In the Car, Under the Stars: See Virginia Film Festival’s First Drive-In Movies

October 22, 2020 By Caroline Newman, Caroline Newman,

As the sun set Wednesday night, a line of cars snaked through the winding roads of Albemarle County, past the homes of Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe to Morven Farm where, in a rolling field by the polo barns, an inflatable screen awaited.

Several miles away, in the heart of Charlottesville, still more cars pulled into the parking lot the new Dairy Market food hall on Grady Avenue, where a towering silver screen had been set up in front of a wide brick wall.

Both auto audiences were there for the Virginia Film Festival’s first-ever drive-in movie screenings, part of the festival’s extraordinary efforts to re-write the script in a year where large in-person gatherings remain unsafe.

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Instead, the festival – a program of the University of Virginia that normally draws thousands of filmmakers and film lovers to Charlottesville each fall – put together an impressive virtual program of 70-plus films, accompanied by nightly drive-in movies, running from Wednesday through Sunday. (Scheduling and ticketing information is available here.)

Wednesday night’s film was “One Night in Miami,” the directorial debut of Academy Award-winning actor Regina King. University photographers Sanjay Suchak and Ziniu Chen were on hand at Morven and the Dairy Market as viewers took it in.

An aerial view of Morven Farm as the sun sets and cars arrive. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)
Virginia Film Festival Director and UVA Vice Provost for the Arts Jody Kielbasa welcomed the audience at Morven. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)
All audience members remained in their cars; audio was transmitted via FM radio. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)
UVA President Jim Ryan was at Morven, offering welcoming remarks that praised the festival’s resilience in the face of the pandemic. He enjoyed the film with his wife, Katie. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)
Meanwhile, at the Dairy Market, cars pulled into their designated spots, ready to watch Leslie Odom Jr. and company in “One Night in Miami.” (Photo by Ziniu Chen, University Communications)
The drive-ins were a hit, and organizers anticipate many more full lots over the weekend. (Photo by Ziniu Chen, University Communications)