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Virginia Film Festival wrap

The capacity crowds suggested it. The enthusiasm around town supported it. And now the numbers prove it! The Virginia Film Festival, which wrapped up an extraordinary, jam-packed weekend featuring 132 films and events for the whole community to enjoy, has shattered its all-time records in both attendance and sales.

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

By the time the final credits rolled on its last film late Sunday evening, the festival had attracted more than 23,750 people and had earned more than $90,158 in ticket sales. Both figures represent a 25% increase over last year.

By way of comparison, last year’s festival drew more than 19,000 attendees to its screenings and events, and earned $71,442 in ticket revenue.

The sales figure tops the previous record of $72,138, set in 2006 - a year that featured a heavy dose of star power including Robert Duvall, Morgan Freeman and Liev Schreiber.

“I could not be more thrilled by the incredible success we enjoyed this weekend and by the extraordinary events and experiences we were able to share with the community,” said Virginia Film Festival Director Jody Kielbasa. “It is particularly gratifying to see the way people have embraced the new direction of the festival, which has allowed us and will continue to allow us to ensure that it remain contemporary and relevant. We are so grateful for the tremendous support we received throughout the festival, from the public as well as from our army of remarkable volunteers and our many dedicated sponsors, and from the University of Virginia and its College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.”

The success of the festival was obvious to festival attendees and all who ventured downtown and throughout Grounds this weekend, from the buzz around Culbreth Theatre for the opening night sneak preview of Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan to the sold-out Paramount screenings, which included a sneak preview of Guillermo del Toro’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark on Saturday night, and the festival’s closing night film, happythankyoumoreplease, which featured filmmaker and star Josh Radnor.

Yet as the numbers would suggest, the packed houses were hardly limited to the festival’s highest-profile events. There were 17 sellouts in all, including major features like Black Swan and 127 Hours, documentaries like The Parking Lot Movie, Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story, Make Believe and classics like Breathless.

This year Virginia Film Festival audiences did not only come out in record numbers, they gave their feedback on what they saw in balloting that will determine the winners of the 2010 VFF Audience Favorite Awards. Categories will include Best Narrative, Best Documentary and Best Short. Ballots are currently being tabulated and an announcement on the winners is expected later this week.

Once again this year, sales numbers only tell part of the story of the festival’s reach. “A core part of my vision for this festival is to extend its reach into every corner of our community. This year we did that in a variety of ways, and with unprecedented success,” Kielbasa said, “Our Family Day was a huge hit for the second straight year, as thousands filled the Paramount as well as enjoyed a series of outdoor performances, blue screen demonstrations, face painting and more, in addition to a special screening of Beauty and the Beast with Paige O’Hara and the award-winning documentary Louder Than a Bomb. In addition to that, we had as many as 700 high school and middle school students at the MLK Performing Arts Center for the powerful documentary Freedom Riders, which included a chance to hear from and interact with three of the original freedom riders themselves. And elementary and middle school kids from around Charlottesville had the chance to present their own work as filmmakers through the Young Filmmakers Academy at the Paramount and through the Journey Through Hallowed Ground presentation at the Regal.”

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

Some of the weekend’s other highlights included:

Opening Night
The buzz around Black Swan was felt all around town and on the internet, as multiple tickets were being offered on Craigslist in the days leading up to Thursday’s screening. And it certainly didn’t die down, as the film was a hot topic of discussion for gala attendees and other festival-goers all weekend long. The same could be said of Danny Boyle’s powerful 127 Hours, which followed Black Swan at Culbreth later that night to another sold-out house.

Freedom Riders
Friday morning’s student screening of Stanley Nelson’s powerful documentary featured a memorable Q and A session. The very first “question” came from a student who took the audience microphone and told Nelson, “I really don’t have a question, I just wanted to say thank you.” Later, original freedom rider Rev. Reginald Green led the entire audience in a song he remembered singing during his experience 50 years ago. Later that evening, Larry Sabato of the U.Va. Center for Politics led another discussion of the film for a sold-out Paramount crowd.

Peter Bogdanovich
One of the film world’s most a accomplished and multi-faceted artists, Bogdanovich regaled the audience at the screening of his classic Last Picture Show with tales from the set and from his storied life and career…even peppering his tales with impressions of his many legendary friends and colleagues through the years, including Marlon Brando, Alfred Hitchcock and others. He earned a long standing ovation in the process.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
Fans of filmmaker Guillermo del Toro began gathering outside the Paramount up to an hour prior to Saturday night’s sneak preview of his latest, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. The line ultimately wound its way halfway down the Downtown Mall. Judging from audience reaction, the film, which had not yet been seen by a full, public audience, seemed to achieve del Toro’s stated goal of terrifying the crowd.

I AM
Director Tom Shadyac’s new documentary screened to a packed house at Newcomb Hall Theater, and it was clear from the immediate standing ovation that followed the movie, the powerful discussion that followed and the many hugs, high fives and fist bumps doled out by Shadyac himself, that the film’s positive message and spirit were felt by all.

Vintage
The Virginia wine industry proved more than ready for its closeup when nearly 700 people streamed into the Paramount to see the film, which was preceded by a jam-packed reception at the Paramount that featured a number of the vintages highlighted.

Josh Radnor
Filmmaker and How I Met Your Mother star Josh Radnor’s happythankyoumoreplease closed the festival on a high note, with the crowd erupting in an applause that lasted through the entire credits and swelled again when Radnor took the stage and shared his experiences on and insights into the film as well as taking questions from the audience.

For more information on the Virginia Film Festival, visit www.virginiafilmfestival.org.

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Chatelin Bruno
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