The Virginia Film Festival, presented by the University of Virginia, rolled out the red carpet on Thursday as Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Academy-Award winning actor Colin Firth and director Jeff Nichols introduced the festival’s opening film, “Loving.”
Filmed entirely in Virginia, “Loving” is based on the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple from Central Point, Va., whose 1967 Supreme Court case overturned Virginia’s laws prohibiting interracial marriage. The film, starring Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, premiered at the 2016 Cannes International Film Festival in May and has been earning Oscar buzz ever since. It will be released nationwide on Friday after the Virginia Film Festival screening on Thursday night.
Firth served as a producer on the film, which was filmed in several Central Virginia locations. A prolific actor, he has won an Academy Award for his performance in the 2010 film “The King’s Speech” and is well-known for his roles in blockbuster films like “A Single Man,” “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and “Love Actually,” as well as his performance as Mr. Darcy in the BBC’s six-part adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”
For “Loving,” he got a chance to work on the other side of a camera, telling a story that became very important to him.
“When I heard this story, it was in 2009 and I was making a film in Durham, North Carolina. I was just as taken by the story as we all have been on hearing it. That is where it started,” Firth said in a press conference prior to the screening. “I just thought it needed to be told.”
Joining Firth at the press conference were McAuliffe, Nichols, fellow producers Ged Doherty, Sarah Green and Oge Egbuonu and Jody Kielbasa, director of the Virginia Film Festival and vice provost for the arts at UVA. The film’s producers, along with Nichols, also took the stage for a post-screening discussion moderated by Doug Blackmon of UVA’s Miller Center.
While introducing the film, McAuliffe declared that June 12 will now be known as “Loving Day” in the commonwealth, honoring the Lovings and their quest for equality.
“This is a history that needed to be told,” McAuliffe said. “This film is so important because it all occurred here in Virginia and it is always important to come back to the roots of an issue. This issue is related to a lot of discussion in America today, and it could not be a more appropriate time.”
Virginia’s film industry generates more than $420 million in annual economic impact and has attracted several major motion pictures in recent years. The Virginia Film Festival has also grown to become one of the region’s predominant festivals, featuring numerous films, like “Loving,” that are poised for success in the box office and on the awards circuit.
“We are honored and thrilled to present this film as the opening film to the Virginia Film Festival,” Kielbasa said on Thursday, thanking the film’s producers for choosing to make “Loving” in the commonwealth.
“We loved working here, with the support of the governor and the film commission. And, this town is just awesome,” producer Sarah Green said. “We had such a good time.”
Thursday night’s screening of “Loving” was the culmination of the festival’s opening day, and events will continue throughout the weekend with more than 120 films presented in venues around Charlottesville and UVA, with many appearances by UVA faculty.