The Score: Breaking Away, Kentucky Dinosaurs, Miss Virginia, Colombian Peace
This week The Score goes to the movies and asks: Where were you in 1979? Do you remember the hit movie Breaking Away? What does it take to win a Nobel Peace Prize? Can one woman take on the education establishment and win?
Last weekend was the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville. I had an opportunity to interview several film makers about their work.
Breaking Away at 40
Let’s start with actor Dennis Christopher, who had the lead role in the 1979 Oscar-winning movie, Breaking Away. He came to the film festival to celebrate its fortieth anniversary, and I talked to him about his life and career and his costars.
Our interview provided an opportunity for Christopher to dispel something unfactual attributed to him. Both his IMDB page and his Wikipedia entry assert that his first TV credit was an episode of The Time Tunnel when he was about 12 years old, playing “young Merlin.” He says this is untrue and he has no idea how that information was added to his Internet biographies. He was not acting professionally at 12, he says.
We had a wide-ranging conversation about the making of Breaking Away and also his memories of his friendship with Oscar-winning actress Gloria Grahame, his several gigs playing a son to Paul Dooley’s father (including Breaking Away), and working with actors Barbara Barrie, Dennis Quaid, with directors Robert Altman and Quentin Tarantino, and others. He also notes how Breaking Away, a consummately American story, was the creation of two immigrants: director Peter Yates and screenwriter Steve Tesich. I also asked him about his first visit to Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello, which took place earlier that day.
For a fuller discussion with Dennis Christopher, check out the video of him with the PBS Newshour‘s Elizabeth Flock after a screening of Breaking Away at the Dickinson Center on the campus of Piedmont Virginia Community College in Albemarle County.
Creationism vs. Evolution
One of the new films that screened at the Virginia Film Festival was a documentary called We Believe in Dinosaurs, which chronicles the building of The Ark Encounter, a sort of theme park in Kentucky. I spoke to the co-directors, Monica Long Ross and Clayton Brown.
The directors participated in a post-screening panel discussion moderated by University of Virginia religious studies professor Paul Jones that also included two of the subjects interviewed for the film, ex-creationist David MacMillan and geologist Dan Phelps.
One of my takeaways from our interview is that, for a documentary film to succeed, the film makers must treat their subjects with dignity and respect, even if they are people whose beliefs are eccentric or objectively wrong.
Although it did not play at the Virginia Film Festival, a new movie called Miss Virginia is getting some buzz. It’s the first narrative feature film from the Moving Picture Institute. The cast features Emmy-winner Uzo Aduba in the title role as well as Matthew Modine, Aunjanue Ellis, Niles Fitch, and Vanessa Williams. The Score’s film critic, Tim Hulsey, has a review.
We also get to hear from Miss Virginia herself, Virginia Walden Ford. In addition to fighting the educational establishment in Washington, D.C., to get Congress to pass a law allowing public school students to accept scholarships facilitating their escape from failing, dysfunctional schools, she was one of the first pupils to desegregate the government schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, in the 1960s — some ten years after the Little Rock Nine, but as part of the first large cohort of African-Americans admitted to formerly all-white schools.
Back to the Virginia Film Festival, I interviewed two alumni of the University of Virginia who are now filmmakers. Although their tenures at UVA were separated by decades, both gave remarkably similar answers when I asked them how their UVA educations had prepared them for their current careers. They both emphasized the importance of a liberal arts education to their successful careers.
I first spoke to Pattie Sellers, who wrote for Fortune magazine for more than thirty years before she became a documentary film producer. The film she brought to the Virginia Film Festival was a new documentary about former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end his country’s long civil war. The film is called Port of Destiny: Peace, and it includes interviews with former U.S. President Bill Clinton and former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair as well as numerous prominent Colombians and Santos himself. I asked Sellers how this project came about.
The second UVA graduate I spoke with was television writer and director Steven J. Kung, who grew up in Virginia Beach.
If you have seen the television shows Fresh Off the Boat on ABC-TV or Dear White People on Netflix, you may have seen his work. His TV credits include Graves (coincidentally, a project that also involved Dennis Christopher), Falling for Angels, The Consultants, and Mad Men. The episode of Fresh Off the Boat that he directed (“Hal-Lou-Ween“) debuted on October 25, one day after our interview at the Virginia Film Festival.
From the Archives
In our From the Archives segment this week, we return to the topic of school choice, the issue that animates Miss Virginia. In this conversation from 2011, I asked Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation about school choice and how it works.
I have one more interview in the can from the 2019 Virginia Film Festival. Next week we’ll hear from Charlottesville documentary filmmaker Paul Wagner — an Oscar- and Emmy-winning director — about his latest project, Fishing with Dynamite, which explores business ethics and whether short-term thinking harms the free enterprise system. For a preview, check out the video of a post-screening discussion at the Violet Crown cinema during the final day of the Virginia Film Festival.
As to the rest of next week’s show — well, you’ll just have to tune in to find out what’s there.