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VFF 2013—Day 3: 'The Gettysburg Story,' 'Philomena,' 'The Pervert's Guide to Ideology,' and 'A Single Shot'
Slavoj Žižek in 'The Pervert's Guide to Ideology'

Editor's Note: Most moviegoers don't get to attend many film festivals, but festivals are important nonetheless. What happens at a festival can influence how, when, and even whether a film will get out to audiences.

Two of our regular critics are at the Virginia Film Festival this weekend, and will be sending us daily updates, capsule reviews, and reflections on what they see. (Here's Ken Morefield's report on day one and Nick Olson's report on day two.)

The Gettysburg Story (directed by Jake Boritt)
Philomena (directed by Steven Frears)
The Pervert's Guide to Ideology (directed by Sophie Fiennes)
A Single Shot (directed by David M. Rosenthal)

Day 3 of the Virginia Film Festival began with the bloodiest battle of the American Civil War and ended with a single bullet leading to a spiral of violence. In between, there was Dame Judi Dench in a performance that has to be the biggest stone cold lock in Academy Award history, and Slavoj Žižek giving what has to be the most entertaining 135 minutes in the history of Marxist-Lacanian cultural criticism. Yes, a good film festival can make your head spin a little (before it explodes).

And that's not evening counting the meals with colleagues Claudia Mundy and Courtney Schultz who, fresh from screening Alex Gibney's probing take documentary The Armstrong Lie, quizzed me on whether or not "moral relativism" was an intentional meta-theme of the festival or just the zeitgeist of modern age.

Jake Boritt, who chatted with Christianity Today briefly after his film The Gettysburg Story screened, told the audience several times that he wanted to do Gettysburg "in a new way." One wouldn't think that was possible given the plethora of films, books, and mini-series about the most mythologized four days in American history.

And yet he pulls it off. Boritt grew up in Gettysburg, and as a Media Studies graduate from Johns Hopkins he is equally comfortable talking nineteenth century battle strategy with academics and discussing aerial drone photography with film geeks.

At a ruthlessly efficient fifty-six minutes, the film remarkably does not feel rushed. It is a triumph of editing using three techniques: the aforementioned aerial photography, time-lapse photography, and digital mapping. Stephen Lang gives the narration, but it is the land that is the true star. As a local, Boritt had the trust of the locals, and he worked in close proximity with the national park, gaining unprecedented access to film overnight and through the air.

The result is a masterful juxtaposition of the bird's-eye view that allows you to understand how the battle is unfolding with on-this-very-spot point of view shots that allow you to look through the virtual eyes of the participants. You understand the difficulty in taking Little Round Top as the camera sweeps over the ground. And, finally, the folly and perverse majesty of Pickett's charge is viscerally communicated as you walk up the endless slope and realize how exposed these soldiers were.

It is hard to imagine The Gettysburg Story not becoming the definitive educational video shown in schools and assuming a place of prominence on collector's shelves. It was partially funded by Kickstarter and will be appearing on public television.

In other words, one of the most engaging films of the year was made on less than one percent of the budget of a typical Hollywood blockbuster.

In Philomena, Stephen Frears—one of today's most underappreciated directors—once again works with Judi Dench, this time as a woman who was forced to give up her child for adoption by the Irish nuns her family turned her over to when she was pregnant. Steve Coogan co-stars as the journalist that helps her look for his son.

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