The students who help make the Virginia Film Festival happen

The film festival offers a variety of opportunities for students to get involved


The lineup for this year's Virginia Film Festival features both locally-based documentaries and national big names and releases.

Courtesy Virginia Film Festival

Entering its 31st year, the Virginia Film Festival has long been a staple in the Charlottesville community. This year’s festival promises a wide variety of film screenings, discussion panels and family events covering an impressive array of topics. 

The 2018 festival lineup includes a discussion with two-time Academy Award-winning actor Christoph Waltz, a german actor known for “Inglorious Basterds” and “Django Unchained.” Other festival highlights include special screenings of potential Oscar contenders “Roma,” “The Favourite,” “Green Book” and “The Front Runner.” 

Pulling off a festival of this size requires a tremendous amount of work, and volunteers do large part of that work. Volunteers hail from all over Charlottesville, but the festival offers a series of opportunities to students in particular. Students who are particularly devoted can apply to become interns or Festival Scholars. 

Easily accessible: The volunteering

Over the course of the weekend, 300 volunteers work around 500 shifts, coordinating and monitoring all of the programming. Volunteers hold a variety of positions at VFF — venue set-up and breakdown, driver, office support, party staff, usher and more.

“I joke that my job is a bit like herding cats,” VFF Volunteer Coordinator Jenny Gardiner said in an email statement with The Cavalier Daily. “But really it's a chance to be the conduit between hundreds of wonderful volunteers who generously offer time to help ensure that this amazing event runs smoothly each year. As volunteer coordinator, I work to recruit volunteers as well as venue managers, I assign and manage the assignments for close to 500 shifts over the four days of the festival.”

The VFF has several venues and events spanning all across the city and allowing community members to volunteer all across town. Culbreth Theater, Newcomb Theater, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, PVCC Dickinson Center and Jefferson Theater comprise a diverse set of venues well-tailored to the festival’s diverse content.

The VFF’s volunteer requirements make it easy for anyone to get involved. The minimum age to volunteer is 15. Many volunteers come from the Charlottesville community, but each year, plenty of University students help out as well.

“I love our UVA student volunteers,” Gardiner said. “As I've found is typical of UVA students, they are super committed and give it their all. Mostly the students help with ushering at our screening venues because our drivers must be at least 25 years old and most of the UVA students we get are undergrads. But they have a lot of enthusiasm and are very philanthropic in nature.”

The job has perks. Student volunteers receive a shirt, lanyard and badge and get access to 20 percent off festival merchandise. A private party and movie screening for all festival volunteers will be held in mid-November. 

Immersive and dynamic: The internship

Dedicated students can get even more involved through the VFF internship program. The internship asks students to commit 10-15 hours a week from late August to mid-December. 

Current, full-time students have eight different intern positions to apply to for in the spring before the festival that they wish to work. Those positions offer a chance to sample any aspect of the VFF. Intern positions include arts administration, fundraising, youth education and more. 

The program is competitive, though. “The [application] process was definitely extensive,” said Nicholas Brozey, third-year College student and VFF development intern. “They are not looking to try and get a bunch of different resumes so you have a bunch of different essays that you have to write. [The application deadline is] during finals so it was kind of stressful, but I am very happy that I did it, because it was fun work and really cool.”

“The dynamic is personally really unique,” said Sarah Ross, fourth-year College student and VFF student engagement intern. “I’ve had other publicity and marketing internships, but what I could say is that the film festival internship gives you a lot of responsibility. … You really have ownership over your position and over your projects.” 

Interns are paid an hourly rate and have the opportunity for pay increases after returning. Student interns are also privy to exciting networking opportunities with VFF Advisory Board members, industry professionals and a variety of local and national leaders in the arts.

An immersive experience: The Festival Scholars Program

The Festival Scholars program offers University students an opportunity to explore the films in a different sort of depth. This six-day immersive program takes a broad look at the festival. Scholars discuss and learn about film from an artistic and also a business perspective.

“There is slated to be around 12-15 films during the festivals where the scholars will have meetings talking about the analysis of the films,” Ross said. “They meet with experts to talk about making the films, the realities of film making, but also meeting with our advisory board to get an idea of the inner workings of a film festival.”

As a scholar, students receive a mentored program of studies, discussions, and overall experience led by a Lead Film Scholar. This year’s Lead Film Scholar is Harry Chotiner, a professor of film at New York University. Chotiner has worked for Francis Ford Coppola, CBS Theatrical Films and 20th Century Fox. He will guide students through film screenings and lead discussions on each program. 

The only requirement for applicants is an appreciation of film. 

“I am most excited to discuss films, both old and new, with my fellow scholars,” Asher Caplan, a third-year College student and VFF Festival Scholar, said in an email. “I

especially can’t wait to hear others’ thoughts on ‘Roma,’ the film that won the top prize at

the Venice Film Festival. It’s being screened this Saturday, and it’s the film that I am

most excited for out of all the films at this year’s festival.”

“The whole goal of the festival is to provide an all area immersive experience to the film festival,” Ross said. “It's a giant master class in film.”

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