Offerings from the 29th Virginia Film Festival

Nov 1, 2016

The 29th annual Virginia Film Festival starts this Thursday. More than 120 films will be screened over four days, in seven different locations around Charlottesville. WMRA’s Emily Richardson-Lorente has a preview.

MUSIC from Jackie
(singing) “Think back on all the tales that you remember … of Camelot …”

Every year the Virginia Film Festival gets bigger and better and harder to preview. And it seems like every few days, the festival staff announces yet another new event on their website.

There are the big films, which we’ll all be able to see in the multiplex soon enough — like Jackie, La La Land and Loving. That last one is based on the true story of Richard & Mildred Loving from Central Point, Virginia. They were arrested here in 1958 for violating a law against interracial marriages, and ended up taking their case all the way to the highest court in the land.

CLIP from Loving
LAWYER: Is there anything you’d like me to say to the Supreme Court justices of the United States?
RICHARD LOVING: Yeah. Tell the judge I love my wife.

That little hitch in his voice gets me every time. Loving will be out in theaters on November 4th, but it’s showing at the Film Festival on the 3rd. Of course, what makes seeing big films like this at the festival so special is that the screenings often include conversations with some famous folks after the film. After Loving, for instance, there’ll be a discussion with the film’s director Jeff Nichols, and with actor Ruth Negga who played Mrs. Loving. That’s a treat you won’t find at the multiplex.

CLIP from The Promise
JUROR: We the jury find the defendant guilty of first degree murder.

Another film with local interest is The Promise. This is the story of Elizabeth Haysom and Jens Soering, two UVA students who fell in love and later went to prison for murdering Elizabeth’s parents in Bedford County, Virginia. If you enjoyed the Serial podcast or Making a Murderer on Netflix, you may love this one.

CLIP from The Promise
LARRY KING: Is Elizabeth Haysom a beautiful and intelligent murderer, or the victim of an obsessive relationship with a cold-blooded killer?

There’s so many other films listed in the program guide … documentaries, comedies, dramas, foreign films. The guide itself is 95 pages long. But the best film title has got to go to this one: it’s a stand-up-slash-sketch comedy film that lampoons Asian stereotypes. It’s called Happy Lucky Golden Tofu Panda Dragon Good Time Fun Fun Show.

CLIP from Happy Lucky Golden Tofu …
COMEDIAN: Asians are racist against other kinds of Asians. Chinese don’t want to be called Japanese. Japanese don’t want to be called Korean. Nobody wants to be called Filipino except for Mexicans trying to get their drivers licenses. It’s a very, complex cultural landscape. (laughter)

Each year, the Film Festival chooses a special topical focus for a handful of its films. This year, it’s LGBTQ films, 5 all together, including Before the Fall.

CLIP from Before the Fall
FRIEND: This is my friend Lee Darcy. Lee works at East Gate. Lee, this is Ben Bennett. Ben’s on the board of the Nature Foundation.

This is sort of a re-imagining of Pride and Prejudice, if it took place today in rural Virginia and if the two main characters were both men.

CLIP from Before the Fall
MAN: I just can’t stop thinking about it.
LEE: Stop it! I’m not like that. I’m not like you!

Now, I know you can’t see the trailer, but trust me: there’s a lot of prolonged eye contact. It actually looks pretty great. The majority of films are new, but there are a few classics. The oldest is one of the 8 films in the Jewish & Israeli Film series. It’s called The Yellow Ticket and it’s from 1918. Here’s a clip.

CLIP from The Yellow Ticket
(silence)

Yeah — did I mention it’s a silent film? Actually — this is cool — a group of klezmer musicians will be providing live musical accompaniment during the screening. Which I think is how they did it before Netflix, right?

(musical flourish)

It’s been 25 years since Beauty and the Beast first came out, so the festival will be screening a “work-in-progress” version of the film — storyboards and all.

CLIP from Beauty and the Beast
(singing) There’s something sweet and almost kind, but he was mean and he was course and unrefined.

That’s the voice of Paige O’Hara, who’ll actually be in town for the screening, and will speak after the show with Disney Producer Don Hahn, and UVA Professor Carmenita Higgenbotham. I mention Carmenita Higgenbotham not just because she’s our resident expert on Disney, which is kind of cool, but also because her name sounds like a Disney character, doesn’t it?

(musical flourish)

The draw of the Virginia Film Festival is not just the films. This year, Richmond, Virginia-born Shirley MacLaine will be headlining.Other special guests include Norwegian actress & director Liv Ullman, German director Werner Herzog, and crowd favorite Danny McBride.

CLIP from Pineapple Express
RED: This is my cat’s birthday today.
DALE: I don’t see a cat in here, I’m sorry.
RED: No, because he died 3 months ago, so now who’s the funny guy?
DALE: Sorry.

Of course, in addition to all of the guests and feature length films, there are loads of short films, the Adrenaline Film Project, family day, creative workshops, a digital media lab, even a screening of Disney shorts for kids with autism and other sensory issues … all of which you can read about on the festival website, which is probably being updated as I speak.

CLIP from Beauty and the Beast
(singing) … a few days more, there may be something there that wasn’t there before …

You know perhaps there is something there that wasn’t there before …