Based in Charlottesville at the University of Virginia, the Virginia Film Festival has celebrated the art of film for over 30 years and this past weekend, it continued its tradition of highlighting new features and documentaries, fresh takes on timeless classics, and local filmmakers. Staff writer Kyle Shearin attended the festival and in the first of a three-part series, gives his take of some of the best films from this year’s festival below:
Legendary director Spike Lee was also in town to show his Academy Award-nominated film “4 Little Girls” which celebrates it’s 20th anniversary this year. To a packed audience at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Charlottesville, Lee described the documentary to be about the “heinous act of homegrown American terrorism.”
The film chronicles the life and deaths of four young black girls who were killed in the 1963 bombings that occurred in Birmingham, Alabama by white Klansmen. The film’s impact was felt almost immediately back in July of 1997; as the FBI reopened the case the day after the film’s premier citing new evidence that leads to a string of incarcerations for the perpetrators. The film is a great example of the power of film that it can enlighten, teach, and change the world around us.
Lee also mentioned his roots within the south, and how both of his parents were both southern, “Like a lot of parents, whose grandparents were in the south, when summer came, they ship your black ass down south”.
Touching on a few different current events, Lee also spoke about moving forward as a nation, “We must get rid of these false narratives bs, the truth is The United States of America was built upon the genocide of the Native Americans and slavery.”
“Your boy Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner … this isn’t Spike Lee making shit up. This is history. Robert E. Lee was not a hero,” he added. Lee’s comments were met with applause and laughter despite the dark subject matter and frankness.
Prior to “4 Little Girls”, also shown was Lee’s newer documentary, “I Can’t Breathe” about the 2014 death of Eric Garner’s in police custody. In the film, Lee interviews a witness of Garner’s death just a week after the incident. The witness talks about the incident and the following backlash and harassment from authorities he received after posting the video of the incident he captured with his cellphone.
Lee was quick to point out the similarities to Garner’s death to one of his characters in his 1989 Academy Award-winning film, “Do The Right Thing” in where the character Radio Raheem is choked to death by a police officer. Lee stated that his film was really about a very difficult period in New York City where there was tremendous racial strife between the NYPD and the Black and Puerto Rican community, which plays similar to “I Can’t Breathe” and it’s context.
Despite the heaviness of the topics and films at hand, Lee was in good spirits while also being characteristically thoughtful. Lee was also quick to clarify that his timing was not a reaction to the recent White Nationalist rally back in August, as he had accepted to speak at the VFF prior to the August 12th event. He elaborated, “So let’s not get it twisted, it’s not one of those things where a northern rabble-rouser come down south to stir the niggers up. This ain’t this, this ain’t that,” he joked.
Lee is not unacquainted to Charlottesville or UVA as he mentioned that he had spoken here in April of 1993 while also his wife graduated from UVA’s law school.
Lee briefly talked about his next project called “Black Klansman”, which recently announced the casting of Adam Driver. Lee’s 1986 film “She’s Gotta Have It” has also been made into a 10 episode series that will debut this month on Netflix.