Virginia Film Festival to Spotlight “In/Justice”
Inherit the Wind. To Kill a Mockingbird. Dirty Harry. The big screen has long been a place to dramatize battles in the sometimes-murky moral world of the legal and criminal justice system. The 18th annual Virginia Film Festival, “In/Justice,” exploits these possibilities with a wave of contemporary and classic films Oct. 27-30 at several Charlottesville venues. Special guests include author and former lawyer John Grisham, “Groundhog Day” writer-director Harold Ramis, and actresses Sissy Spacek and Kathy Baker. Two films produced by alumni, “Nine Lives” and “Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont,” will also have local premieres at the festival, which is sponsored by the University of Virginia's College of Arts & Sciences.
Each year the festival tackles a particular theme or subject, with previous years highlighting traditional cinematic categories, like film noir, and more thematic topics, like “Water” or “Money.” The current political and judicial climate played a key role in the selection of this year’s theme, according to festival director Richard Herskowitz.
“Virginia Film Festival themes have a way of reflecting their times, and this has certainly been a year in which justice and injustice have been on people’s minds,” he wrote in the introduction to the Festival’s official program guide. “It occurred to me that so many movies about law and the courts are critical of the legal system; the injustice that films dramatize is usually miscarried. One could argue that movies offer a form of restorative justice to heal feelings of injustice that linger and resonate in the larger community after unjust trials, persecutions of the powerless, or failed prosecutions of the powerful.”
This year’s festival officially opens Thursday night, with a gala reception at the U.Va. Art Museum, where guests can mingle with many of this year’s featured directors, actors, and producers. From there, the screenings commence throughout Charlottesville at numerous locations, including Culbreth Theater, the Paramount Theater, Regal Downtown # 4 and Vinegar Hill Theater.
Highlights of this year’s program include classic films both fictional and inspired by real-life events. Director Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 film, “The Wrong Man” is a masterful tale of suspense and mistaken identity involving Henry Fonda as a musician arrested and imprisoned for a robbery he didn’t commit. “Anatomy of a Murder,” the 1959 film by Otto Preminger, depicts one of the earliest cinematic prototypes for the courtroom drama. Also screening is “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962), whose protagonist is the noble lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck)—perhaps the most famous lawyer in recent American fiction.
Two alumni are making their mark as producers at the festival. Lee Caplin ’72 co-produced “Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont,” which stars Joan Plowright and will premiere on Sunday at 7 p.m. in Culbreth Theater. Caplin is a featured guest. The Darden Producer’s Forum features “Nine Lives” producer Julie Lynn ’92, a co-founder of Mockingbird Productions. Lynn will speak at the Forum Thursday at 1:30 p.m. in Darden’s CCA Amphitheater (Room 50). “Nine Lives” shows at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Paramount. The film stars Glenn Close, Sissy Spacek, Robin Wright Penn, Holly Hunter, Joe Mantegna, Amy Brenneman, Aidan Quinn, and Dakota Fanning.
The festival will also screen several documentaries dealing with contemporary issues of law and justice. “Same Sex America,” which recently aired on cable television, details the lives of same-sex couples in the wake of the conflict over the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling allowing same-sex marriage. “The Innocent” (2005) follows former death-row inmates who were exonerated for wrongful imprisonment years after their sentences. A panel discussion with a former death-row inmate and capital defense attorneys follows the screening.
“The preponderance of documentaries this year reflects, I think, the renaissance in documentary filmmaking that has carried so many into theaters of late,” wrote Herskowitz. “Independent documentaries are hot, and I think it’s because many are providing illuminating alternatives to the mainstream media glaze.”
In addition to the various films being screened and premiered, the four-day festival also offers free panels and forums on diverse topics of cinema and media justice, including “The Struggle for Media Justice” and “Fair Use and Free Speech: Who Owns Our Story?”
Popular novelist John Grisham will appear at the festival Friday night to host a conversation on his experiences adapting his novels to the big screen. “The Rainmaker,” the 1997 adaptation of the Grisham novel directed by Francis Ford Coppola, will screen on Sunday.
Schedules and ticket information are available at the festival Web site, www.vafilm.com.
• Reported by Zak M. Salih