It may not be Cannes, but the Virginia Festival of American Film will provide 27-year-old Crofton native Mickey Stern a chance to get his film, "Crimson Lights," before the public and movie critics.
The 90-minute movie will open the prestigious festival at noon Thursday on the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
The movie shows the complex ways human lives are woven together, using the device of tracing the effects of the AIDS virus as it spreads through a network of New Yorkers linked by their sexual relationships.
The Virginia festival provides a welcome opportunity to publicize the project, said Mr. Stern, the movie's executive producer. Publicity is especially helpful now as Mr. Stern, along with his partners, director John Brenkus, 23, and producer Eli Kabillio, negotiate for a distribution deal that would place "Crimson Lights" in theaters nationwide.
"Film-buyers attend festivals," Mr. Stern said. Even though buyers may have seen a film in a private screening in California or New York, festivals offer them a better chance to size up the movie's impact on viewers, he explained.
"They want to see what the press response is. They want to see what the audience response is," Mr. Stern said.
Carolyn Corry, acting director of the festival, said yesterday "Crimson Lights" is one of 18 independent films selected out of 200 submitted. It was chosen to open the festival, she said, because of its ties to the University of Virginia.
Mr. Brenkus is a 1992 graduate of the school. He said the festival is especially meaningful to him, because he vowed when he was a student to come back one day with his own film. In an effort to give something back to his alma mater, Mr. Brenkus has scheduled a two-hour seminar where he, Mr. Stern and Mr. Kabillio will answer students' questions about the film industry.
It was also a "happy coincidence," Ms. Corry said, that the film dovetails neatly with the festival's theme of "Love and Other Obsessions."
"The subject is, tangentially, AIDS," Ms. Corry said. "The underlying threads are timeless -- about relationships."
Movie critics from major media outlets will see the movie during the festival, said Mr. Stern.
"It's really important to us," Mr. Brenkus said. "It's a great place to get high exposure."
More than 90 films will be screened. Last year, more than 15,000 tickets were sold. This year, Ms. Corry said, that record is expected to be broken, because local hotel bookings already are running at 157 percent of last year's rate.
Along with independent films, such as "Crimson Lights," festival offerings will span the range from classics, such as Wuthering Heights, to world premieres.
Tickets are $5 in advance or $6 at the door. For tickets, call 1-800-UVA-FEST today. Tickets also will be available beginning at 9 a.m. Thursday in the University Hall lobby or at 10 a.m. at the Newcomb Hall Theater.