Virginia State Del. Chris Hurst (D) spoke to attendees Saturday morning in the Paramount Theater at the screening of “Virginia 12th”, a documentary film that follows his 2017 campaign in Virginia’s politically polarized 12th House of Delegates District. Hurst defeated Republican incumbent Joseph Yost in 2017 to win the 12th District — which encompasses the city of Radford, Giles County and parts of Montgomery County and Pulaski County — winning 54.3 percent of the vote.
“Virginia 12th” was shown as a part of the Virginia Film Festival, which took place in Charlottesville this past weekend. Hosted by the University of Virginia, the Virginia Film Festival screened over 70 films at venues across the city.
Hurst — a former journalist and news anchor at Roanoke news station WDBJ-7 — tragically gained national attention when his fiancée and fellow reporter Alison Parker and their colleague, Adam Ward, were murdered by disgruntled former colleague Vester Lee Flanagan II during a live broadcast of the morning news in 2015. He transitioned from journalism to politics shortly after, and credits his background in reporting to his desire to tell people’s stories who do not often have a voice in rural Virginia.
“Virginia 12th” focuses on the grassroots nature of Hurst’s campaign, including footage of internal conversations about polling, commercials and canvassing. Hurst explained how the film addressed the larger problem of accessibility, transparency and accountability in government.
“I think everybody should be able to see that side of campaigns, not just what campaigns present to you facing forward,” Hurst said to the audience of about 100 people.
Tim Johnson, the director of the film, cited Hurst’s unifying message and campaign volunteers as his inspirations for the film.
“You know, the students at Radford and Virginia Tech were like the unexpected stars of this film, in my mind,” Johnson said to the crowd. “They were the ones who really made me realize how important his candidacy was.”
Johnson shared how students who worked on Hurst’s campaign went on to work for other campaigns, including Radford city elections. He emphasized that the purpose of “Virginia 12th” is to demonstrate the importance of political involvement.
“People don’t believe their vote really matters … I think a lot of young people don’t … feel like government represents them so they’re not going to vote on Tuesday,” Johnson said. “That’s exactly why you need to vote, because when young people, or anybody votes for the candidate that represents their values, that's when you’re going to feel reflected in your government.”
The film was produced by NowThis, a media company that distributes video news content on social media platforms. “Virginia 12th” is NowThis’s first film production. The film is posted in its entirety on the NowThis Facebook page and YouTube channels, as well as on streaming services including Amazon Prime.
“We want every young person to watch this film as a form of inspiration going into the midterms on Tuesday,” NowThis President Athan Stephanopoulos said at the event.
Film festival attendee James Blunt told The Cavalier Daily he found the film to be highly relevant, given the upcoming midterm elections.
“I thought it was fantastic,” Blunt said. “I thought it was a important portrayal of our election process. Right now, it’s a pretty important time.”
Landon Roberts, a sophomore at Virginia Commonwealth University, agreed that the film was compelling.
“I am insanely interested in politics and the backbone of politics and how politicians run… [this film] incredibly impacted me because it was something I did not expect,” Roberts said.
When asked about his message to young voters from audience members, Hurst said he urged them to vote.
“When we vote, we all win. When we participate in this democracy, we all win. During this fractured time, people are wondering if our democracy is dead. It’s not dead. It’s not broken. It just needs more of us to be willing to participate in it,” he said.
Hurst plans to run for re-election to Virginia’s House of Delegates for Virginia’s 12th District next year.