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Just Like the Good Old Days

"Woman's Story" director hopes the movie will help signal a return to mature, issue-related storytelling.

Next weekend, Tally Ho Theatre in Leesburg will host the premiere of a movie that the filmmaker equates with "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "The Passion of the Christ" as an issue film designed to challenge the assumptions of viewers.

"Woman's Story" represents both a departure and a culmination for writer/director Gary Conway, who first made a name for himself as the star of the 1957 sci-fi flick "I Was a Teenage Frankenstein." Conway spent the next few decades acting in movies and television series and wrote a handful of big-budget Hollywood action movies like the Sylvester Stallone film "Over the Top."

And then, one day about five years ago, Conway's attitude towards his livelihood changed — just like that.

"It's painful when I see all films are dealing with nothing," he said last week as he sat at the McLean Family Restaurant.

Conway then launched into a description of the motion picture business — a world where business, not art, make the earth spin and rapid images flicker across the big screen.

"We make more money on video games than theatrical releases. That's a sea change from the inception of film," said Conway, who still maintains the broad-shouldered, strong-jawed look of a leading man. He's like George Clooney, if George Clooney was 68 and wore seersucker.

"It all boils down to one thing — they're running [movies] for one thing only and that's to get profit out of teenagers," Conway said.

A LIFELONG artist who dedicated himself to painting, architecture and music at the same time he earned a living in front of the camera, Conway decided to take everything he'd observed about art and deposit it into one film. Not only that, the film's story would deal with the number one issue of the new millennium, according to a statement by Colin Powell on a 1999 edition of Meet the Press: the disintegration of the American family.

If it sounds ambitious, it is, and there's more. Conway has picked Tally Ho Theatre as the location of his film premiere because back in fledgling days of the movie business, all films got their start in small community theaters.

"The way motion pictures were distributed, when they were mature films and they had to make an impact on the community, they were distributed community by community — exactly the way I'm doing this picture," Conway said.

While Conway lives on a vineyard in California, a son in Northern Virginia brings him and his wife to the area regularly. Conway became so enamored of Loudoun County that he is in process of establishing a vineyard here.

A chance visit to downtown Leesburg and a glimpse at Tally Ho Theatre from across the street was what brought "Woman's Story" to the theater.

"It absolutely propelled me back to my childhood," Conway said of first seeing Tally Ho Theatre, which was built in 1931.

TALLY HO THEATRE has hosted film premieres before — most notably, Robert Duvall's "A Shot At Glory" at the theater's grand reopening in 2002. For owner Judy Wilson, a film premiere is also an opportunity to give back to the community.

"We really like to do it when it's tied to a fundraiser," Wilson said.

Two local non-profits will reap the benefits of the "Woman's Story" premiere: one which serves women, and one which serves the arts and education. While the women's issues non-profit had not been finalized as of press time, Conway has chosen the Loudoun Education Foundation Scholarship as the arts and education non-profit.

The foundation, which was established in 1991, seeks private funding and resources to help improve public schools. Each year, it gives away scholarships for a variety of programs and colleges. In 2003, the foundation gave away 35 scholarships totaling $20,000, according to executive director Fred Flemming.

Funds garnered from the premiere could go to any kind of scholarship, Flemming said, but the foundation could design one inspired by the money's source.

"If it's a sizable amount, up in the thousands, we might consider a scholarship to an art school," Flemming said.

One perk of working behind the scenes is a chance to see "Woman's Story" before it makes its public debut. The film, Conway's first shot at directing (he also plays a supporting role), tells the tale of a distressed family in stylish fashion, incorporating specific artwork into every scene.

"Someone that's really into filmmaking will appreciate the film," Wilson said. "It's a very pretty film."

"It will be interesting to see what people actually get out of it," Conway said. "Will they get five percent of what I put into it? I have no idea."

"WOMAN'S STORY" will premiere at 6 p.m. at Tally Ho Theatre on Sept. 10. Afterward, viewers will be rewarded with a five-course dinner at Lightfoot Restaurant. Because the dinner proved so popular, a second dinner has been added for Monday. A question and answer session will take place with Conway and other members of the filmmaking team on Saturday, with a return to the Lightfoot Restaurant on Sunday for a gala fundraiser.