Falls Church’s native son Bob Burnett will be premiering his short film, “Edward Hopper and the Marshall House” at the 4th Annual Northern Virginia International Film Festival this Monday, April 2 at the Angelika Film Center and Café at Mosaic District.
The seven-and-a-half minute documentary tells the story of a house in the Cape Cod town of Truro that gained a slice of fame in the art world for being painted by noted oil painter Edward Hopper in 1932. [View the film at the bottom of the article.]
Burnett initially came into contact with the house in 2015 when he and his wife Susan were invited as house guests by the home’s owner, John Marshall Jr., a longtime friend who resides in Falls Church for most of the year. When Burnett discovered over a dinner conversation the Marshall family’s connection to Hopper, the 30-year veteran of the documentary filmmaking business knew he had his next film.
“I’ve always been attracted to artists and the process that they go through to do what they do,” Burnett said. “South Truro and specifically the area around Marshall’s house allowed me to ‘see’ many vistas that Hopper saw over the years that inspired him to struggle to capture light in the way he did so wonderfully.”
As the title suggests, the documentary focuses not just on the painter but on the connection between the house and the family that has owned it for four generations and counting (they expect to pass it onto Marshall’s daughter, Madeline).
Marshall said that he has always felt a point of pride in his family’s connection to Hopper. Hopper died when Marshall was eight, though his mother, Joan, met him at cocktail parties.
“I’ve listened to stories about the Hoppers from other people who interacted with them personally. I’ve read about Edward, and talked about him for many years now. He is like a family member from the past,” said Marshall.
Burnett has been working independently as a filmmaker since 2015 after leaving a video production company and relied on the funding of the Robert P. and Arlene R. Kogod Family Foundation for his film. As he was working with still art images, the production costs included acquiring the rights to images and getting high-resolution pictures where the painting currently resides at the Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut. Perhaps the biggest cost was the three years of off-and-on work that went into less than eight minutes of footage. Burnett said it allowed him necessary space to work.
“I wasn’t on a deadline for this film so I had the good fortune to let the story evolve,” said Burnett.
For the talking heads in his documentary, Burnett relied on contributors to the film including Erin Monroe of the Wadsworth, Deputy Director of the National Art Gallery Franklin Kelly and Carol Troyen who curated the painting when it appeared at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Burnett also gave Marshall and his mother, Joan, speaking roles. Lastly, Cape Cod tour guide Lisbeth Wiley Chapman of Hopper House Tours contributed to add local flavor from an art expert.
“Working on documentaries usually involves a process where people interested in the subject will lead you to other people to consider including in the project,” said Burnett.
One of the biggest expenditures in Burnett’s project was the hiring of Jay Salbert as an editor. Burnett is capable of editing himself but preferred to allow someone else to edit.
“I felt it was important to step away and get an outside perspective on this, and sometimes you wonder about what information is really necessary, and when you’ve been loving with something for so long, an outsider editor can come with fresh eyes and fresh ears and get a sense for how the story can be told,” said Burnett.
Burnett previously displayed work at the Northern Virginia film festival among other screenings with “The Art of Richard Thompson” about the Washington Post cartoonist with Parkinson’s.
Another of his documentary films about Tinner Hill and E.B. Henderson helped raise money for the archway on South Washington Street across from the historic site.
Burnett’s father, Kenneth, a longtime City Parks and Recreation Department director, is the namesake of the Community Center.
Burnett graduated from George C. Marshall High and lived in the city until 2015 when he moved to Washington D.C. for business reasons. He served on the planning commission in the 2000s and co-chaired the bond referendum to build Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School.
The Northern Virginia Film Festival, having nightly screenings of films in all formats, will run April 1 – 14. In addition to film screenings, the event has added a music festival and has teamed up with Capital Film Market to expand the opportunities to connect talent with distribution agents.
Each night’s film screening will have roughly two hours of curated content followed by a question-and-answer session with the filmmakers.
“When you get a screening at a film festival, you get an audience that wants to be there which is always nice and you get to meet them, and you get to meet other filmmakers, it’s a nice film-intensive experience,” said Burnett.
A number of other local filmmakers will be featured in addition to Burnett. The majority of the local filmmakers will be screened at NOVA night on April 2. The film fest’s information including information about Burnett’s work is at novafilmfest.com.