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Live ON Film

Marketing/public relations specialist and film fan Brendan O'Hallarn is taking in the sights and sounds of the ONFilm Festival this week. Watch for regular updates from his blog "Live ON Film" on this Web site, and on the film festival's Web site, www.onfilmfest.com.

Thursday, March 26, 7:05 p.m.

This is where things get busy.

I just finished a screening of "Swimming with Sharks," the indie film hit that launched Kevin Spacey's A-List movie career.

The film's executive producer Stephen Israel is the chair of the jury for the ONFilm Festival. In introducing the film, Israel said the same things he told me when I interviewed him on Tuesday - namely that film festivals like this one are the only way for many filmmakers to have their creations seen in the way they're meant, "In a dark room, with a big screen and a bunch of friends."

But Israel went further in boosting the film festival when he talked about "Swimming with Sharks," which got its distribution deal AFTER being a runaway success at the Telluride and Toronto International Film Festivals.

"There wouldn't BE a "Swimming with Sharks" without film festivals," Israel said.

Then the lights darkened, and I ran smack dab into one of the challenges I face in doing this blog. These are serious film fans. They want to watch what's on the screen, not yammer with some blogger.

"Say this one time with me: "Would you like that in a pump or a loafer?" Good. Now memorize it, because starting tomorrow, the only job that you're going to be able to get is selling SHOES!" the Kevin Spacey character says to his harassed assistant.

I stood in the lobby and watched the crowd emerge from the theater after the dark twist ending. Many had slightly shocked looks.

But not Catherine Arton.

"That film got me totally energized," said the British filmmaker, who is showing her own short, "Gone Fishing," tomorrow night.

"I kind of feel enlightened about the whole L.A. movie scene, being from London and all."

Arton and her long-time collaborator Chris Jones brought their short to the ONFilm Festival because they were so impressed with the idea of taking an established, retrospective festival and making film competition out of it.

"And being at these festivals, you feel like you learn so much, even organically, being around so many other talented filmmakers from around the world."

Now that "Swimming with Sharks" is done, I have only a few minutes before racing over to my next show, "Revolution '67" at the Mills Goodwin Life Sciences Building auditorium.

I hate to use a television analogy, but it's too bad I don't have TIVO.

Thursday, March 26, 3:50 p.m.

The ONFilm Festival screenings don't start for a few hours today, so I decided to get myself in the mood for cinema by barging into the Naro Cinema unannounced.

"Can someone show me around," I say to the startled girls behind the concession stand.

The Naro has operated continually as a cinema since it opened February 23, 1936, with a screening of James Cagney's performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

It's been through some ups and downs, but the Naro is a survivor, now the only older cinema still operating in Norfolk, and one of two movie theatres in all of Hampton Roads with a balcony.

Employee Victoria Davis gave me a quick tour, as this year's Academy Awards Best Picture winner "Slumdog Millionaire" plays on the large screen.

"We do live performances of the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" twice a month," Davis said. "This is where the performers get ready."

"Is this where you store the toast and rice?" I ask, only partially in jest.

Davis loves working at the Naro because it's a low-key atmosphere, and attracts a fiercely loyal clientele.

"We have nicknames for some of our regular customers," she said.

There are fewer of those customers today, partially because of the economy, partially because of the numerous entertainment options available. "But we're still here, I guess," said Tench Phillips, who has owned the Naro with business partner Thom Voulas since 1977.

Phillips thinks the marriage of the ONFilm Festival and the Naro is a good match, and said he expects to see some of his regulars out at this weekend's screenings. The Naro plays host to two sets of independent features and short films tonight, from 5-7 p.m., then from 7:30-9:30 p.m. Then on Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., the Naro will run a marathon of all the ONFilm Festival's award winners.

I asked Phillips what his favorite film is. "That's almost impossible for me to answer; I've seen so many films. That's one of the great things about doing this."

Wednesday, March 25, 9 p.m.

A full house of movie fans and celebrity watchers filled the Big Blue Room at the Ted Constant Convocation Center to overflowing to hear Richard Dreyfuss talk about his film career.

I'm not sure many were counting on a civics lesson.

After a sparkling video introduction, produced by the Hampton Roads Film Office, Dreyfuss took the stage with Cathy Lewis, host of WHRV-FM's HearSay, for a 90-minute conversation.

Before the back and forth even began, the Academy Award-winning actor (for "The Goodbye Girl" in 1977) said he objected to the format, which provided only 15 minutes for audience questions.

"Your questions are far more interesting than my monologue," he told the audience.

"Shall we adjust the schedule?" Lewis asked.

"Yeah," Dreyfuss said, to lusty applause from the crowd.

When Lewis asked her first question, Dreyfuss disproved his own theory about a lack of interest in his monologues. The crowd of more than 700 watched in rapt attention as Dreyfuss first led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance, then deplored the state of civics education in American schools.

"The idea that we will raise a generation of children who don't understand the gifts that America has created and the uniqueness of its statehood is something that I cannot accept and will not accept," Dreyfuss said, to another round of applause.

Before the lively back and forth, the crowd buzzed with anticipation. Well, Emily Rogers caught a nap. But she's five weeks old.

"She's the youngest fan here," said Debbie Rogers, who admitted she herself was "dragged" to the event by husband Bruce, a Richard Dreyfuss fanatic.

"I grew up with Jaws, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This is great," Bruce said.

Surveying the room, filled with well-dressed people, the couple agreed the ONFilm Festival is a great event for Norfolk.

"We're both ODU grads, and it's great to see this much activity at ODU," Bruce said.

Most of the crowd was the Rogers' age and older, but some ODU students dotted the crowd. Eighteen-year-old Caci Higgins, a freshman majoring in sports management, was curious to see the crowd, but also attended for a school assignment.

"I'm more excited for the rest of the film festival," Higgins said, admitting that she wasn't really sure who Richard Dreyfuss was.

"That's why I'm here," chimed in older sister Charity Smith, who said Mr. Holland's Opus was one of her favorite films.

At the other end of the fan spectrum was Ricky Edberg, who brought a Jaws poster, which he hoped to get signed by Dreyfuss.

"I collect surfing posters. I had this Jaws poster in my front hallway. I figured I'd try anyway," said Edberg, who fell in love with Dreyfuss as an actor when watching American Graffiti and then Jaws.

"Even though he didn't sign the poster, it's really cool to go to these kind of things and talk about all aspects of film."

And civics.

Wednesday, March 25, 5:45 p.m.

A crowd has started to line up in the unseasonable chill outside the Ted Constant Convocation Center for tonight's Richard Dreyfuss event.

I make my way through the soon-to-be-filled lobby to talk to some of my fellow film nuts. A voice stops me.

"It's the mashed potatoes scene," a man in a Washington Nationals baseball cap says aloud.

Jay Price is watching "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" on the television screen that's been set up in the lobby. And he's no ordinary film aficionado.

Price taught the history of film at the University of Southern California for more than 20 years, before retiring in 2002. He now splits his time between New York City and Norfolk, but says he wouldn't have missed the ONFilm Festival.

"This is a great community for film," Price says. "We've got the Naro Cinema, an arthouse theatre. It's one of only two cinemas in the area with a balcony."

Price's favorite all-time film is "Citizen Kane" - "It's not really close," he says - and his favorite Dreyfuss film is the one he's watching, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

"I think it started him out as a star for a certain age of people. Plus there's that '72 Buick," says Price, who's also a car history buff.

Outside the Ted, Norfolk residents Anamae Leon and Carol Laws are first in line. If only they'd open the doors.

"They told us to get here early," Laws laughs. She's a fan of Dreyfuss "because he speaks his mind." The duo came tonight hoping to replicate their experience from the film festival a few years ago, when they chatted with Ellen Burstyn at a book signing.

Leon has followed Dreyfuss's career since the 1970s.

"I met my husband in 1975, when Jaws came out, and I've just always been a fan of his," she says.

Don Cantwell of Norfolk is next in line. He's been cast in productions by local TV producer New Dominion Pictures. Cantwell figures there's a large artistic community in Norfolk that will make its way to the film festival venues this weekend.

"There really is a large acting community here. I mean look at this crowd," he says, as spectators walk up and join the line in large numbers, a full 45 minutes before the doors are scheduled to open.

Wednesday, March 25, 2:30 p.m.

Am I ready!

I've been reading every piece of media coverage about this week's film festival and I CAN'T WAIT for the conversation with Richard Dreyfuss tonight.

But my film festival has started already. Yesterday, I had the good fortune to spend 20 minutes with Stephen Israel, chair of the jury for the ONFilm Festival.

A long-time fan and supporter of film festivals, Israel is excited to be here for this one.

"I have long family roots here," says the British-born, LA-based film producer. "I kvetched to a family I stayed with that the area was underserved in film. I guess I complained one time too many, because now I'm here."

Israel is known as the guy who launched Kevin Spacey's career into the stratosphere. Spacey was cast as the lead character in Israel's cutting satire "Swimming with Sharks" in 1994. Spacey zoomed onto the A-List with that role and hasn't left, winning two Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actor for "The Usual Suspects," his first film after "Swimming with Sharks."

"He's the consummate professional," Israel says. "He'll do a scene vocally a number of different ways, but each time, his movements - picking up a piece of paper, putting on a paperclip, putting it down on the desk - happen at the exact same moment. It gives you a lot of different options in editing."

Israel also was one of the earliest supporters of the Slamdance Film Festival, the counter-programmed festival that runs in Park City, Utah, at the same time as the Sundance Film Festival.

"For the longest time, the only way for more specialized films to find a larger audience was at film festivals," Israel says.

"But in the mid-1980s, "Sex, Lies, and Videotape" was bought by Miramax at Sundance. That's when the modern independent film was born."

Today, Sundance is increasingly populated with films from the "independent" arm of big movie studios. That makes events like the ONFilm Festival that much more important, Israel says.

"If people come to this festival, they'll see a really representative variety of what independent film can deliver," says Israel, who screened every film submitted for competition.

"These are great films that you just won't see anywhere else."

Israel, an admitted Hampton Roads film booster, says he hopes the festival, which has grown significantly in its first 11 years as a retrospective festival, acts as a stimulus to the film industry in the area.

"This area could really be anywhere," he says. "In one hour, you can be in pastoral southern countryside. You can film on a deserted shoreline. Ghent can be 19th-century New York City.

"If the film festival can act as a final part to bring together all of the parts needed for a successful film industry, that would be great. So if I wanted to shoot a feature film here, I don't have to get any equipment or expertise anywhere else."

Film fans can meet Israel Thursday night, when he attends a 5-7 p.m. screening of "Swimming with Sharks" at the University Theatre.

Wednesday, March 25, 12 p.m.

Is my job great or what?

Who doesn't love the movies? Well, for the next four days, I get to LIVE the movies.

I've been assigned to do a live Web log, or blog, of the Old Dominion University-City of Norfolk (ONFilm) Festival, at sites around the ODU campus March 25-28.

After 11 years as a retrospective film festival, the ONFilm Festival is now a competition of independently produced documentaries, dramas, shorts and short -shorts.

And I'm going to be right in the middle of it.

Things kick off tonight with a free, public question-and-answer conversation with Academy Award-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss. It's hosted by Cathy Lewis of WHRV-FM's "HearSay."

A big crowd is expected at the Ted Constant Convocation Center, and I'll be among the masses, craning my neck to get a better view. I'll be a fan like everyone else.

The rest of the week will be filled with screenings, parties, workshops and a film industry expo. I'm there.

The festival will screen films simultaneously in three venues from March 26-28, including panel discussions with filmmakers and special events. I wish I could clone myself.

The Naro Cinema in Norfolk will show the ONFilm Fest winners back-to-back-to-back-to-back on Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Where's my popcorn?

The Festival will wrap up with an Oscar-style awards gala on Saturday night at Norfolk's Granby Theater. Call me Joan Rivers.

Last week, I asked ONFilm Festival Director Lane Dare why people should be excited to attend.

Lane is perpetually in motion, and has been living, breathing, eating and sleeping the film festival since I arrived at ODU in January.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that three minutes after I asked - THREE MINUTES - Lane had sent her Top 10 reasons to be excited about the ONFilm Festival.

Lane's list…

10. Hollywood and Sundance come to Hampton Roads for a week in March!

9. Konikoff Student Filmmaking Awards and screenings.

8. "From Africa to America" special screenings and presentation.

7. Third Annual Hampton Roads Film Office and Virginia Production Alliance Career Day Expo & Panel (find a job in film!).

6. Four days of top indie films from around the world.

5. Bargain ticket prices ($5-$10).

4. Parties and events with filmmakers and industry celebs.

3. Saturday (March 28) Winners' Marathon at the Naro Cinema.

2. Saturday evening (March 28) Awards Gala at the Granby Theater with dance band The Rhythm Kings and emcee Nicole Livas of WAVY-TV.

1. Academy Award winner RICHARD DREYFUSS opens the festival and it's FREE!

Sounds like my week is planned.

Check back often. I plan to update this blog at least twice per day throughout the film festival. If you've got a hot tip, drop me an e-mail at bohallar@odu.edu.

Here's looking at you, kid.

This article was posted on: March 25, 2009

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