VFF Preview and News about American Messiah Chizfilm Movie Reviews
October 24, 2007

Preview of the Virginia Film Festival and Good News about “American Messiah”

by Jonathan Chisdes

For the past several months, I was pleased and honored to work for the Virginia Film Festival as a writer. I was invited to be part of a team which viewed movies and wrote descriptions of them for the festival’s program and website. As such, I am in a unique position to tell about the upcoming festival which begins November 1 and ends November 4. Each year, the VFF has a different theme, and this year it is “Kin Flicks” which means that the vast majority of films deal, in some way, with issues relating to family.

Nearly 60 films will be shown, and I wrote blurbs for 10 of them. I can tell you that some are just really amazing. I guess the one that I loved the most was “Moving Midway,” a documentary by Godfrey Cheshire about a Southern ante-bellum plantation which is literally uprooted and moved several miles away to protect it from the encroaching sprawl of Raleigh, North Carolina. The project prompts the owners to explore the historical, social, and cultural implications of the ante-bellum plantation and discover a whole new branch of the family they never knew existed: the African-American branch. The film also examines the myth versus the reality of the pre-Civil War plantation experience including a look at culture-shaping films like “Birth of a Nation,” “Gone with the Wind,” and “Roots.”

Another film which blew me away was Alan Berliner’s “Wide Awake.” For those not familiar with Berliner, he is a very unique documentary filmmaker whose films are quirky, personal, humorous, make excellent use of “found footage” which is expertly edited together, and, above all, original. “Wide Awake” is his most recent feature; it chronicles his life-long battle with insomnia. It follows Berliner through groggy mornings, energetic nights, and his struggles to turn off his overactive mind so he can go to sleep at 3, 4, 5 o’clock in the morning. After his son is born, he visits a sleep clinic and consults a number of experts in an attempt to change himself into a “morning person.”

Two other Berliner films, “Family Album,” which paints a portrait of the American family though anonymous home movies he collected, and “Nobody’s Business,” in which he attempts to interview his cranky and resistant father, will also be shown at the festival; Berliner himself will be in attendance. Some joker at the festival, I don’t know who, scheduled one of those screenings for 10am. I’m not sure if he was trying to be funny, ironic, or just plain mean. (Even if you’re not interested in that particular film, it might be worth the price of admission just to watch Alan struggle with a Q&A at ten o’clock in the morning. Sorry, Alan. I sympathize; I really do. I’m a night owl myself.)

Another movie I’m really looking forward to seeing is “The Killer Within.” (In all honesty, I’m forced to admit I wasn’t able to actually see this movie because the festival had not yet gotten a print before my deadline. So instead I researched press materials and lots of other reviews to give me enough information to write a blurb.) This is a documentary about a man who had planned a Virginia Tech-style killing spree at Swarthmore College in 1955, but after killing only one person, he stopped and turned himself in. A half-century later, after serving his time, he’s become an upstanding member of his community and beloved father to two girls. When he reveals his secret to his family and community, family loyalty is tested, a judicial system which was far more lenient 50 years ago is examined, and important issues about the old case resurface.

And there are so many other movies playing which I am excited about. The great John Turturro will attend a screening of his new movie “Romance and Cigarettes,” and John Sayles will introduce his new film “Honeydripper.” Charles Burnett will screen his movies “Killer of Sheep” and “My Brother’s Wedding” which deal with important issues of the working-class African-American community. Jane Gillooly will present her film “Leona’s Sister Gerri” about the real-life person behind the famous iconic image of a dead woman on a hotel floor, victim of a botched illegal abortion, which has become a symbol of the pro-choice movement. The festival will also screen Sidney Lumet’s newest movie, “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” staring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, and Marisa Tomei; it’s about two brothers’ failed attempt to knock over their parents’ jewelry store. I understand it recently got rave reviews at the New York Film Festival.

There will also be plenty of retro films which deal with themes of family, such as “Rebel without a Cause,” “Dirty Dancing,” “Rocco and His Brothers,” “Slums of Beverly Hills,” and “Mommie Dearest.”

The above does not even pretend to be a full representation of all the movies playing. Just a little taste to whet your appetite and encourage you, if you have not already made plans, to come to my hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia for the first four days of November. For detailed information, check out the festival’s website:


With at least three, sometimes as much as five, movies playing at any given moment, the question is not which film is worth seeing, because they all are. (Well, okay, almost all. I’m a critic so there’s got to be at least one or two out of 60 I don’t want to waste my time on.) But rather the issue is to figure out which one is MORE worth seeing. There are some really tough decisions to make, but it’s a good dilemma to have.

If you come, make sure to look for me and say “hi.” If you can’t make it, make sure to look for my review, some time after the 4th of November.

And now I’d like to close with a note about my favorite movie from last year’s Virginia Film Festival, “The Proper Care a Feeding of an American Messiah.” A number of readers have been asking how they can get a hold of this wonderful little independent film which I have raved about.

Some of you may recall that last February I wrote a great review of it after it had been made available through CustomFlix. You can check out my original review here:


Now, I’m pleased to report that the film has been picked up by Reel Indies, a respected distributor of DVDs. It is making the film available in retail stores and also through internet sites such as DVD Empire and Amazon, as well as others. Last time I checked those websites, they had really good prices for this excellent film. Remember, the holiday season is coming up and this wonderful comedy would make a perfect gift for anyone who is into independent film, comedy, satire, or religion.

And no, just in case you are wondering, I’m not being paid to say that. I really do believe in this little-film-that-could and it warms my heart to see it succeed.

Now if only all the marvelous little films that have so far only shown at festivals could get the same amount of attention, what a wonderful would this would be.

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