Virginia Film Festival preview

September 28th, 2008 · 7 Comments · By

{So, I promised you guys a post on the Virginia Film Festival next month, and now that the schedule’s been announced, I can actually talk about the things I’m excited about in this year’s program…}

Some of you may know that I work for the Virginia Film Festival every fall. For the past three years, I’ve been the festival’s Production Coordinator, which is a really fun and exciting and fulfulling job that absolutely eats up 100% of time in October and usually screws up my Halloween plans as well. I’ve been attending the festival since 1993 — I remember skipping school in the 8th grade so I could go see Roger Ebert do a shot-by-shot workshop — and it’s always a really awesome weekend jam-packed with great movies both legendary and obscure.

For long-time festival-goers, this year is particularly noteworthy because it’s going to be the last one curated by Richard Herskowitz. He’s been the festival’s creative director since 1994, and he’s brought a ton of excellent programming to town, and this year is no exception. This year’s theme is “Aliens!” which is yet another one of those fun themes that can be interpreted a half-dozen different ways.

Anyhow, the things I’m most excited about in this year’s program are the screenings up at the McCormick Observatory; there’s going to be three nights of experimental and underground films screened in the Observatory’s lecture hall, and each screenings is hosted and organized by a different notable figure from the world of avant-garde film; including:

• George and Mike Kuchar, whose ridiculous, zero-budget trash masterpieces have been defining camp since the 1960’s (they’re doing two screenings at the Observatory, plus one at Vinegar Hill). I’ve met George several times over the years; I’m pretty sure wouldn’t remember me, but it hardly matters because George is the sort of great guy who treats strangers and old comrades alike with generous friendly warmth and bizaare charm. Anyhow, it’ll be really awesome to have the Kuchars in town again. They’re profoundly prolific, and major figureheads in 20th century film (and video), and you owe it to yourself to come check them out.

• Jeanne Liotta, who was a guest artist at The Bridge film series last spring, and is a seriously rad lady; she’ll be showing her own films, plus some stuff by the Whitney Brothers (some of my all-time favorites), Joseph Cornell, and Hollis Frampton.  If you’ve seen her most recent film, you’ll know that Jeanne is fascinated by planetary bodies and the movement of constellations, so she’s really excited to be doing this thing at the Observatory.

Ed Halter, notable NY critic and primary organizer of the new-defunct New York Undeground Film Festival, will be showing the legendary 1974 UFO documentary Chariots of the Gods, preceded by an in-depth lecture on the film and the history of UFO conspiracy-theory and related media.

Craig Baldwin, notorious SF-based archivist and media-appropriator extraordinaire, unfortunetely can’t make it to the festival himself, but he’ll be curating a program of oddities, including some long-lost industrial and educational films, some work by contemporary filmmakers like Bill Brown, and his own film Tribulation 99, which is an unparalleled classic of collage film and short-attention-span lunacy. We’re also showing his new film Mock Up on Mu at Vinegar Hill on Sunday.

• Additionally, the first night of the festival will involve a 70th-anniversary (to the day!) listening party for Orson Welles‘ 1938 radio dramatization of H.G. Wells War of the Worlds, which will happen INSIDE the Observation dome itself, so everyone can watch the stars while we get creeped out by a classic piece of radio drama.

Other cool stuff happening during the weekend (i.e., what I would be going to see if I weren’t working like a maniac through the whole thing):

• the opening night film screening of George Pal‘s 1953 film adaptation of War of the Worlds (which I understand is the quintessential flying saucer film)

Buñuel’s los Olvidados, from his 1950’s Mexico period; it’s less surrealistically perverse than some of his other work, i.e. it’s an ostensibly realist social drama, but it contains several unforgettable dream sequences involving slow motion and chickens; it’s truly one of his most underrated films, if only because it’s so under-screening and under-discussed.

Bad Day at Black Rock; a movie which I had somehow never paid attention to until just now… I think I kept getting the title confused with Picnic at Hanging Rock. It’s a John Sturges noir / western with Spencer Tracy. {actually I just rented it this weekend, b/c I know I won’t get to see it during the festival…}

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, a truly excellent Fassbinder film, and a particularly good introduction if you aren’t already familier with his work (it was the first one I ever saw). I think it’s probably a better movie if you know nothing about the plot going in; I’ll just say it’s a film about the life of an African Arab immigrant in 1970’s Germany, which aims to transgress upon the audience’s expectations and unconscious prejudices, and which is also sort of an homage to Douglas Sirk-style Hollywood melodramas.

West Side Story. In theory, I’d love to be enthusiastic about musicals, but in practice there’s only a few that I’m really crazy about. This is certainly one of them; Romeo & Juliet retold in 50’s Harlem with the Italian “Jets” and Puerto Rican “Sharks” instead  of Capulets and Montagues…unforgettable songs, lurid technicolor, knife fights where the gang members dance in synchronized formation, and the always-stunning Natalie Wood. What’s not to like?

A Jihad for Love, a contemporary documentary about gay and lesbian muslims around the world. The director, Parvez Sharma, is from India and was really excited about coming to “mostly Republican territory” until I told Charlottesville is like, 80% Democratic… at which point he vowed to find the nearest Obama campaign office and so some door-to-door promotional work while he’s in town.

Amoros Perros, along with the screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga; we’re showing some other films he’s written as well, but I haven’t seen those. To be honest, from the trailers 21 Grams and Babel looked kind of melodramatic and wack; but I’m certainly willing to have my mind changed, especially since once I actually got around to seend it I ended up liking Amoros Perros so much more than I thought I would. Plus Arriaga seems like a really interesting guy; it will definitely be worth it to see him speak about his films.

Gregory Nava is coming here, and showing his immigration film El Norte which is a classic of indie film and something I’m embarassed to never have seen; he’s also doing a shot-by-shot w0rkshop for the film.

• We’re doing a tribute to the late Stan Winston, which will include Galaxy Quest (which is by all accounts far better than one would expect) and Aliens (admittedly my second-favorite in the series, but still great, and one of the few James Cameron films I can make it through without cringing). I think both films will be preceded by a highlight reel of Winston’s best work. Incidentally: I once met Stan, after a small panel at the 1999 festival, and he was a charming and humble fellow. Plus, he built tons of awesome movie stuff which looked awesome and was like geek-candy to me as a nerdy high-schooler.

Cat People, another apparently amazing film that I’m embarrassed to never have seen. People have been telling me how good it is for like, over 10 years now. I have no one to blame but myself. (This is the 1942 original, of course — not the trashy 1982 remake with Klaus Kinsski’s daughter, although that one does have a score by Giorgio Moroder and David Bowie… anyone heard it?)

• It’s technically also an OffScreen event, and it’s happening at 7pm on Sunday (immediately after the festival ends), but you should definitely go and check out The Exiles at Newcomb Hall. Don’t pay attention to the mis-printed OffScreen posters, this one actually IS screening on the 2nd. The Exiles is a 1961 classic of american cinema which has been sorely overlooked by history. It’s a verité-style film loosely structured around a group of Native American greasers living in the Bunker Hill neighborhood in LA. It’s all non-actors, essentially re-enacting scenes from their own lives in front of a camera; like Wild Style or Killer of Sheep, it’s one of those films which is ostensibly a narrative fiction, but which so closely parallels the lives and concerns of the people in it, that it can also be watched as a documentary.

I’ve been trying to see this film for years, but was only able to catch 5 or 10 minutes of it at a time; it was featured prominently in Thom Andersen’s documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself, and Thom used to show clips of it in class when I was a student of his; Norman Klein occasionally showed clips from it as well, although he usually kept lecturing right through the film, because Norman’s enthusiasm and depth of knowledge have always far outweighed his attention span. Anyhow, from the parts I’ve seen, not much happens in the way of plot: the characters hang out in diners, get drunk, cruise around, and get into knife fights; but those few moments I saw were absolutely captivating and I’ve been dying to see the whole film since. For years it was pretty tough to see this film at all; it’s getting remastered and released on 35mm for the first time this fall, which is great. It was the first thing I suggested to Richard when I heard this year’s theme, I was thrilled to hear it was already in the program, and I’m ecstatic that this film will be shown here. You can check out the trailer here (with painfully cheesy intro), and a clip from the movie here.

Tags: news · preview

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jones // Sep 28, 2008 at 10:21 pm

    Yeah, what was I thinking, letting you talk me into working the Film Festival this year, when I actually wanted to see at least a third of the films?

    Oh right, I was thinking I wanted to be able to pay rent. That thing.

  • 2 Vijith // Sep 29, 2008 at 8:35 am

    Amores Perros is really cool — it kind of splits the difference between Crash and City Of God.

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  • 5 shaun // Sep 30, 2008 at 10:56 am

    James,

    A most righteous preview of the film festival. Excellent stuff man. I knew someone out there would deliver on the goods…now you’ve got me excited for the film fest. Thank you!

  • 6 baconfat // Sep 30, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    that poster totally makes me think of the classic “Citizen Kang” skit on The Simpsons. “Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others!”

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