The programming for this year’s Virginia Film Festival was announced Sept. 28 at The Jefferson Theater by Jody Kielbasa, University vice provost for the Arts and Virginia Film Festival Director, and Wesley Harris, VFF Programmer, setting the stage for another active weekend of cinema in Charlottesville.
Set to take place from Nov. 5-8, this year’s festival, while still a work in progress, has a promising slate of features and special guests. The selections as they stand span major Awards films and showcases of local, Virginia films.
“We have, as always, focused on creating a program that is as deep and broad as the interests and passions of our unique VFF audiences, and have further expanded our efforts to share new voices and talents with our audiences by bringing in a wide array of emerging filmmakers working across a vast landscape of genres, styles, and topics,” Mr. Kielbasa stated.
Opening night will be headlined with the Hank Williams biopic “I Saw the Light,” directed by University alum Marc Abraham and starring Tom Hiddleston as the influential country singer. Actors Maddie Hasson and Emmy-winner Cherry Jones will attend as special guests. For the Centerpiece Film Saturday, the festival will screen “The Lady in the Van,” starring Maggie Smith. On closing night, the Festival will screen the Cannes Grand Prix winning Hungarian film “Son of Saul.”
The current programming line-up features several other national highlights in both films and guests. The Spotlight Screenings include the Todd Haynes drama “Carol,” which has been generating Oscar-buzz for stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, and “Last Days in the Desert” starring Ewan McGregor. University alumna Julie Lynn, who will also be in attendance for a post-screening discussion, produced this drama depicting a fictional chapter in Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. Of the international film selection, the most interesting is Berlin Film Festival Drama “Victoria,” a film of over two and half hours shot in a single take.
The Festival will continue its partnership with the Miller Center with a screening of the documentary “Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot.” The screening will be followed by a panel discussion featuring co-founder and former director of the National Voting Rights Museum Joanne Bland, former Dallas County Youth League President Charles Mauldin, and Selma marcher Albert Southall. The Festival will host other civil rights-themed films, “Rosenwald,” featuring a tribute to Civil Rights Leader Julian Bond, and “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of a Revolution.”
In addition, the Festival will screen the award-winning education documentary “Most Likely to Succeed” for middle and high school students for free, in partnership with the Curry School and local schools. The film will also be showed for the public later that day.
Special guests will include Meg Ryan, who is on hand for a screening of her directorial debut “Ithaca” and a post-screening discussion. Academy Award-winning director Oliver Stone will be returning to the Festival for a screening of his film “Born on the Fourth of July,” with a discussion following afterwards. In a special event, the festival will host playwright and AIDS activist Larry Kramer for a screening of the HBO documentary “Larry Kramer in Love and Anger” and for a discussion of his life and work in Old Cabell Hall Sunday. Kielbasa emphasized hosting Kramer as another example of the diversity of viewpoints featured in the Festival, exemplifying the “social activists, change agents, people who have made history” the festival hosts.
Another special guest, noted film critic and historian Leonard Maltin, will attend and has hand-selected two films 35mm films as part of the Library of Congress series — “The Maltese Falcon” and the pre-code “Employee’s Entrance.”
The festival will also continue its expansion into screening television shows with the screening of PBS’ first narrative show, “Mercy Street,” Friday. The show is set in a Civil War hospital and was filmed in Virginia.
In addition to the films, Kielbasa announced three new venues for the festival this year, including a screening to celebrate the opening of the Violet Crown Theaters — formerly the Regal Downtown Cinema. Other new venues include the return of the Vinegar Hill space, which fell absent for two past festivals, and the Southern Music Hall. The festival will feature it’s usual Opening Night Gala Thursday and Closing Night Wrap Party Saturday.
In addition to the programming revealed Monday, Kielbasa stated additional features should be expected in the coming weeks. Regardless, the Festival already looks to offer diverse and thought-provoking options for the University and Charlottesville community.