- The Washington Times - Friday, October 30, 2009

Featuring an eclectic mix of new releases and classic features, the Virginia Film Festival is one of the longest-running and best-respected film festivals in the mid-Atlantic region.

Now entering its 22nd year, the Charlottesville-based festival boasts a new director and an evolving sensibility — as well as an impressive lineup of movies, special guests and intriguing events.

Jody Kielbasa, formerly of the Sarasota Film Festival, has come on board to replace longtime Artistic Director Richard Herskowitz. Mr. Herskowitz, who left for the University of Oregon after last year’s program, cultivated the festival’s reputation for attracting talented filmmakers and intelligent post-screening discussions between the creative community and its audience.

He also took great care in crafting idiosyncratic programs that tied into an overarching theme that entertained students, Charlottesville residents and cineastes from all over.

Mr. Kielbasa hopes to continue the tradition of interaction between filmmakers and guests while changing other aspects of the festival’s character.

“I want the filmmakers and artists to believe that they and their film will be treated with respect and that people will be interested to hear what they have to say about the film,” Mr. Kielbasa says. “There’s a certain amount of value in that, because people who are film stars or film celebrities don’t often have that opportunity to engage with the public, and this gives them that chance.”

The festival has a solid track record of attracting exciting filmmakers. For example, 2005 saw Harold Ramis swing by to discuss both his upcoming film, “The Ice Harvest,” and his classic comedy “Groundhog Day.” Other guests have included Oscar winners Anthony Hopkins, Nicolas Cage, Morgan Freeman and Robert Duvall.

This year is no different; those scheduled to appear include Matthew Broderick, who will be on hand for screenings and question-and-answer sessions for both his classic comedy “Election” and his new feature, “Wonderful World.”

Those two films neatly encapsulate the Virginia Film Festival ethos, mixing new and old, with a promise of healthy discussion afterward. Promising “a little bit of a different vision” that he’ll “unfold gently over time,” Mr. Kielbasa hints at changes in the festival’s characteristic mix.

“It would seem from looking at past programs that the ratio is 60-40 old versus new movies,” Mr. Kielbasa observes, intimating that the balance will skew more heavily toward new features and premieres in the years ahead. He also plans on freeing the festival from the restrictions that come with having a “theme” each year.

“I don’t know that, going forward, we’re going to have an above-the-masthead theme,” he says before quickly adding that there likely would be a smaller side program that would maintain the festival’s tradition of thematic unity.

This is not to say he’s discarding the festival’s traditions. He simply wants to change the focus, attracting more premieres than the festival historically has sought.

Fans of the festival need not worry. They’ll still be able to see a selection of classics, but perhaps through a different prism.

“When we screen a classic film, we also look at it through a contemporary lens, how it’s a work of art today,” Mr. Kielbasa says, pointing to screwball comedies as an example of something old with important implications for how we view movies today.

“Why don’t those movies work today?” he asks, noting that those films could be remade just as easily as any other but aren’t, and when they are, they tend to be unsuccessful. “Why does some of it relate and other parts don’t? Maybe it’s because of our loss of innocence in the world … that was kind of at the core of the screwball comedies. It’s that innocence that we no longer have in our culture.”

WHAT: Virginia Film Festival
WHERE: Scattered venues in Charlottesville
WHEN: Nov. 5 through 8; see festival Web site for full schedule
TICKETS: Phone or see Web site for prices, availability
PHONE: 434/924-3376
WEB SITE: www.vafilm.com/schedule.

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