Archive for category Middleburg Film Festival

Middleburg Film Festival Review: ‘Hitchcock/Truffaut’

'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. Read the rest of this entry »


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Middleburg and Virginia Film Festivals: ‘Ithaca’

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.

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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

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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.

Hardwicke proudly displayed her color-coded notes from Twilight, outlining multiple scenes to film according to the whims of the weather. Time, for Hardwicke, is a precious resource. She also showed her notes for Toni Collette’s different wigs at every stage. These notes are instrumental in staying organized and being prepared for unexpected obstacles, often in the form of Hollywood “studio politics” or worse yet, significant budget cuts on short notice. “Sparkling costs a lot of money,” she joked about the vampire scenes and CGI.

The Twilight sequel announcements were unfortunate with the disparaging media reports purporting that she had been fired. Hardwicke addressed those reports directly in Middleburg, explaining that she decided not to make the sequel, as allowed in her contract. The backlash was perplexing treatment (to say the least), because she has been recognized for achieving the highest grossing opening box office sales for a female director ($69 million).

One of the major problems, Hardwicke pointed out, is the issue of “gender bias” in an industry dominated by the view that women “can’t direct action sequences” and are overly “emotional b*****s.” In spite of the abrasive environment that exists in parts of Hollywood, she remains dedicated and ever the optimist. “I was going to make that movie no matter what,” Hardwicke reflected about Thirteen, a sentiment that can be extended to all of her films and causes.

Later this month, she will be providing testimony about her experiences to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). However, Hardwicke adds, the number of male-to-female entertainment critics or reviewers is disproportionately “pale and male,” a distribution that favors the current Hollywood culture. She also has a role as herself on a Funny or Die segment, using comedy to encourage debate about Hollywood sexism. Her approach to the issue is admirable and most welcome, as she joins others seeking to open the film industry to women and minorities.

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