Cultures collide for 10 days in Richmond, and film fans couldn't be happier. 

Double Exposure

At first glance, one might wonder at the reasoning behind piggybacking two seemingly disparate film festivals. But then the reality sinks in. Who cares? The bottom line is this: For 10 days — March 30 through April 8 — film fans will be afforded the rare opportunity to experience consecutively Virginia Commonwealth University's 9th Annual French Film Festival and the 8th annual James River Film Festival.

This is a cultural collision to applaud not ponder.

Not content merely to screen and discuss an intriguing slate of feature-length films and shorts, this year's edition of the French Film Fest also celebrates the universal tradition known as the family reunion. In his continuing quest to explore the cultural, historical and emotional link between Richmond and France, festival founder and co-director Peter Kirkpatrick, Ph. D., discovered a unique cross-cultural connection. Well-known and respected French writer turned filmmaker José Giovanni's father actually spent part of his childhood in Richmond at the turn of the last century.

As fate, or Kirkpatrick would have it, Giovanni's latest film is "Mon Pere," ("My Father") a screened depiction of an act of fatherly love and support that became the turning point in Giovanni's life and career. It won't give too much away to say that a young Giovanni was accused of a crime he did not commit in the '40s. Were it not for his father's determination that injustice not be done, Giovanni would not have become the man or artist he is today. "Mon Pere" screens Saturday, March 31, at 2 p.m. at the Byrd Theatre and afterward, Kirkpatrick has a family reunion set up with all of Giovanni's American and many Richmond-area cousins — who have always wondered about the French side of the family tree.

The study of who we are as a family of man also has long fascinated the main guest artist of this year's edition of the James River Festival. Independent filmmaker Les Blank is really an anthropologist at heart. The intriguing mix of universal themes with individual uniqueness ripples through each of Blank's numerous and award-winning films. Throughout the weeklong fest, a number of Blank's works will be screened. From his take on San Francisco Bay Area garlic connoisseurs "Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers" to "Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe" to the frantic fun of polka enthusiasts in "In Heaven There Is No Beer," festival-goers will have the chance to not only appreciate Blank's love of film and his fellow man, but also to hear from the artist himself.

Besides the Blank retrospective and numerous screenings of other national and local filmmakers, the James River Fest's other star attraction offers the real film buff a once-in-a-pop-culture-lifetime experience: On Wednesday, April 4, at 8 p.m. in VCU's Business Building Auditorium, Gunnar Hansen will make a special appearance.

Some of you may be asking, "Who?" Despite being an acclaimed travel and history author, Hansen will be forever known as the chainsaw-wielding "Leatherface" in Tobe Hooper's slasher cult classic "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." Hansen will meet fans before a special showing of Hooper's horror flick and afterward, hang around to answer questions from his cult faithful. A mere five bucks will get you up close and personal with a living film legend. Let that sink in a minute: Leatherface! Here, in Richmond.

If basking in the reflected aura of a pop culture icon is a tad too commercial for you, the James River Fest will celebrate "Flicker's" third anniversary on Thursday, April 5, at 8 p.m. at Cafine's. Dedicated to screening the 16mm and Super 8 efforts of Richmond and Central Virginia filmmakers, Flicker's anniversary screenings are always crowd-pleasers.

Whether creative largess or a calculated nod to keep French Film fest-goers in the mood, this year's James River Fest will offer several films by French master Jean Cocteau. "Blood of a Poet" will screen on Tuesday April 3, at 8 p.m. in VCU's Business School Auditorium and "The Beauty and the Beast" will screen on Thursday, April 5, at 10 a.m. in VCU Commons Theatre.

Fans of Richmond culture will merge with classic French film buffs for a history-making moment: the first live performance in more than 50 years on the stage of the city's original landmark performance space, the National Theatre. Slated for demolition in the '90s, the National was saved by the Historic Richmond Foundation. And on Saturday, April 7, at 3 p.m., the theater will once again ring with the sound of applause as the Ululating Mummies perform a live score to Fernand Leger's "Ballet Mecanique" and Rene Clair's "Crazy Ray." Get your tickets pronto; this very special event is limited to 300 seats.

For more information or a schedule of events for the 8th Annual James River Film Fest, call 355-1383 or visit www.rmicweb.org. Call 278-0210 for details on the 9th Annual French Film Festival or go to www.frenchfilm.vcu.edu.


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