If you’re wondering why I haven’t been posting as often as usual, it’s because I’ve been traveling and busily occupied. First, I was a juror at the Savannah Film Festival, in one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited. Then my wife and I flew to another historic location, Charlottesville, Virginia, for the Virginia Film Festival. Both events have built solid track records, and now I know why.
The Savannah festival is sponsored by SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design), one of the largest arts institutions in the country. They are fortunate to have access to two magnificent theaters: the former Weis, now named for SCAD, and the Lucas, built as a vaudeville house in 1921. They are just around the corner from each other and a block from the hotel that serves as festival headquarters, the historic Marshall House. The friendly, welcoming atmosphere (plus Leopold’s Ice Cream) made my six days in Savannah especially agreeable. Daytimes were taken up with jury screenings; when we could Alice and I took in some of the high-profile evening presentations: the wonderful Brooklyn, followed by a discussion with its star, Saoirse Ronan, the enjoyable Tab Hunter Confidential, with its subject on stage afterwards with his longtime partner, producer Allan Glaser, and the entertaining new feature Miss You Already, accompanied by a lively discussion with its director, the talented Catherine Hardwicke.
My fellow jurors were June Dowad, who represents “below the line” film professionals at Sandra Marsh & Associates, Jody Gottlieb, director of development for Vulcan Productions, and Diane Connors, vice president of special events for Walt Disney Pictures. We got on well and, after watching ten feature films, easily agreed that the first dramatic feature we saw (Tumbledown) was the best, and the last documentary (Becoming Bulletproof) was the clear winner in its field. You’ll have a chance to see both of them in the near future and they are definitely worth your time. Rebecca Hall and Jason Sudeikis star in Tumbledown, a notable directing debut for Sean Mewshaw, based on a screenplay by his wife, Desiree Van Til. Michael Barnett’s Becoming Bulletproof has been on the festival circuit and has generated a lot of well-deserved acclaim; it had us all in tears by the end. Getting to meet its primary subject, A.J. Murray, was especially moving.
Less than two weeks later, we were on another plane heading east for the Virginia Film Festival, which is staged by the University of Virginia in a variety of venues, including a magnificently restored Paramount Theatre in the heart of town. We arrived just in time to take in Ithaca, Meg Ryan’s impressive debut film as director. It’s a remake of William Saroyan’s The Human Comedy, featuring Alex Neustaedter in the role Mickey Rooney played so well in 1943. He’s surrounded by solid actors like Sam Shepard, Hamish Linklater, Ryan herself and her son Jack Quaid, as well as one of the film’s executive producers, Tom Hanks. It’s a deeply-felt piece of Americana that does a fine job evoking its era, thanks in part to location filming not far from Charlottesville.
I was asked to invite some filmmakers I admired for q&a sessions and was lucky to get the prolific and spirited animator Bill Plympton, who screened his latest feature, Cheatin’ (and led a workshop for aspiring animators) and Maggie Greenwald, who brought her 35mm print of the wonderful (and underappreciated) movie Songcatcher (2000). I was also pleased to introduce two beautiful 35mm prints from the Library of Congress collection, housed in Culpeper, Virginia. I, in turn, was introduced by Greg Lukow, Chief of the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center. I chose one bona fide classic, The Maltese Falcon (1941), and one sleeper, the pre-Code gem Employees Entrance (1933). Both of them were well attended and played like gangbusters. I hadn’t seen the Falcon on a big screen in years and had a great time watching it again. Employees Entrance has all the snap and spark we associate with Warner Bros. pictures of that era, with the period’s emblematic leading man, Warren William.
While in town, I was drafted to serve as a mentor and juror for the festival’s Adrenaline Project, in which high school and college students have 72 hours to produce a five-minute short in a genre that’s chosen by lottery. I was greatly impressed with what I saw, in both rough and finished form, and don’t know how these kids put together a project so quickly. Kudos to all of them.
Our stay in Virginia was all too brief but rewarding. We got a tour of the Library of Congress’ Packard Campus in Culpeper on our way home, capping off a great weekend. If you have an opportunity to attend either of the festivals I’ve described next year, I encourage you to do so.