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Talking the Virginia Film Festival

A&E Sits down with VFF Managing Director, Jennifer Mays

For more than 25 years, the Virginia Film Festival has been a marquee event for the city of Charlottesville, welcoming local, national and international films and filmmakers for several days of screenings, panels and other events. This weekend marked the opening of the 2014 Virginia Film Festival, shaping up to be another successful year for VFF.

The Cavalier Daily had the pleasure of speaking with Jennifer Mays, managing director of the Virginia Film Festival and University alumna about her position and the ins and outs of this year’s festival.

A&E: What is your role with the Festival and what has your experience been like working in that position?

JM: I’ve held a couple different roles over the years. I left the film festival for four years to work for the Heritage Theater Festival and then came back to work for Jody [Kielbasa, director of the film festival] in 2010, and shortly afterwards was hired as managing director.

[This role] is a true arts administration position. I oversee publicity and marketing campaign[s], I oversee our internship program, [and] our full-time staff reports to me. My role is to have a big picture of what’s going on at any given year at the film festival and try to make sure everyone has the support they need and that we all stay on track.

A&E: You mentioned you oversee interns and that you were actually an intern when you were a University student. Could you talk a little bit about your experience both being an intern and what kind of appeal the internship program has for students who may be interested in the workings of the film festival?

JM: Absolutely. When I was a student, my experience interning with the festival was one of my highlights at U.Va. What I realized as an intern, and what I work every single year to make sure what happens every year in the internship program, is to make sure the interns have a huge responsibility at the film festival. Our interns outnumber our full-time and part-time staff, so we really could not put the festival on without [them].

We have different programs, for instance our “Young Filmmakers Academy” program for outreach education. The intern [who] is running the “Young Filmmakers” program is really running it, being overseen by our Outreach and Education Coordinator, but they are really the ones in the classrooms, talking with the kids, helping the teachers and helping make these films. Our interns don’t take a back seat to the action. They are on the front lines helping work the festival, helping to invite panelists to participate in panels and discussions. They’re designing the web ads running on local media websites. They are really doing the meat of the festival work.

A&E: There’s a lot of variety in this year’s program, from bigger movies like “Foxcatcher” and “The Imitation Game” to short film collections to local movies. What appeal do you think this year’s festival specifically has for University students?

JM: I think there is a little bit in the festival for everybody, including U.Va. students. There is such a wide variety and Wesley Harris and Jody Kielbasa continually do better every single year creating a really rich and interesting program. …

We are lucky to get each year the big marquee films, sneak previews of the films that are going to be out in theaters and that everyone is excited to see. You mentioned some of those, “Foxcatcher,” “The Imitation Game,” “Wild,” and we have just added a screening of “The Theory of Everything.” But in addition to those, we show classic films. We’re showing “Dr. Strangelove” in Newcomb and we have an amazing panel associated with it, so if you haven’t seen “Dr. Strangelove,” it’s a wonderful way to see that film.

We have an amazing number of documentaries that deal with current events and really important things in the world. We have a film that we’re showing called “SlingShot” that I think will be particularly interesting to students. We also show a short package including films from former film festival interns. We have an amazing program and there really is something in there for everybody.

A&E: This year there is a film showing called “Fifth Street” that is directed by U.Va. students. How does the focus on Virginia film strengthen the festival and filmmaking in Virginia as a whole?

JM: One of the pillars of the film festival’s mission is to support filmmaking and filmmakers in the state of Virginia and … looking at our program this year, we have so many films that have been shot in Virginia or made by Virginia-based filmmakers. I think the sheer number ... speaks to how much the filmmaking community in Virginia is strengthening.

One of the most important partnerships in the film festival is the partnership with the Virginia Film Office in Richmond, and through their support … we are able to give a platform for Virginia filmmaking as a whole, which really adds to our program. Encouraging filmmaking to happen throughout the state of Virginia is a benefit to all. There’s huge economic impact, it’s a huge opportunity for the state as a whole and anything that the film festival can do to support the Virginia Film Office and support Virginia filmmaking, we do. On top of that, there are amazing films made in Virginia and by Virginia filmmakers, so it’s easy for us to provide that platform because of the high quality and amazing productions [they offer].

A&E: What do you think is the biggest challenge in running the film festival?

JM: I think, on the year-to-year basis, the biggest challenge is just the nature of the film festival. The program of the festival — we show 100 films in four days — and the selections of those films, and the guest confirmations that come in about participating in discussions after films, it all comes together a little more than a month before the film festival. So there is that last-minute nature that is a part of putting on almost any arts event, but particularly a festival arts event — [it] is the nature of the beast.

A&E: Do you have any final thoughts on the film festival for this year?

JM: I think that the program that we have for 2014 is incredible. There is something … for everyone and it is really really exciting. We have the big films like I said before, but more of my favorite thing in every festival are the little gems, the really special things that happen in the festival, the really special moments.

One film that I am very interested in ... is called “From Grain to Growler.” It’s a film about the craft breweries throughout the state of Virginia, and it’s a Virginia-made film. We are putting together beer tastings and it should be a really fun afternoon for people who like beer. We are also bringing in Barry Levinson, who is this amazing Hollywood director who is showing his new film “The Humbling” and his classic film “The Natural,” which is also an amazing opportunity. I have been part of the festival for over 10 years now, and I think that every festival gets better.

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