Thursday, October 05, 2006

God...and Other Stars

We found God….or at least the guy who plays Him in the movies, and announced today that Morgan Freeman is coming to the festival on October 27.  It has turned into quite a lineup of featured actors this year.

We had some pretty interesting guests lined up by late August: writer Michael Tolkin, punk preacher Jay Bakker, video game artist Eddo Stern, and the rising young actors William Moseley and January Jones. The line-up of films, particularly the new documentaries like Jesus Camp and Iraq in Fragments, and the silent and Scandinavian classics, looked pretty good to me.

But the audience here demands very celebrated actors, and has come to expect them from the beginning, when Jimmy Stewart and Gregory Peck showed up for the first Virginia Film Festival. In recent years, we’ve brought Anthony Hopkins, Nicolas Cage, Sandra Bullock, Vanessa Redgrave, and the list goes on. Regional festivals do not usually attract stars of this caliber. Regional festivals are harder to get to then big city events. But the actors have loved the experience here, particularly the encounters with students and our highly intelligent audiences. We also have a very active and committed Board of Advisors, most of whom are based in LA and well-connected in the film industry.

The first featured guest to confirm was Robert Duvall….on September 8, a year to the day after Vanessa Redgrave confirmed her participation. And once again, the Preview Guide was on its way to the printer when we yanked it back and added in the exciting confirmation. Many of my advisors on this program, especially the knowledgeable religion and film authority Drew Trotter, asked repeatedly for Duvall and The Apostle as a centerpiece event.  But we had not had luck with our invitations to him in recent years. In early September, one of the supporters on our new Council of Festival Friends, actress Betsy Brantley, helped us reach Duvall, and we got our most wanted guest. Now, it looks like a second Robert Duvall masterpiece will be added to the program….so keep checking our website.

Then came Liev Schreiber, a week later, through a wonderful, fortuitous encounter I had with a close relative of his. The first time he made an impression on me was in 1996, when we showed The Daytrippers, and that was the same year he scared the hell out of everyone in the first Scream, as Cotton Weary. I’ve been an admiring fan of his acting ever since, but the invitation we extended was for him to show the film adaptation of Everything is Illuminated, which he wrote and directed. It was only a few days between the conveying of the invitation and its confirmation. What a nice experience.

Finally, Morgan Freeman’s film is the one I described in an earlier blog entry. I was handed an invitation to a test screening while I was in Santa Monica last spring. I sat in the theater a few seats away from Brad Silberling, the director. 10 Items or Less felt like a Dogme production….a low-budget, minimally scripted, improvisatory shedding of Hollywood excess, a therapeutic cleansing from the big budget behemoths Silberling and Freeman knew too well. And Morgan Freeman is liberated in 10 Items or Less. It’s the loosest, funniest, most charismatic performance I’ve ever seen him give. The test screening audience cheered, and the audience at the Paramount is likely to do the same.

Julie Lynn, a member of the Film Festival board who had brought us Nine Lives last year, is co-producer of 10 Items or Less. We have been working on arranging this visit for the past six months, and nearly gave up a few weeks ago. The schedule was tight; Freeman will be starting his next film two days after our screening. Transportation was a problem. But, about two weeks ago, Charlottesville was squeezed into an itinerary that includes a visit the day before in Mississippi. And so we had our last answered prayer for Revelations.

Now that the program is out, what do you think? Write me your comments, ask me questions about the selections, and I’ll try to respond here on the blog.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The program sounds wonderful and should be very enjoyable.

It's only a shame I am across the globe in Japan and won't be able to make it out to one of my favorite experiences at UVA.

All the best.

Jamie Renee Williams (CLAS 05)

2:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I absolutely cannot wait for this festival--the theme and lineup encouraged me to purchase my tickets the moment they went on sale.

I had never heard of the Virginia Film Festival, even though I have been a resident of Virginia for almost 21 years. I read about it in Virginia Living Magazine at a doctors office and quickly jotted the website down!

My boyfriend is a film major at Towson University, and both of us are great lovers of film and spirituality. This festival could not be a more perfect 21st birthday gift to him. I'm packing him up in the car and surprising him with a trip to this festival.

Thank you so much for all of your hard work collaborating this event. A professor of mine at Christopher Newport University mentioned today she always attends the festival and has been extremely impressed.

It is going to be wonderful. I cannot WAIT. Thank you.


Lindsey Seipp

10:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Richard--

Glad to see IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS on the schedule. I think it's a fantastic movie, and The Stranger gave its director/DP/co-editor James Longley a Genius Award (the name is tongue in cheek, but it includes a $5k grant) this October. He's a nice guy too--you can read my profile here. How was the screening?

--Annie Wagner (CLAS02, GSAS03, OFFScreen 99-03)
Film Editor, The Stranger

3:53 AM  

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