Nov. 2-8, 2001
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Stars share stories of silver screen
Jenny Gerow
A U.Va. student performance artist participates in the Fringe Festival’s Carnevale Performance and Dance Party Oct. 26. Co-sponsored by the Virginia Film Festival and U.Va.’s art department, the Fringe Festival is a new supplement to the annual film festival. Visiting artists, U.Va. students and faculty have contributed works in a variety of mediums on display in the Frank Ix building, a downtown warehouse. The art exhibition will run through Nov. 11 from 3 to 7 p.m. daily and is free and open to the public.

Stars share stories of silver screen

Staff Report

While the box-office numbers weren’t in yet as of early this week, for last weekend’s 14th annual Virginia Film Festival, the reviews were quite positive, said festival director Richard Herskovitz.

“At the closing night party, [actress] Gena Rowlands embraced me warmly and asked to be invited back. [Director] Sydney Pollack walked in after introducing and watching ‘Tootsie’ at the Culbreth [Theater], and said the appreciation he felt, both from the stage and in the audience, was a rare and wonderful experience for him,” Herskovitz said of two of the event’s headliners.

In remarks opening the festival, Herskowitz dedicated this year’s event to the late state Sen. Emily Couric, whom he described as a great friend of the arts. Couric, who died last month, had been a member of the festival’s advisory board.

Herskowitz credited her with its expansion to include more of the arts, including live music, the gala at the art museum and the addition of the Fringe Festival.

It would be impossible to cover the dozens of festival events, but Inside UVA writers attended two in an attempt to capture some of the festival’s flavor.

Film recalls how Titans integrated a town

Moving from Los Angeles to Alexandria a few years ago, screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard was struck by how well-integrated his new Virginia town was. Los Angeles, and D.C. for that matter, are very racially separated cities, Howard said. So he wondered how nearby Alexandria had become so cohesive.

Gergory A. Howard

“I started asking around and was told that a football team was responsible,” he told a Newcomb Hall Theater audience Saturday night, explaining the impetus for his project, “Remember the Titans,” now the second-highest-grossing sports film ever.

The movie is based on the true story of how two men coached a football team to a state championship in 1971, the first year of the newly created, integrated T.C. Williams High School. Former head coach Bill Yoast, who is white, was ousted from his position by the powers that be and replaced by a new, black football coach, Herman Boone. Neither Yoast nor Boone was happy about the predicament they found themselves in; however, both set aside their differences to unite the team — and their city.

Through their experience, the two men became friends, Howard said. And due to the success of the film, “they are booked through 2002 giving inspirational talks around the country.”

Howard said that converting a true story into a screenplay requires the ability to compress time and occasionally to create characters that are a composite of several real-life people. It’s important, however, to retain the essence of the story, he said. “The actual players and coaches felt that this film captured the spirit of the Titans.”

Despite his success, Howard likened sports stories in Hollywood to “the ghetto. The only reason they’re made is so klutzy actors who never played sports in high school can fulfill their dreams of being star athletes,” actor Will Smith being an exception. He looks and sounds like the heavyweight boxer he’s portraying in “Ali,” said Howard, who wrote the original screenplay for the film, due out Christmas day.

— Rebecca Arrington

Rowlands charms opening night audience

Matt Kelly
Gena Rowlands

Gena Rowlands said she is too close to her late husband’s films to be able to critically judge them.

“I just act them. I don’t explain them,” Rowlands said to laughter and applause when asked by a film critic to dissect the symbolism in a film’s ending.

Rowlands discussed the films she made with her husband, the late director John Cassavetes, at the festival’s Oct. 25 opening night. Three of these films — “Love Streams,” “Gloria” and “A Woman Under the Influence” — were screened at the festival.

Rowlands discussed Cassavetes’ work with festival director Richard Herskowitz and, later, with Cassavetes scholar Ray Carney, a Boston University film professor.

In remarks before the festival screening of “Gloria,” Carney said no couple has contributed more to filmmaking than Rowlands and Cassavetes. Rowlands’ 40-year career has encompassed stage, film and television, during which she has worked with the best acting and directing talent in the business.

“She is the first lady of American acting and the finest actress now working in film,” Carney said in introducing her to the audience.

Ironically, Rowlands said Cassavetes did not want to make “Gloria.” He wrote the film to sell to the studios to finance another film they were in middle of shooting. “He had no interest in it. It was not his kind of picture,” she said.

In the film, Rowlands protects, often violently, a 6-year-old boy whose family was killed by mobsters. Much of the film revolves around Gloria’s relationship with the boy, but it is complicated by her relationship with the mob boss, who had been her lover.

Rowlands recalled building the character up a little at a time, learning to walk properly and developing the necessary attitude. By design, she stayed aloof from John Adames, who played the 6-year-old boy. Adames was acting in his first, and only, movie, Rowlands explained, and she did not want to confuse him by being stern with him on-camera and friendly off-camera. Once the filming was done, Adames and his sister stayed with Rowlands and Cassavetes, and she was finally able to be nice to him.

While making the film was fun, Rowlands confessed it cost her half the hearing in one ear. In one scene, a pistol was fired next to her head. Vanity had led her not to wear the earplugs she was supposed to use, she admitted; her wince of pain can be seen in the film.

— Matt Kelly


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