suggestions that came in as comments to my first posting are terrific, and I want MORE. First, I’m going to comment on the comments.

Pasolini’s THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MATTHEW seems like a sure thing, and I think I have a line on a relatively new print. I remember that it was mentioned quite a bit around the time Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ was released, generally by critics who did not view Gibson’s version favorably. Pasolini’s TEOREMA might also be a good, more scandalous, choice, possibly alongside other “Christ-figures” movies. (No, that probably will be a road not taken, because there are just too many candidates: E.T., Shane, The Terminator (JC= John Connor), etc. Then again, it would be interesting to alternate these with some movie anti-Christs: (The Omen, The Devil’s Advocate, The Exorcist, etc.).

Groundhog Day was mentioned to me before, but I shrugged it off. Then I listened to that Christopher Lydon podcast that was sent as a link in one of the comments, and now I’m thoroughly convinced. Buddhists seem to have the greatest claim to it (it’s a story of Bill Murray’s successive reincarnations, which continue until he gets it right and achieves selflessness), but a lot of other religions seem to want to claim it too.

The only problem with Groundhog Day is that we showed it last year, and even brought Harold Ramis to introduce it. Still, it would be interesting to have a panel of different religious authorities address it. One of the things I enjoy about programming this festival is showing how movies can become entirely new when viewed through different thematic lenses. For example, we showed The Manchurian Candidate in 1995’s U.S. and Them festival, where it was discussed as a take on Cold War paranoia. We brought it back in 1998 as part of the Cool festival, when its great jazz soundtrack was the focus of guest composer David Amram’s fascinating commentary.

So many people have suggested Elmer Gantry to me, that I’ve just moved it to the top of my video rental queue (which is now up to a mere 148 movies), since I’ve never seen it. Notice I didn’t mention the name of the rental source, while our sponsorship proposal to the corporation is still pending. I’m only half-joking. We’re actively searching for new sponsors and supporters; you can send leads to and find our donor levels here: .

The Life of Brian is almost a sure thing. And a Bresson film, possibly Au Hasard Balthasar.

That question that someone sent in about movies that “show Islam in an understanding, let alone, favorable light” is a tough one. Maybe Malcolm X? Kiarostami’s A Taste of Cherry, which might be sacreligious in addressing the taboo of suicide? Can others offer suggestions? (Also just added to my queue: The Message, which apparently tells the story of Islam without depicting Mohammed).

I like the idea of showing The Apostle and Tender Mercies, and hopefully persuading Robert Duvall to visit our festival again. The Say Amen Somebody idea is great, especially if we can get a choir into the theater to follow it.

Keep ‘em coming.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Theme is Announced

Today, we’re announcing the theme of the 2006 Film Festival—“REVELATIONS: Finding God at the Movies.” Over the next few months, I’ll use this blog to solicit suggestions for films and guests and also share behind-the-scenes reports about the program’s creation.

About two-thirds of what the Virginia Film Festival shows is theme-related, and about half our films are classics. We also feature many upcoming releases, and some exceptional new films by Virginia filmmakers, that have nothing to do with the theme. So I’m open to non-theme-related film suggestions, as well as ideas for panels, exhibits, performances, and any kind of festival event or improvement you’d like to see next October. Some of the comments sent to me will be posted below my entry.

I’m often struck, especially when interviewed around the time of the festival, that some of the most interesting stories to tell are about what I wanted to include in the program, but couldn’t. Not all of these stories can be shared, obviously. Let’s see how much I feel free to ‘fess up to in the coming months.

Here’s an example from 2004, when our theme was SPEED, and we had Sandra Bullock as a featured guest. It was the tenth anniversary of her career-making film of the same name. My fantasy was that I would open the festival with Speed and close it with Bullock’s latest film, Crash. Perfect, right? I had seen and admired Crash in September 2004 at the Toronto Film Festival. But the distributors decided to hold its release back from other festivals until the spring, and not even Sandra Bullock’s presence and her interest in having us show it could persuade them to let us have it. And so my perfect programming bookends were ruined.

You can read the festival press release at to see some of the vague ideas I already have in mind for REVELATIONS. As you can see, some of the films I want to show will represent the kind of spiritual cinema that may not be about religion, but that aims to produce a religious experience in the viewer. We touched on this during the SPEED year, when we contrasted the commercial vogue of fast-paced editing with what we called “the cinema of slowness and contemplation” (you can view that program here). Paul Schrader was here to talk about the “transcendental style” of Bresson’s Pickpocket. I’m rereading Schrader’s Transcendental Style in Film, and also highly recommend Nathaniel Dorsky’s even better Devotional Cinema, on this branch of filmmaking.

Many films of the transcendental kind are included in one very convenient location, the Arts and Faith Top 100 Spiritually Significant Films . Any favorites from this list you’d like me not to skip?