‘In/Justice’ a festival blockbuster
By Jane Ford
Stars, premieres and a host of classic and documentary films contributed to the success of the 2005 Virginia Film Festival,, which ran from Oct. 27 to Oct. 30. The 18th annual event, themed IN/JUSTICE, drew 13,087 ticket holders, topping last year’s tally of 11,074 and the festival’s previous high attendance record of 12,764 in 1993. Thirteen of the screenings and events were sold out.
On opening day, the Darden Producers Forum featured alumnae Julie Lynn (College ’88 and Law ’92) and Kelly Thomas (Darden ’03) of Mockingbird Productions, who led a packed audience through the five stages of independent filmmaking. They used their recently completed film, “Nine Lives,” which received its regional premiere at the festival, as the case study. From concept to distribution, including the logistics of funding, attracting top actors, as well as production and distribution, they covered the legal and business issues involved in bringing an independent film to the big screen. The two shared their love for the problem-solving aspect of a very competitive business and stressed that no two films bring the same issues to the table. Thomas’ closing words of advice to film business aspirants were: “Do what you love.”
The festival ended on Sunday evening with the world premiere of “Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont,” starring Dame Joan Plowright and rising actor Rupert Friend. A family affair, the film was produced by alumnus Lee Caplin (Law ’72), and the screenplay was written by his mother, Ruth Sacks, who with her husband, alumnus Mortimer Caplin, are long-time champions of U.Va. arts and arts education.
After the screening, Sacks and her son talked with festival director Richard Herskowitz and film director Dan Ireland about the difficulties of obtaining rights for Sacks’ adaptation of English author Elizabeth Taylor’s story of an elderly widow and a young writer. Sacks wrote the screenplay in the late 1970s. She had never written anything professionally but tackled the project while suffering a great loss in her life. With only a how-to book on screenwriting and her passion for the printed word — an inveterate writer, she still uses snail mail exclusively — she wrote the adaptation, which then sat in a drawer for more than 20 years. Caplin shepherded the film during those years and was finally able to obtain the screen rights from Taylor’s family.
Caplin said it was a “particularly personal and gratifying opportunity for me and a chance to work with my mother in a way few mothers and sons get to do.” He added that both Plowright and Sacks were being touted for Academy Award nominations (for best actress and best screen adaptation respectively).
Although no Academy Award nominations were in the offing this year for the 11 teams of Virginia filmmakers who participated in the second annual Adrenaline Film Project, they did compete for talent recognition. Given a line of dialogue, a prop and a genre in which to work, each group produced a short film in 72 hours. The teams were helped through the process by filmmaker Jeff Wadlow and producer Beau Bauman, who recently released their feature “Cry Wolf.” Three Charlottesville High School students from Light House, a local independent media education center for teenagers interested in film, were awarded the Jury Prize for “Dead Ringer.” U.Va. students Rom Alejandro, Dustin Thompson and Eric Hurt took the Audience Award for their film “Sweet Dreams,” and a team of out-of-town filmmakers took the Adrenaline Mentor Award for “Small Loss.”
Independent film distributor Eric D’Arbeloff (College ’87) returned to U.Va. with “Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic,” an independent film that is part documentary, part stand-up comic routine. Silverman pushes the boundaries with her politically incorrect riffs on controversial topics of religion, race, sex and Sept. 11. D’Arbeloff, co-president of Roadside Attractions, LLC, participated in Sunday’s panel event, “The Jury’s In: The Unjust Marketplace for Indie Films,” where he shared ideas with panelists and independent filmmakers about finding the right market niche for independent films and his experiences gaining distribution for “Super Size Me,” “Walk on Water” and “Lavender Ladies.” He also was a member of the festival’s team that selected the Jury Award for one of six acclaimed films that were screened during the festival and have not won U.S. film or video distribution. Both the jury and audience awards, first time VFF offerings, were awarded to the same film, “The Definition of Insanity.” The Jury Award prize was $5,000, and the Audience Award prize was a special New York screening of the winning film at the Regal Battery Park theater.
McIntire Department of Art faculty member Kevin Everson premiered his experimental feature film “Cinnamon” — a glimpse at the world of African-American drag racing. The film, part scripted and acted and part documentary, is a further exploration of the conditions and gestures of African-American culture that permeates his work. Everson said he was interested in portraying how people approach their craft, their work, and, in his view, become artists. In the film, the viewer drops in on a snapshot of time — the action existed before the film starts and continues after it is over. The film’s soundtrack is a blend of location recorded sounds and music developed by Judith Shatin, professor of music and director of U.Va.’s Virginia Center for Computer Music. Shatin created the music by transforming the sounds of the cars in the computer.
Everson’s film screening was preceded by a short film by Bruce Johnson, a media specialist in the Robertson Media Center. “Ivy,” a four-minute piece, is an atmospheric play on memories and stories about his grandmother’s life in Ivy. In the editing process the film changed dramatically, into something more experimental than the original concept, he said.
McIntire Department of Art students addressed the in/justice theme with a week-long exhibit of “social art” in the Starlight Ballroom. Jessie Katz’s piece “Branded” was a critique on our lack of awareness of the source of most consumer products. Cows were depicted wearing recognizable designer label patterns — including the Nike swoosh, the Izod symbol and the Burberry plaid. Christine Hass questioned the price of world peace in her “Untitled” piece — an olive tree in a container with drops of what looked like blood on the soil below it.
“I think that including such a rich variety of U.Va. faculty and alumni films, and having the creators present, shows students a wide range of creative and career opportunities from experimental to documentary to mainstream filmmaking,” said festival director Richard Herskowitz. He added that the festival just received $15,000 from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Film Festival Grants program for 2006.