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Natalie Portman in Black Swan

The 23rd Annual Virginia Film Festival kicks off tonight (the festival runs November 4 – 7) and will feature more than 100 films, including high-profile, first-run features, beloved classics and cutting-edge documentaries and engaging shorts. The weekend will also feature an array of high-profile guests, special events, parties and community events in a weekend designed to spotlight and illuminate cinema’s unique power to enlighten and entertain.

The Virginia Film Festival is presented by the University of Virginia’s College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.

The festival’s Opening Night film will be Black Swan, one of the most-highly anticipated releases of the year and a major hit at the Toronto and Venice film festivals. The psychological thriller from director Darren Aronofsky, stars Natalie Portman as a veteran dancer in a New York City ballet company who is threatened by the emergence of rival dancer, played by Mila Kunis. Also featured in the film are Barbra Hershey and Winona Ryder, among others. “We are so happy to give our audiences a sneak peek at one of the most-talked about and critically-acclaimed films on the major festival circuit this year.”

Joining the previously announced Academy Award®-nominated writer, director and actor Peter Bogdanovich on the festival’s 2010 guest roster will be:

Actor/filmmaker Josh Radnor (known to television audiences for his role as Ted in How I Met Your Mother), with his film happythankyoumoreplease, winner of the 2010 Audience Award at Sundance. >Actress Paige O’Hara, the iconic voice of Belle in the Disney classic Beauty and the Beast. O’Hara will perform songs from the film and present it at The Paramount Theater as part of the festival’s annual Family Day activities. Noted writer, director, producer, screenwriter and designer Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, the Hellboy franchise), who wrote and produced  Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was supposed to also be in attendance but cancelled  due to scheduling conflict. “This year marks a new era for the festival,” Festival Director Jody Kielbasa said, “as we leave behind the concept of a single, overarching theme in favor of a focus on presenting the very best of contemporary cinema, and presenting classic films through a more contemporary lens. My goal this year, as it is every year, is to create a dynamic and diverse experience for our audiences and for all in this community.”

The program, he said, represents that quest for diversity in a number of ways.

“As you look at our program this year, you will find some of the most acclaimed films on this year’s festival circuit, you will find classic films with distinctly modern implications, you will find an extraordinary collection of documentaries covering topics of local, regional, national and international interest, and you will find plenty of opportunities to celebrate what has been an outstanding year for Virginia films and filmmakers.”

Once again this year, Kielbasa said, Virginia Film Festival audiences will have the opportunity to hear from a slate of high-profile festival guests who will shed light on their films and the industry as a whole, including many whose talents extend beyond traditional industry titles and roles.

“In many ways, this is the era of the ‘hyphenate’ in the film world, with so many incredibly talented artists wearing every conceivable hat by working as writer/actor/director/producer and more. This year’s Festival Fellow, Peter Bogdanovich, has done this as well as anyone in Hollywood ever has, charting his own course, and in the process creating some of the most unforgettable stories and characters we have ever seen on screen.”

Bogdanovich will be appearing to present his award-winning Paper Moon at noon on Friday at Culbreth Theatre and present and participate in a Q and A around his career-defining classic The Last Picture Show with noted film critic David Edelstein on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Culbreth Theatre.

Few in Hollywood today exemplify that multi-threat talent like Guillermo del Toro. “Here is a guy who it seems is literally everywhere you turn in the entertainment industry today. He made one of the most fascinating and visually stunning films in recent memory in Pan’s Labyrinth. He is responsible for the very successful Hellboy series, he has recently signed on with Disney to create a series of family films, he just last month released the second in his series of vampire novels…the list of credits is mind-boggling and seems to be growing every day. We are honored that he will be joining us this year with Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.

Coming up in the next wave of  multi-talented, multitasking movie makers is actor/director/writer/producer Josh Radnor. Known to millions through his role as Ted on the award-winning CBS-TV comedy How I Met Your Mother, Radnor made big noise in the movie world earlier this year with his film happythankyoumoreplease, which captured the prestigious Audience Award at Sundance. It will serve as the Closing Night Film of the festival.

“This film was one of the most enjoyable of all the films I saw at Sundance this year,” Kielbasa said. “He took what has become a sort of predictable formula in Hollywood, focusing a film on a group of neurotic young New Yorkers, and in a sense turned it on its head by making the characters incredibly relatable and likeable. I think our audiences will also find him, as Sundance audiences clearly did, to be quite charismatic and engaging.”

Opening Night Film

Black Swan – the acclaimed new psychological thriller from noted director Darren Aronofsky – starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis.

Centerpiece Film

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark – featuring its writer and producer Guillermo del Toro and Executive Producer and U.Va. alumnus Mark Johnson.

Spotlight Films

The festival will present a series of some of the most talked-about films on this year’s festival circuit, including:

  • Leaves of Grass – starring Edward Norton and featuring Executive Producer and U.Va. graduate David Koplan, along with producer Bill Migliore.
  • Casino Jack – a cautionary and now all-too-familiar tale of a high-flying lobbyist’s fall from power, starring Academy Award-winner Kevin Spacey in a role inspired by Jack Abramoff.
  • I Love You Philip Morris – starring Jim Carrey as real-life criminal Steven Russell, a staid Virginia family man turned famously flamboyant prisoner who falls in love with his cellmate (Ewan McGregor) and engineers a series of audacious-but-unsuccessful escape attempts.
  • 127 Hours – The latest film from Academy Award®-winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) stars James Franco as mountain climber Aron Ralston, who, trapped by a falling boulder that had landed on his arm, made a fateful and famous choice to save his life.

Virginia Films: Ready for their Close-Up

This year’s festival will celebrate what has truly been a banner year for the Virginia film scene  in its Spotlight on Virginia Film, Kielbasa said. “Here in Charlottesville alone this year we’ve seen three films receive tremendous national acclaim. These include Meghan Eckman’s The Parking Lot Movie, which was shown at South by Southwest and is being featured in the PBS series Independent Lens; Chris Farina’s World Peace and Other Fourth Grade Achievements, which has itself made an impressive run on the festival circuit and has created a significant buzz in both the film and education worlds; and Thoroughbred, by Charlottesville’s own Academy Award-winning filmmaker Paul Wagner, which is a fascinating documentary about the big business of horse racing in Kentucky.”

In addition to these films, the festival will highlight Virginia filmmakers through collections of short films that will be presented on Saturday afternoon at Vinegar Hill. “Over the past year I have become quite familiar with the film scene in Virginia and with the work of many of its talented filmmakers. However, even I was surprised when our Call for Entries yielded so many fine films from the state, and I am happy to be able to share these films in this special showcase event.”

Vintage: A Toast to the Virginia Wine Scene

Another Virginia highlight on the festival program this year is Bill Reifenberger and Ben Clore’s documentary Vintag: The Winemarker’s Year.  Shot during 2008 at wineries throughout the state (with a special focus on Charlottesville-area wineries), the film chronicles that particular year’s vintage and shines a spotlight on the Virginia wine scene as a whole as it continues to gain popularity and acclaim around the country and world.

The screening will be presented at 6:00 p.m. at The Paramount Theater, and will be preceded by a special reception saluting Virginia wines and featuring a variety of area winemakers at 5:00 p.m. in the Paramount’s Founders Lounge. A special $20 ticket includes both the reception and the film.

“This film is another example of my desire to showcase and reflect the things that define our region and that matter greatly to people here and throughout Virginia,” Kielbasa said. “It’s a beautifully made film that serves not only as a sort of love letter to this growing industry and the people behind it, but also takes a compelling look at the industry in what is a critical time in its continued evolution.”

To help celebrate the movie as well as the industry, The Main Street Arena (formerly the Charlottesville Ice Park), will be hosting a tasting room that will highlight a variety of Virginia wines throughout the festival.

New Festival Headquarters

The Main Street Arena’s Tasting Room will be located adjacent to the new Festival Headquarters in the Main Street Arena. The Festival Headquarters, will include a complete box office that will supplement the festival’s Culbreth Theatre box office. “This is the first time we have had a full box office available downtown, which we think will be very convenient for our customers. They will now be able to come in, get comprehensive information on our films and events, and can go ahead and make their purchases right there onsite.”

Freedom Riders

Another highlight of this year’s festival will be Freedom Riders, the new documentary marking the 50th Anniversary of the more than 400 Americans who risked their lives, and in some cases endured savage beatings and imprisonment, for violating Jim Crow laws by traveling together on buses and trains through the deep South in 1961.

Freedom Riders, presented in association with the University of Virginia Center for Politics, will feature a panel of guests including award-winning documentarian Stanley Nelson (Jonestown: The Life and Death of People’s Temple) and several of the Freedom Riders themselves. It will be presented twice on Friday, November 5 – once at 10:00 a.m. for a group of as many as 1,000 local students at the MLK Performing Arts Center and once at 6:00 p.m. at Culbreth Theatre for the public. Each presentation will feature a panel moderated by noted political expert and Director of the U.Va. Center for Politics, Larry Sabato.

“We are thrilled to continue our partnership with the U.Va. Center for Politics,” Kielbasa said, “and to follow up on last year’s highly successful screening of Locked Out: The Fall of Massive Resistance with this outstanding and important documentary and to celebrate an anniversary that should forever serve as a reminder to every generation of what true bravery and honor are all about.”

Six from ‘60

Speaking of anniversaries, this year the festival marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most important years in the history of film with a special sidebar entitled Six from ‘60. “This was a  sea-change year for both American and international cinema,” said Virginia Film Festival Associate Programmer Wesley Harris. “We will be showing the newly-struck 35-mm print of Breathless, which is in the midst of a national tour this year for its 50th anniversary. It’s a film that shows the first ripples of a New Wave in filmmaking and we built this sidebar from there.”

Six from ‘60 films will include legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well; Billy Wilder’s The Apartment, featuring an iconic performance by Jack Lemmon; Robert Drew’s Primary, a cinema verite documentary on the 1960 primary race between John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey; Federico Fellini’s masterpiece La Dolce Vita (which gave the world the world to the term “paparazzi”) and Peeping Tom, British filmmaker Michael Powell’s haunting story of voyeuristic obsession.

The series, according to Kielbasa, also dovetails with the festival’s year-round programming presented at and in conjunction with The Paramount Theater. “This sidebar, like our year-round film series, is a chance for us to showcase our commitment to not just showing classic films, but placing them in an interesting cultural context that allows our audiences to get even more out of them were they presented in a vacuum.”

Sustainability Matters

Another key to Kielbasa’s approach, he said, is presenting a program that speaks to the interests and passions of the community the festival serves. “Sustainability and green living are topics that resonate deeply with the people in Charlottesville. It’s a community where people practice what they preach. We are happy to be partnering with an organization that is one of the true leaders in this local movement, the U.Va. Food Collaborative, who will be joining us to lead discussions on the topic.

The films presented as part of Sustainability Matters will include:

  • On Coal River – the inspiring story of four fearless activists who transform themselves from victims to experts on mine safety reform, putting a human face on the often terrible costs of coal and strip-mining. Filmmaker Adams Wood will be on hand along with some of the townspeople featured in the film, to discuss the film and the increasingly important and relevant issue.
  • Sweetgrass –the highly acclaimed story of a group of Montana cowboys taking a herd of some 3,000 sheep into a million-acre mountain range for the very last time captures the beautiful and essential truths about the relationship between man and animal, and the relationship of both to the larger natural world.  Filmmaker Ilisa Barbash will also be on hand.

Other films presented in the sidebar will be  Burning in the Sun, which follows a young man of West African and European descent back to his homeland of Mali to start a business building solar panels;  Queen of the Sun, an award-winning documentary that traces  how man’s relationship with bees has been harmed by highly mechanized industrial practices and uses the global honeybee crisis as a catalyst for change; and Alamar, an enchanted semi-documentary about a young boy’s journey of a lifetime with his Mexican father to the largest coral reef in Mexico.

Tom Shadyac:  I Am

The brilliant comic mind behind such box office bonanzas as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Bruce Almighty returns to the festival with a film aimed at understanding what true happiness means. Shadyac suffered serious injuries in a mountain bike crash, including broken bones and a severe concussion that left him dealing with significant depression issues. After countless and varied efforts to battle it, the depression lifted some eight months after the crash, causing Shadyac to ponder his own life and, specifically, the great disparity between his material possessions and general unhappiness. His quest for answers leads him to experts in spirituality, academic leaders, everyday people and some of his high-profile Hollywood colleagues.

A World of Inspiration – Foreign Films

This year’s Virginia Film Festival will feature a selection of some of today’s most acclaimed international films, including the 2010 Palme d’Or winner at Cannes, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall his Past Lives, from Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. “We are proud to be showing a number of films that are creating great deal of buzz for the upcoming awards season. Showcasing the best in international film is a big part of what we do and who we are as a festival and I feel like we have a very strong lineup this year.” Highlights include:

  • From Brazil – Only When I Dance – the inspiring story of the artistic journey of two teens from Rio’s most notorious slums to New York, Switzerland and beyond as they use dance as an escape route from a life of poverty.
  • From Czechoslavakia – Kawasaki’s Rose – Academy Award-winning Czech director Jan Hrebejk’s film about a scientist on the brink of  being honored for his extraordinary work, only to have his secret past as a government informant exposed.
  • From Denmark – Applause – featuring award-winning film and stage actress Paprika Steen as a recovering alcoholic actress emerging from rehab to confront the choices she made, the family she left behind and the uncertain future ahead.
  • From France – White Material, Claire Denis’ account of French colonials running a coffee plantation in an unnamed African country.
  • From Germany – Everyone Else – In this new film by director Maren Ade, A young couple finds their relationship tested when they bond with another couple during a Mediterranean holiday, exposing hidden fears, desires and tensions.
  • Also from Germany – Keep Surfing – A kinetic and fast-paced documentary, ten years in the making, that profiles six surfers in Munich, the river surfing capital of the world.
  • From Hong Kong – Hot Summer Days – A romantic comedy set in Hong Kong’s hottest summers featuring seven stories that magically intertwine, providing a variety of angles on the true meaning of love.
  • From Poland – All That I Love – A coming of age drama set in 1981 about a young Polish punk rocker whose band’s controversial lyrics put its members’ families in danger during a Communist crackdown in that country.

Small Screen: Big Impact – Breaking Bad

The festival will follow up last year’s highly successful event featuring True Blood and its creator Alan Ball by spotlighting one of the most critically acclaimed television shows in recent memory, AMC’s Breaking Bad. The show’s creator Vince Gilligan will come to Culbreth Theatre on Sunday at 11:00 a.m. to present live commentary on an episode and take questions from audience members. “The quality of television programming over the last several years has in many ways altered the entertainment landscape and blurred the traditional lines between the mediums of TV and film,” Kielbasa said. “Last year at our True Blood panel, Alan Ball declared that Breaking Bad was ‘TV at its finest.’ It’s an honor to welcome Vince Gilligan and to give our audiences a rare behind-the-scenes look at one of the most talked-about shows of our time.”

Family Day Returns

After attracting more than 3,500 people to its day-long series of family-friendly events in and around the Paramount Theater and on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall, the festival is celebrating the return of Family Day with another outstanding lineup of FREE programs and events for all ages.

Highlights will include:

  • Beauty and the Beast – A rare chance to see the all-time Disney classic on the big screen, complete with a visit from its biggest star – Paige O’Hara, the voice of Belle. The first animated film to ever be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, Beauty and the Beast has recently been released as the second installment in Disney’s Diamond Collection, the Blu-ray transformation reveals the magic, music and majesty of the film as it has never been experienced before.
  • Louder Than a Bomb – A powerful and inspirational story of four inner-city Chicago high school teams preparing for the world’s largest youth poetry slam and their ability to use words and art to connect with each other, themselves and the sometimes challenging world in which they live.

Meanwhile, on the mall, kids will once again be treated to their own “Red Carpet Walk “ (complete with clamoring paparazzi); green screen technology that puts kids in the middle of the action; debuts of films by members of the Young Filmmakers Academy, Journey Through Hallowed Ground and Light House Studio; free admission from 1-3 p.m. with VFF ticket stub at the Virginia Discovery Museum; healthy snack tastings from Whole Foods and Relay Foods; Bounce-n-Play inflatable; live music and entertainment throughout the day on the Family Festival stage on the Downtown Mall, and much more.

The 2010 Virginia Film Festival Family Day is presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS).

Another Shot of “Adrenaline”

A longtime festival favorite, the Adrenaline Film Project returns for another year of highly-caffeinated filmmaking fun. Led by director Jeff Wadlow and assisted by a team of mentors from throughout the industry, a collection of 10-12 teams will go through the entire filmmaking process at hyper-speed – pitching, writing, shooting, editing and presenting their films in only 72 hours, and topping off the experience with a Saturday night screening that is one of the most highly-anticipated events of the festival every year.

Digital Media Gallery

Following up on the success of last year’s gallery, the festival will once again celebrate student and community film and video in this state-of-the-art gallery setting located on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall. Curated by U.Va. professor and award-winning filmmaker Kevin Everson along with Greg Kelly and James Ford from The Bridge Progressive Art Institute, this collection of experimental films will include the work of a variety of local artists, who will be on hand to discuss their work and unique inspiration. The Digital Media Gallery will be located at 101 East Main Street, on the corner of 1st and Main  Streets on the Downtown Mall.

Parties and Events

Once again this year, the festival is offering plenty of opportunities for everyone to share in celebrating throughout the weekend.

  • The Opening Night Gala – Thursday, November 4. Alumni Hall, U.Va. – 9:00 p.m.

This year’s festival kickoff celebration, which will follow the opening night screening of Black Swan, will include beverages, light buffet refreshments and live musical entertainment, and plenty of chances to mingle with friends and festival guests.  Tickets for the Opening Night Gala are $75 per person.

  • Green Fairy Party – Friday, November 5. The Southern – 10:00 p.m.

This follow-up to last year’s “Dirty Pink Polyester” party celebrating John Waters is destined to be one of the area’s best dance parties of the year. Tickets are $5.00 (21 and over only) and will be available at the door.

  • Late Night Wrap Party – Saturday, November 6. Main Street Arena – 10 p.m.

The Late Night Wrap Party on Saturday evening will be held at the Main Street Arena starting at 10 p.m. and will once again be open to the public. It’s a great chance to celebrate the weekend with the people who made it happen. Tickets for the Late Night Wrap Party are $45.

Additional premieres and special guests will be announced in the weeks between now and the Festival.

For a full schedule and complete information regarding the Virginia Film Festival, visit www.virginiafilmfestival.org. Press images are also available at www.flickr.com/photos/virgniafilmfestival/.  Tickets will go on sale Friday, October 8 via that website, at the U.Va. Arts Box Office (at Culbreth Theatre) and via phone at 434-924-3376.

source: VFF

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