Middleburg Film Festival Review: ‘Hitchcock/Truffaut’

‘Hitchcock/Truffaut’ is a documentary that will entertain everyone, not just film buffs, from start to finish.

'Hitchcock/Truffaut' Screenshot
Photo by Philippe Halsman. Courtesy of Cohen Media Group and the Middleburg Film Festival

Set for release next month, Hitchcock/Truffaut is a delightful, 80-minute documentary directed by Kent Jones. It draws on insights from celebrated filmmakers looking back at a series of meetings that occurred between Alfred Hitchcock and François Truffaut in 1962. Truffaut, a founder of New Wave cinema, requested the interview so that he might “free Hitchcock from his reputation as a light entertainer.” In 1966, he published those conversations in a book.

The running commentary by Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, and others is illuminating about their reverence for these two great cinematic giants. However, the center stage remains with Hitchcock and Truffaut in the old photographs and their film footage. The book itself, as one sees in the close-up shots, includes frame-by-frame analysis from many of Hitchcock’s films. But their dialogue has its full impact now by being layered directly over the clips, the way you might expect a film lecture to go. Continue reading “Middleburg Film Festival Review: ‘Hitchcock/Truffaut’”

Middleburg and Virginia Film Festivals: ‘Ithaca’

Tickets were sold-out in both Middleburg and Charlottesville for Meg Ryan’s directorial debut.

Ithaca Promo Photo
Photo used with permission from the Middleburg Film Festival

Meg Ryan stopped by the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville for a sold-out screening of her directorial debut, Ithaca. Since last month, the actress-director has visited Virginia twice to promote this film adaptation of William Saroyan’s The Human Comedy, beginning with the world premiere in Middleburg. Ithaca was shot in Richmond and Petersburg, cementing those Virginia connections.

The World War II drama opens with fourteen-year-old Homer Macauley (Alex Neustaedter) riding towards town on his bike. He’s determined to be the best messenger at the local telegraph office. He is hired by Willie Grogan (Sam Shepard) despite being underage. His lofty goal insights perhaps a little envy from his direct supervisor, Tom Spangler (Hamish Linklater), who was the previous “Number One” years before.

Continue reading “Middleburg and Virginia Film Festivals: ‘Ithaca’”

Middleburg Film Festival: Dante Spinotti Receives Distinguished Cinematographer Award

Dante Spinotti
Photo courtesy of the Middleburg Film Festival

Dante Spinotti (I Saw the Light, Heat) was the 2015 recipient of the Distinguished Cinematographer Award at the Middleburg Film Festival. The self-described “good craftsman” (rather than “artist”) was interviewed by film critic John Horn in Loudoun County, Va. The discussion felt like a film class, as Spinotti paused frames from film sequences. He sought to illustrate his approaches to capturing onscreen emotions effectively, maneuvering changes in natural light, and including or omitting set pieces.

However, don’t expect Spinotti to copy his own techniques so readily. “I try to forget everything I’ve done before,” he stated. The focus, as he sees it, should be on the scripts: the best of these written materials enable a skilled cinematographer to create a powerful visual “language.” The development of his skills first started in Kenya with an uncle who was a cinematographer. Later, Spinotti worked in Milan on low budget television programs, which offered ample opportunities to become self-taught and experiment.

He emphasized that some of the most important decisions can occur as little as “three minutes before you start” filming a scene. Cinematographers need to be extraordinarily flexible and think creatively to overcome challenges such as difficult directors, actors with allergies (LA Confidential), and unexpected occurrences. For one Hercules battle scene, he erected nearly fifty focused spotlights to produce a consistent and sustained light source. “We were ready to shoot anything at any time at any angle,” he declared.

Dante Spinotti Hercules
Dante Spinotti explains a “Hercules” sequence. Bonus points if you recognized Meg Ryan there. Photo courtesy of the Middleburg Film Festival

He touched on those behind-the-scenes details for his other works, too. Spinotti revealed that the memorable shootout at the end of Heat was described in production notes as “World War III.” A scene of such intensity required the strongest loads possible for the set weapons. Filming transpired over the course of three weekends, with as many as seven cameras.

His most recent project, I Saw the Light, was screened here in Middleburg. The film, directed by Marc Abraham, will continue to move through the film festival circuit. Spinotti’s next project is a film headed by producer and director Trudie Styler, which has an intense schedule of only 23 days for shooting. With a career spanning several decades, he shows no signs of slowing down.

This article was first published under the same title on Blogcritics.org.

Middleburg Film Festival: Catherine Hardwicke Wants to Fix Gender Parity in Hollywood

Catherine Hardwicke on set
Catherine Hardwicke on the set of ‘Miss You Already.’ Photo Credit: Nick Wall, Courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

Students and critics often seem focused upon scripts, frames (storyboards), and soundtracks for their analyses of films. However, Catherine Hardwicke recently demonstrated at the Middleburg Film Festival that the director’s notes can be among the most interesting materials to study. The director of the first Twilight film was in Virginia wine country for an in-depth interview with Maureen Orth, a Special Correspondent for Vanity Fair. She was also present for screenings of Miss You Already, her latest feature film starring Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette. Continue reading “Middleburg Film Festival: Catherine Hardwicke Wants to Fix Gender Parity in Hollywood”