In case you haven’t noticed, it’s film festival season, which means it’s time to spend hours in front of a big screen for the sake of seeing movies that would never otherwise come to River City.
This week’s offering is the premiere local festival, the James River Film Festival. It’s showing at multiple locations around town, but I’ll warn you now: if you’re going to the Byrd Theater, you’d be wise to bring a cushion so you have some feeling left in your backside after the movie. But films will also be shown at the Grace Street Theater and the Visual Arts Center, so you have options.
Ex-hippies as well as younger hippie wannabes can’t miss “Magic Trip: Ken Kesey’s Search for a Kool Place” will screen Thursday at the Grace Street Theater at 7:00. In 1964, author Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters boarded a psychedelic painted bus in California and drove to New York and the World’s Fair fueled on acid and the groovy vibes of the era. There they met the practitioners of the Beat Movement (meaning Ginsberg and Kerouac because Cassady had driven the bus), and later, the acid king, Timothy Leary, the new spokesman for the counterculture.
Forty years later the Kesey family gave filmmakers Alison Ellwood and Alex Gibney over 100 hours of film footage and tape and the pair spent several challenging years synching the clips . The result is a documentary of a movement from the inside looking out. This is one movie that’ll give you the sense of being on drugs without having to actually take them.
Fans of the local film scene should be sure to check out “Mark of the Damned” at the Richmond Public Library’s Main Branch in the basement auditorium at 1:00 on Friday. Bring your lunch, although swallowing may get difficult with this sci-fi/horror hybrid made by Richmonders over an 8-year span at a cost of $10,000. That alone makes it noteworthy. The film is full of ambience and was shot in the stark chiaroscuro of the silent cinema years in 2007. It’s been called a self-proclaimed “journey beyond truth into an amplified world,” but it also has a cursed legacy that includes a screening in Sicily where the power in the theatre inexplicably failed. Damned power! Director Eric Miller will be on hand for a Q &A after the screening.
Nihilists will inevitably want to see “Melancholia,” a Lars von Trier film from 2011, showing at 3:30 at the Byrd Theatre (cushion alert!). In this strikingly beautiful movie about the end of the world, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) are celebrating their marriage at a sumptuous party in the home of her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and brother-in-law John (Kiefer Sutherland).
Despite Claire’s best efforts, the wedding is a fiasco, with family tensions mounting and relationships fraying, as so often happens at family get-togethers. As if that weren’t enough disaster for one day, a planet called Melancholia is heading directly towards Earth. If Dunst weren’t Bridezilla to begin with, a falling planet is sure to put her over the edge.
Film buffs will be everywhere at 4:00 at the Visual Arts center for “La Vida Útil (A Useful Life),” to be presented in Spanish, with English subtitles, so know that going in. After twenty-five years, Cinemateca Uruguaya’s most devoted employee, Jorge (in an interesting twist,he’s played by real-life Uruguayan critic Jorge Jellinek), still finds his inspiration in caring for the films and audiences that are devoted to his beloved art house cinema (think Westhampton Theater). But when dwindling attendance and diminishing support (or, in this country, the almighty developer’s dollar) force the theater to close its doors, Jorge is sent into a world he knows only through the lens of art and suddenly forced to discover a new passion that transcends his once-celluloid reality.
Stylishly framed in black-and-white with brilliantly understated performances, director Federico Veiroj’s sly and loving homage to the soul of cinema is a universally appealing gem and unabashed charmer about life after the movies. Wait, there’s life after the movies?
The JRFF continues next week too, Monday through Wednesday, but we’ll get to that then. For now, get out and see some world-class independent moviemaking while you can.
Karen is Just your average Jackson Ward resident who thinks Richmond offers more than enough to keep you occupied and entertained. She smiles too much, talks way too much, is too into music, and shares her opinion whether it’s asked for or not on her blog “I Could Go On and On.”