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Diverse film selection offers wide-ranging appeal

The 13th annual Virginia Film Festival, entitled "Animal Attractions," will explore the theme of animals this year with its diverse film selection ranging from classic children's movies to surreal depictions of human emotion via different species.

Richard Herskowitz, the festival's director, said he always thought the theme would be popular in the Charlottesville community. A seemingly stark contrast to last year's theme of "TechnoVisions," which featured University alumnus Stan Winston, the mastermind behind sophisticated big- screen creatures, "Animal Attractions" is actually "an outgrowth of the Stan Winston visit," he said.

"Cinema was started with people trying to record birds in flight and horses in motion," Herskowitz said. He described this year's theme as an appropriate continuation of themes exploring overriding topics in film history.

This year's festival focuses much of its attention on children, with movies such as "Prancer" and "The Black Stallion."

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  • "We've made a concerted effort to build up kids' programming in the earlier shows," he said. In addition to the kid-friendly movie choices, a mini-circus including a camel, two horses and a trick dog will be on display in front of Culbreth Theatre Saturday afternoon.

    The festival appeals to adults as well with films including Jonathan Demme's "The Silence of the Lambs" and Luis Bu¤uel's surreal "Un Chien Andalou." "Animal Attractions" also will feature classics such as Hitchcock's "The Birds," as well as the Chaplin film, "The Circus" and "Harvey," starring James Stewart.

    "I try to get a Hitchcock film into every program," Herskowitz said. He described Hitchcock's work as ideal for the shot by shot analysis returnee Roger Ebert will present this year.

    To ensure the festival would reach older audiences, Herskowitz intended to stimulate viewers by making the festival educational. "I see each theme as a film course," he said. Panels and art exhibits (including photos of William Wegman's famous Wiemeraner dogs), as well as instructional workshops provide a basis for discussion of the featured films.

    Herskowitz sees the themes as a way of distinguishing the festival from other film festivals around the country. "Ninety-nine percent of other film festivals show the latest premieres. We show a different theme every year. We completely transform ourselves every year, which makes us more interesting for the community," he said.

    Herskowitz said "Animal Attractions" features several sub-themes that examine the interconnectedness between humans and animals.

    "Somebody like Bu¤uel comments on human pretense and uses animals to put humans in their place," he said. He added that the festival raises the question of whether or not animals and humans are really that different.

    "Most of the films are about human-animal hybrids," Herskowitz said. He described "Planet of the Apes" as the most typical movie of the festival. "The film is supposedly about animals, but in many ways is about humans," he added. He said the film is "a metaphor for social and racial conflict in the U.S. in the '60s."

    "I'd love to show how things haven't necessarily changed," Herskowitz commented on the interest of filmmakers to portray realistic animal motion. "Now their goal is to get past anthropomorphizing animals," he added.