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'Blue Ridge' director visits Alamo for Q&A

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Showing: 7 p.m. Thursday at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Kernstown
Rating: R
Run Time: 90 minutes
Director: Vince Sweeney
Stars: Sean Gullette, Eric Sweeney, Audra Glyn Smith
Rating: R
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By Maggie Wolff Peterson

Without the backing of a major movie studio, it's not easy to break through in film.

"Let's see, where am I," Vince Sweeney pondered during an early morning telephone interview on Tuesday. "I'm in a really nasty hotel room, because of the budget."

Sweeney is on the road with his film, "Blue Ridge," which will be shown Thursday for one night only, at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Winchester. Theater proprietor Steven Nerangis said he decided to screen the film after receiving an email from Sweeney.

"We frequently have filmmakers get in touch," Nerangis said. "And we love to look for opportunities for them, especially during the week."

Sweeney will be on hand at the showing of "Blue Ridge" at 7 p.m. Thursday to discuss the film and answer questions.

Weekends are when movie theaters do the majority of their business, and big-studio movies are what most people come to see, Nerangis said. During slower times, Nerangis said he likes to schedule unusual offerings, including independent films, musical film sing-a-longs and theme weeks.

After previewing "Blue Ridge," Sweeney's first full-length film, Nerangis decided to show it. "It's a real slow burn of a film, and you don't know where it's going to take you," he said.

The film involves two young people living in a trailer park in the Appalachian foothills. They share a dream of getting away to the seashore, supporting themselves by operating a defunct amusement park ride. Sweeney returned to his roots in rural Virginia to site the film.

"Most of it was shot in Craig County," he said. "Very rural. I used to go camping and off-road riding there."

Sweeney said he found a farmer who was willing to allow the crew to build a faux trailer park on his land. The film was made for under $1 million, which by current standards is bare bones. Even the simplest, studio-made independent films cost at least three times that much to make, Sweeney said.

And there is no budget for advertising. So, Sweeney is flacking the film himself. It helps that "Blue Ridge" won first prize for feature films in the 2010 Virginia Independent Film Festival and stars Sean Gullette, who appeared in the films, "Pi," "Happy Accidents," and "Requiem for a Dream."

Sweeney has been living with "Blue Ridge" for four years, he said. "I wrote it a long time ago. There were pieces of the story in my head. It took a year to thread the pieces together. I was fascinated by the personality types."

The first time Sweeney submitted the unfinished piece to a screenplay competition, it failed. But feedback he received helped Sweeney recraft the film and make it a winner, he said.

In addition to achieving theatrical release, "Blue Ridge" has cracked major online marketing. The film will be available soon on Amazon.com as well as iTunes, Sweeney said.

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