HOTSEAT- The producer: Kielbasa recasts Virginia Film Fest

Jody Kielbasa

A movie poster for The Deal leans against a chair in Jody Kielbasa's office at the Virginia Film Festival. The film starring William Macy and Meg Ryan didn't actually make it to theatrical release after its 2008 debut at Sundance, but it recently aired on Showtime. 

Kielbasa co-produced The Deal, and now, as the first new Virginia Film Fest director in 15 years, he turns his producer-ly skills to turning out the 22nd film fest.

"My background is as a professional actor," says Kielbasa. After finishing a history degree and then pursuing a BFA and MFA (college– "the best 9 years of my life," he deadpans), he discovered that he's too impatient for acting. "There's a lot of waiting, even when you're working," he says.

And in L.A., where he had a stint on a soap opera that was supplemented by waiting tables, Kielbasa decided to take his life in hand.

"I thought opening my own theater, I would act more," he says. "It turned out I was opening a small business."

At his tiny Tamarind Theatre in Hollywood, where he produced more than 100 plays, Kielbasa discovered his real calling. "I love producing," he says. "It's something I have a talent for and it satisfies my creative needs."

The native Floridian was lured back to his home state with another producing gig: Starting the Sarasota Film Festival from scratch. "The role of the producer is to pull everything together– the artistic and theatrical, as well as the financial side," he says.

It's easy to be Virginia Film Fest-centric here, but it turns out Sarasota is a whopping regional festival that last year drew 45,000 attendees to the 10-day event, as well as Charlize Theron, Liv Ullman, and Stanley Tucci. 

Kielbasa obviously is one who runs with the bold idea: In 2005, he chartered a cruise and sailed to Cannes with 150 Sarasota Film Festival board members and supporters, and hosted splashy parties at the French festival, garnering international press for Sarasota.

 He had a full-time staff of eight there, including two programmers, which sort of raises the question: Isn't the Virginia Film Fest small potatoes compared to that?

"Sometimes being leaner and meaner forces you to be more creative," enthuses Kielbasa. "It's an exciting thing to go back to your roots by doing more programming." 

He praises Virginia's fest and its exploration of ideas behind the film, the showing of classic, archival movies and the use of the university's academic resources. And for "Funny Business," the theme of the 22nd Virginia Film Festival, which runs November 5-8, he promises, "A greater compilation of artists than before." 

But he's too hands-on to be hands-off.

"I don't think I can walk softly," he says, then throws in a few metaphors. "I've always been a bull in a china shop. I want to respect the film festival traditions and things that have worked well. And I want to change the things that haven't. Everybody wants to put their stamp on it."

Age: 50

Why here? Why not here? I've always loved Virginia since we passed through the state every summer on the way to visit family in New England. My wife and I first saw Charlottesville together this past spring when it looked like the dogwoods and azaleas were on steroids. We loved the city, the University, the surrounding countryside, and the vibe of the Downtown Mall.

What's worst about living here? I do miss the Gulf of Mexico. If another tectonic plate shift comes along, then I would suggest squishing the mountains next to the Gulf to capture the best of both worlds.

Favorite hangout? The entire length of the Downtown Mall. 

Most overrated virtue? I'm afraid I have not yet developed any virtues strong enough to be considered overrated. You should have asked about vices.

People would be surprised to know:  I appeared as a guest star on the final episode of SeaQuest DSV playing a submarine commander and was killed by a falling beam. The show was cancelled the final day of the shoot and my episode only aired in Europe. I received a residual check months later for four cents.  

What would you change about yourself? I could definitely take a few lessons in patience and would not mind learning a second language and playing a musical instrument.

Proudest accomplishment? I built and owned a small, live professional theater in Los Angeles right under the Hollywood sign. It only had 92 seats, but I produced over 100 plays there in seven years and the theatre helped revitalize a historic section of old Hollywood.

People find most annoying about you: I'm pretty blunt and fairly insistent on getting things done no matter what.

Whom do you admire? President Barack Obama 

Favorite book? Dune

Subject that causes you to rant? Cell phone voice mails that leave tediously long instructions on how to leave a message. I mean c'mon, we all live in the 21st century and have learned how to leave a message on a cell phone. I could go on and on about this, but I'd be guilty of the same thing I'm ranting about.

Biggest 21st-century thrill? President-elect Obama's speech in Chicago on the night of the election.

Biggest 21st-century creep out? Watching Joan Rivers face stretch tighter than the silly putty I used as a kid. 

What do you drive? 2007 Honda Accord.

In your car CD player right now: Eclectic compilation of tunes downloaded for me by my wife and a Gettysburg driving tour CD from when I drove around the Gettysburg battlefield on the 4th of July.

Next journey? Just back from the Toronto Film Festival.

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? I kicked a second-grade teacher in the shins really hard for making me eat my green beans. She crumpled like a rag doll, and I got a spanking from the principal.

Regret: I wish I had stuck with baseball.

Favorite comfort food: Cheeseburgers and pizza.

Always in your refrigerator: Eggs, milk, wine, and cheese and ice cream.

Must-see TV: CNN

Describe a perfect day. Tubing down a lazy river with my wife and the kids and taking time for a picnic.

Walter Mitty fantasy: Playing for the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.

Who'd play you in the movie? I'd like to think Robert Redford, but it would probably be Seth Rogen.

Most embarrassing moment? I was looking at a cute girl in the cafeteria in college and walked into a column and ended up wearing my food.

Best advice you ever got? To just be myself.

Favorite bumper sticker? I really hate bumper stickers!!! You can never get them off the bumper.


1 comment

Sounds like an exciting pick, but wonder if the economy will support this --heard the parties were far smaller and fewer in number this year
Lisa writes:
" In 2005, he chartered a cruise and sailed to Cannes with 150 Sarasota Film Festival board members and supporters, and hosted splashy parties at the French festival, garnering international press for Sarasota."