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?


Blogger Bryan said...

This theme sounds promising. GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MATTHEW is my favorite life of Christ movie, and many friends agree. That would be MAGNIFICENT to see on a big screen.

8:45 AM  
Anonymous Tom Dowd said...

Hi Richard,

I've been doing work in Israel for Notre Dame and I'd like to recommend the following films for the excellenty-themed 19th VFF:
-Paradise Now
-Closer to Home

Cheers, Tom

11:22 AM  
Blogger Stickystacky said...

"Cape of Good Hope" by filmmakers Suzanne Kay and Mark Bamford is an excellent film out of South Africa. Just won an award from Religion Communicators Council.

I suggest putting it on your list of films to consider!

Jeff Lavezzo

11:47 AM  
Blogger Creosote said...

Bill Murray's Groundhog Day. Chris Lydon did a great piece on the film as a religious masterpiece.

And if the theme is going to be "Religion", you'll need some cautionary tales and satire as well. Monty Python's Life of Brian and/or The Meaning of Life has to be on the list; and how about Elmer Gantry, which won Burt Lancaster an Oscar?

9:43 AM  
Blogger Lori said...

How about "The Apostle" with Robert Duvall? He's somewhat local too.

Or Resurrection?

Or the original Wings of Desire (not exactly God but...)

I agree; Life of Brian.

10:39 AM  
Blogger am said...

What an exciting theme---and might I add, a perfect reason to show old Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors on a big screen with surround sound Schubert.

1:56 PM  
Anonymous Helen said...

---Spirituality in other than a Judeo-Christian mode: The Cup (Kyentse Norbu)--better than most of the Buddha movies because it has us experience Buddhism as we watch the film, not just observe it.
---Judeo-Christian trappings, but with a Buddhist core: The Matrix
---How about God's absence? The Grifters, The Conversation, The Night of The Hunter.
---Oh, God (George Burns)

10:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Richard,

Are there any films that
show Islam in an understanding,
let alone, favorable light,
that could be exhibited at
this year's Festival?

1:26 PM  
Anonymous April said...

Despite the festival having recently shown a Bresson film, I think "Au Hasard Balthazar" would be absolutely ideal. Not to mention I'd walk through fire on a bed of nails to see it on film.

Amongst the films already mentioned which I've seen, "Night of the Hunter" would be great. And "Wings of Desire" changed my life, yet in spite of my blind adoration for it, I'm not sure it fits the theme.

2:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, Richard.

In keeping with the theme, I'll recommend Bergman's The Virgin Spring, an excellent, though disturbing, examination of faith in crisis. Although the recent Criterion release is beautiful, a big-screeen presentation would be stunning.



2:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Richard,

In the video library of Lenny
Bruce, is there a monologue
on God and/or religion that
could be exhibited?

It could be coupled with
"Submission" by the late
film director, Theo Van
Gogh, and other short films
on religion.

I trust your judgment on
whether these would be
worthy of being placed on
the program.

Good luck and best wishes,


10:31 AM  
Anonymous edward said...

This is a theme approached with fear and trembling ...

... it can be done well, or horribly. You can reap a whirlwind, fire, or brimstone, ... or angels ascending or descending.

I suggest for consideration:

The films from the Horton Foote screenplays, like Tender Mercies, and Trip to Bountiful
and the similarly styled Robert Benton screenplay, Places in the Heart: these are suffused with religous and spiritual theme and imagery, without grandeur, and with genuine depth. These were/are very meaningful to me as a Southerner, and as a gay man, by the way; since these men are sensitive and insightful.

Another in this character, of exceptional metaphysical depth is
Silverlake Life: The View from Here. There are few documentaries with such a grasp of the relevance and beauty of relationships (in this case gay men, and facing death ... and in the film, actual recording of the transition at death ... almost as if capturing the moment where the 'soul' flees to its next life. Remarkable.

Latter Days is the most adept recent movies about the conflict/intersection/resolution --almost in a Hegelian way --of spirituality and sensuality, aptly using the religious iconographpy in its title (not simply referring to the Latter Day Saints, about which the film comments; but also 'apocalyptic/epiphanic' clashes of world views that bring us to heaven(s) and hell(s) that others make for us, or that we make for ourselves). Its about two gay guys and their families; but then outsiders comment on the insiders with better eyes.

I love Say Amen Somebody. This just must be seen more widely, and enjoyed. It can broaden your audiences too, in many ways.

To showcase filmmaking as piety (rather than epic, or smear) try p pairing up Song of Bernadette and Therese.

Are you going to have the epics: Ten Commandments? Ben Hur? ... ugh ...(well, if you can get Charlton to come, with guns, that might be fun).

Well, I'll have some more in mind, later.

Thank you for allowing and inviting us to share.

edward (els2e@virginia)

3:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd like to see some films dealing with gays and lesbians and how they encounter their religions: possibilities are Trembling before G-d, Latter Days, Paragraph 175, Priest, Gods and Monsters, Aimee und Jaguar, etc.

5:04 PM  
Blogger Faust said...

“REVELATIONS: Finding God at the Movies”

How about a double feature: Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" and "Monty Python's Life of Brian."

8:49 PM  
Blogger Rick Sincere said...

I'm surprised nobody has suggested, as a special event during the Film Festival, bringing the Sing-Along Sound of Music to Charlottesville for the first time. This would make a terrific (and fun) midnight screening -- encouraging fans to come dressed as their favorite nuns and Nazis or as one of the Trapp Family Singers.

This isn't farfetched in regard to the theme, either. Not only are the early scenes set in a convent cloister, but the title song is loosely based on Psalm 121, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help."

4:41 PM  

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