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Ten films not to miss at the 2011 Virginia Film Festival

Virgina Film Festival 2011

“These Amazing Shadows”

The Virginia Film Festival returns for its 24th year this coming weekend, November 3-6 in Charlottesville, presented by the University of Virginia. The 2011 edition is a celebration of modern expression through contemporary filmmaking while revering cherished classics from the past. While no less thematic than before, the 2011 festival is free from any thematic programming confines and is strengthened because of it.

Last year 23,750 people attended the fest, elevating attendance and receipts by at least 25%, achieving an all-time record. Additionally, because it is not a film market, where movies are bought and sold at a competitive, fevered pitch, the atmosphere is totally relaxed and films are put forth to be savored. The only drawback: the festival screens over 100 films in 4 days and it’s impossible to see everything on one’s list.

Every film festival delivers a mix of icons and stars on the rise, and the 2011 Virginia Film Festival boasts Oliver Stone, Rodrigo Garcia, Sissy Spacek, Jack Fisk, Rachael Harris and Mia Wasikowska. What is surprising, for a smaller festival like this, is the amount of key players that will be in attendance for discussions following their films. At my count, at least 36 post-film discussions will occur. Given the festival comes to you via the University of Virginia, engaging films that entertain and edify are prevalent.

One of the especially interesting things this year (and the pride of Festival Director Jody Kielbasa) is a one-of-a-kind program series that illuminates the role of the Library of Congress and its National Film Registry. Each year 25 “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films” are selected for inclusion in the registry to mark their diverse contribution and establish their place in our nation’s film heritage, and they are kept in the archives to protect them from degradation. Some of those films will then be chosen by the Library of Congress for full restoration in their state-of-the-art preservation facilities in Culpeper.

The series presented at this year’s festival will showcase five films going back as far as 1926. The featured films are “Badlands” (1973), with star Sissy Spacek and her husband, Production Designer Jack Fisk, on hand to speak about the film; “The General (1926), a silent film showcasing the talents of Buster Keaton, with live musical accompaniment; National Velvet (1944) featured screening of VFF Family Day; “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” (1971) and John Huston’s, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, for which he won 2 Oscars (writing and directing) and will screen in all its restored and preserved 35mm print glory. These five films were selected by Ben Mankiewicz, historian and host of Turner Classic Movies, who will present these pictures.

10 Films Not to Miss at the 2011 Virginia Film Festival

This year’s festival has programmed a slate of films boasting a dynamic and broad palette. It will indeed be difficult to choose. In making my selections I have chosen films that I believe will be standouts or too good to miss for reasons that strike a chord with me.

There are films in the festival that have gotten rave reviews at the BIG festivals, such as the Opening Night Film, “The Descendants starring George Clooney and directed by the great Alexander Payne (of “Election” and “Sideways” fame), or The Artist”, a silent film about the end of silent film that I might not see now or include here because they will be released in November and I can see them then. “Albert Nobbs” starring Glenn Close and Mia Wasikowska and Martha Marcy May Marlene starring Elizabeth Olsen (little sister to Mary Kate and Ashley) are also on that list.

Without further ado, Kielbasa wrote, “If you want to know why I love film and why I believe it can change your life, then go see ‘These Amazing Shadows.’” It’s a documentary about the National Film Registry and film’s role in our culture. Afterwards, there will be a discussion with a representative from the Library of Congress. It screens Thursday November 3rd at 7:45 p.m. at Regal 3 on the downtown mall.

On Friday, “Restoration,” about an antique restorer who takes in an apprentice, who subsequently falls in love with his son’s pregnant wife, looks rich and complex and screens at 2:30 p.m. at Regal 4. It’s been nominated for 11 Israeli Academy Awards. However, Oliver Stone will be speaking following the 20th Anniversary screening of his controversial “JFK (1991), which took home two Academy Awards and was nominated another six times. According to IMDB, Stone considers this film to be his “The Godfather.” It will show at The Culbreth Theatre on the UVA campus at 3 p.m. At noon, in Regal 4 downtown, a film I co-wrote and had a leading role in last year will screen as part of the Narrative Shorts Program, so I’m partial to that.

Saturday is Family Day with all kinds of free screenings and activities worth investigation if you have kids. I’m intrigued by “The Monk,” a supernatural thriller set in a Capuchin Monastery in Madrid, about a monk who believes his virtue is incorruptible until temptation gets the better of him and causes his undoing. It will screen Saturday morning at 11:15 at the Regal 4 downtown. Saturday evening at 7:30, also at Regal 4, “We Need To Talk About Kevin” stars Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly. The film follows Swinton’s character, a mother compelled to analyze her and her ex-husband’s role in whatever led to their son’s killing spree at school.

On Sunday, I like the idea of ending with a comedy. “Let Go,” from Brian Jett, a first-time writer/director, is an ensemble piece featuring colorful characters under the watchful eye of a “melancholy parole officer.” The director will be here to discuss the film after the screening. It is always a treat to hear from the person who birthed the film from the first word on the page to the end credits.

It’s your film festival folks; enjoy the ride!

Full 2011 VFF schedule available at

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