Film Festival Guests to Include Meg Ryan, Oliver Stone, Leonard Maltin

September 29, 2015

The 2015 Virginia Film Festival, presented by the University of Virginia and the Office of the Provost and Vice Provost for the Arts, will feature more than 100 films and a star-studded guest list.

The Nov. 5-8 event will include appearances by actor Meg Ryan, whose directorial debut “Ithaca” was filmed in Virginia; legendary director Oliver Stone; noted writer and activist Larry Kramer (“The Normal Heart”); and celebrated film critic and historian Leonard Maltin.

Other guests include Emmy Award-winning actor Cherry Jones; actor Scott Haze in his directorial debut documentary “Mully,” along with Academy Award-winning filmmaker James Moll; actor Maddie Hasson; and cast members from the upcoming filmed-in-Virginia PBS Civil War dramatic series “Mercy Street,” including Norbert Leo Butz (“Bloodline”); Tara Summers (“Boston Legal”) and Central Virginia native Hannah James.

“This year’s Virginia Film Festival will offer audiences an incredibly strong program of films that once again run the gamut of cinematic experiences,” festival director Jody Kielbasa, U.Va.’s vice provost for the arts, said.

Along with the headline names, Kielbasa said, comes a reaffirmed commitment to cinematic discovery. “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.”

Screenings will be supplemented with discussions led by festival guests and U.Va. academics, exploring the role of film in addressing various social and political issues.

For a full schedule and complete information regarding the Virginia Film Festival, visit Tickets will go on sale Friday and can be purchased online, in person at the U.Va. Arts Box Office (at Culbreth Theatre), and via phone at 434-924-3376.

Among the festival’s highlights:

• Opening Night Film: “I Saw the Light”
Opening the 2015 Festival, on Nov. 5 at 7 p.m., will be “I Saw the Light,” chronicling country music legend Hank Williams’ meteoric rise to fame and its tragic consequences on a life cut short at the age of 29. The film stars Tom Hiddleston in the lead role and Elizabeth Olsen as Williams’ wife, Audrey Mae, and is directed by Marc Abraham, a U.Va. alumnus and film festival advisory board member who will be on hand to present the film. He will be joined by cast members including theater legend and Emmy and Tony Award-winning actor Cherry Jones and rising Hollywood star Maddie Hasson, who plays Williams’ second wife and widow.

• Centerpiece Film:The Lady in the Van”
Maggie Smith stars in this funny, poignant and life-affirming true story about an elderly woman of uncertain origins who “temporarily” parked in the London driveway of acclaimed writer Alan Bennett (“History Boys”) and proceeded to stay for 15 years. The film, directed by longtime Bennett collaborator Nicholas Hytner (“The Madness of King George”), also stars Alex Jennings and Jim Broadbent.

• Closing Night Film:Son of Saul”
Hungarian director László Nemes’ debut created an international sensation when it captured the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The film offers a raw and rarely seen first-person perspective on the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust through the story of a Jewish prisoner forced to work in a Nazi crematorium. When the man comes across the body of a boy he takes to be his son, he embarks on the impossible task of saving the body from the flames, finding a rabbi to recite the mourner’s Kaddish and offering the boy a proper burial.

• “Ithaca,” featuring special guest Meg Ryan
The famed actor’s directorial debut, filmed in Virginia, tells the story of a 14-year-old boy in 1942 working as a bike messenger to deliver messages of love, hope, pain and death to the people of Ithaca, and how he deals with one particular message that will change him forever. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Saroyan’s 1943 novel “The Human Comedy,” “Ithaca” is a coming-of-age story about the exuberance of youth, the abruptness of change, the sweetness of life, the sting of death and the sheer goodness that lives in each and every one of us.

• Oliver Stone – “Born on the Fourth of July”
The festival welcomes legendary director Oliver Stone back for a screening and discussion of his powerful Academy Award-winning film adaptation of the bestselling book by famed Vietnam veteran-turned-antiwar-activist Ron Kovic. Stone and Kovic co-wrote the film’s screenplay and Stone received a “Best Director” Oscar for the film, which earned eight Oscar nominations and won four Golden Globe Awards. Noted educator, author and Vietnam War expert Robert Toplin will lead the discussion.

• Special Event: An Evening with Larry Kramer
Distinguished American playwright and LGBT rights activist Larry Kramer will take part in a pair of events. He will be on hand for a discussion of the acclaimed HBO documentary “Larry Kramer in Love and Anger” on Nov. 8 at Newcomb Hall Theater. That afternoon in Old Cabell Hall, the festival will present “An Evening  with Larry Kramer,” a wide-ranging talk about his career and life. Kramer is one of the most dynamic and influential forces for political activism, gay rights, public health policy and AIDS awareness, and is renowned for both his ardent social activism and literary achievements. At the root of both is his lifelong commitment to criticizing gay apathy and government and social indifference to AIDS. He is the founder of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, an AIDS service organization, and ACT UP, a widely effective direct action AIDS advocacy group. His most acclaimed plays include “The Normal Heart” (1985) and the Pulitzer Prize-finalist “The Destiny of Me” (1992). A recent revival of “The Normal Heart” won three Tony Awards, including Best Play, and the 2014 HBO television adaptation earned the Emmy for Outstanding Television Movie.

• Leonard Maltin
Critic and film historian Leonard Maltin makes his festival debut to guest-program a number of films and to be a part of the annual Library of Congress series. Maltin’s appearances include a conversation with the legendary animator Bill Plympton after a screening of his celebrated film “Cheatin.’” He also will present a screening of the Academy Award-nominated film “Songcatcher,” followed by a conversation with director Maggie Greenwald. In addition, Maltin – a voting member of the National Film Registry – will present restored prints of “The Maltese Falcon” (1941) and “Employees’ Entrance” (1933) from the Library of Congress archives in Culpeper.

• “Mercy Street”
The festival will present a sneak preview of an episode of the upcoming PBS television drama “Mercy Street.” Set to debut Jan. 17, the six-part series was produced in and around Richmond. Part medical drama, part family saga, the series is based on true stories and is set in Alexandria, the longest Union-occupied town of the Civil War. The show follows two volunteer nurses on opposite sides of the Civil War; Mary Phinney (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a staunch New England abolitionist, and Emma Green (Charlottesville-area native Hannah James), a naive young Confederate belle, who collide at Mansion House, the Green family’s luxury hotel that has been transformed into a Union army hospital. Juxtaposed with the hospital is the story of the Green family, Southern loyalists who have stubbornly remained in their hometown despite the occupation. The intersection of North and South within the confines of a small, occupied city creates a rich world that is chaotic, conflicted, corrupt, dynamic and even hopeful. The screening will be followed by a discussion with several cast members, including Hannah James, Norbert Leo Butz (“Bloodline”), Cherry Jones (“24”), and Tara Summers (“Boston Legal”), along with one of the series’ executive producers, Lisa Quijano Wolfinger, and U.Va. Civil War expert Gary Gallagher.

Spotlight Screenings

  • “Carol” Set in 1952 New York, this new film from award-winning director Todd Haynes tells the story of an aspiring young photographer (Rooney Mara) whose chance department store encounter with an older, married woman (Cate Blanchett) sparks a relationship that changes both of their lives.
  • “Entertainment” – Director Rick Alverson, a Richmond native, presents a nightmarish account of an entertainer on the brink as an aging comedian tours a series of fourth-rate venues in the California desert while trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter.
  • “In Transit” – The final project of the late documentarian Albert Maysles takes viewers on a journey into the hearts and minds of everyday passengers aboard Amtrak’s Empire Builder, America’s busiest long-distance train route, capturing a beautiful portrait of America told in gorgeous landscapes and fascinating interconnected vignettes.
  • “Lamb” – A man’s journey to self-discovery, fueled by the disintegration of his marriage and death of his father, takes an unexpected detour when he meets an awkward and unpopular 11-year-old girl whom he takes on a mountain road trip that affects them both in surprising ways. The film’s writer, director and star, Ross Partridge, will be on hand for a discussion.
  • “Last Days in the Desert” – Ewan McGregor plays Jesus and The Devil in an imagined chapter from Jesus’ 40 days in the desert that finds the two tangling over the fate of a family in crisis. The film is the latest from director Rodrigo Garcia, and was produced by U.Va. alumna Julie Lynn and her producing partner, Bonnie Curtis, at Mockingbird Pictures. Lynn will be on hand to discuss the film.
  • “A Light Beneath Their Feet” – A high school senior must choose between going to college and taking care of her bipolar mother (played by Taryn Manning) in this film starring Maddie Hasson, who will be on hand to participate in a discussion of the film.
  • “Louder Than Bombs” – Writer/director Joachim Trier’s drama follows a father (Gabriel Byrne) and his two sons, played by Jesse Eisenberg and Devin Druid, as they confront their very different memories of their wife and mother, a famed war photographer. Druid and producer Ron Yerxa, a festival advisory board member, will be on hand to discuss the film.
  • “Mully” – Actor Scott Haze, a graduate of The Miller School in Albemarle County, makes his directorial debut with this inspiring story of Charles Mully, a one-time Kenyan orphan who rose to wealth and power, then risked it all to launch a foundation dedicated to creating a better life for orphans in the country today. Haze and the film’s executive producer, Academy Award-winning filmmaker James Moll, will discuss the film.
  • “Project Greenlight” Film – A sneak peek at the result of HBO’s acclaimed documentary series about filmmaking, focusing on the challenges facing a first-time director as cameras roll from pre-production to casting through principal photography and post-production. Director Jason Mann will take part in a conversation about the film.

Documentary Films

  • “Another Way of Living: The Story of Reston, VA” – American planner Robert Simon dreamed of “another way of living” in the suburbs, and in 1964 created the New Town of Reston. The film follows his unwavering belief in the project, despite being fired due to financial challenges in its earliest stages, and highlights his insistence that the town remain true to its core principles, even with the challenges brought on by financial success.
  • “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” – Filmmaker Stanley Nelson (“Freedom Riders”) examines the rise of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s and its impact on civil rights and American culture. Nelson weaves together a treasure trove of source material with the voices of those who lived it, from the Black Panthers themselves to detractors, FBI informants, journalists, white allies and others.
  • “Bound: Africans versus African Americans” – Controversial and illuminating, this film from Kenyan-born Peres Owino uses testimonials to expose the seldom-discussed ways that Africans and African-Americans view each other, and looks at the cultures’ shared history to foster mutual understanding. Owino will share her film and take part in a post-screening discussion.
  • “Generation A: Portraits of Autism in the Arts” – This powerful and insightful film, which features Temple Grandin and Ed Asner, shows how young people on the autism spectrum use the arts to reach their highest potential and to connect with others and build pathways into their community.
  • “Harry & Snowman” – This film about renowned Central Virginia equestrian Harry deLeyer tells the Cinderella story that began when he paid $80 for a broken-down Amish plowhorse headed for the glue factory. Two years later, the pair won the triple crown of show jumping, gaining worldwide fame and forging friendship that lasted a lifetime.
  • “Imba Means Sing” – An 8-year-old star drummer from Uganda’s Grammy-nominated African Children’s Choir leads audiences on an inspirational journey, highlighted by a life-changing opportunity and showcasing the importance of education.
  • “Rosenwald”Aviva Kempner’s latest film tells the incredible yet little-known story of how businessman and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald joined with African-American communities in the South to build schools during the early part of the 20th century, and the ongoing efforts to reconfigure those schools. The screening will be in tribute to the late civil rights activist and U.Va. history professor emeritus Julian Bond, who is featured in the film. Bond’s widow Pamela Horowitz; poet and U.Va. English professor Rita Dove; and Kempner will be in attendance.
  • Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot” – The true story of the forgotten heroes in the fight for voting rights – the courageous students and teachers of Selma, Alabama, who stood up against injustice despite facing intimidation, arrests, and violence. Presented in partnership with the U.Va. Center for Politics.
  • “Sol LeWitt: Wall Drawings” – Filmmakers Edgar B. Howard and Tom Piper present a retrospective of LeWitt’s wall drawings in North Adams, Massachusetts. Born in 1928, LeWitt is considered one of the key pioneers of conceptual art for his belief that concept is more important than execution. This screening supports an exhibition this fall at The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia.
  • “Until 20” – When James Ragan was 13, he received the most devastating news: he had a rare childhood cancer. What he did after he heard that news is the basis for this film, a moving account of James’ life after his diagnosis that asks the question, “How would you live if you knew your life would end at 20?”

Spotlight on Virginia Filmmaking

“This year’s crop of films that were either made in Virginia or have Virginia roots are particularly impressive,” festival programmer Wesley Harris said, “which really speaks to the growing base of talent and creativity in the commonwealth. It’s an honor to be able to showcase their work each year.”

This year’s Virginia Filmmaking lineup includes:

  • “Coming Through the Rye”Jamie Schwartz, obsessed with Holden Caulfield, runs away from boarding school in the year 1969 to find reclusive author J.D. Salinger. Inspired by actual events, Jamie's search for Salinger becomes a journey into sexual awakening, love and loss in this film directed by James Steven Sadwith.
  • “H8RZ” With the intrigue of a crime thriller, this story of a mysterious high school “incident” tells a many-layered story that unravels throughout the course of the school’s investigation, and cleverly deals with issues of bullying, school corruption and the darker side of teen interactions. The screening will feature a discussion with writer/director Derrick Borte (from Norfolk) and the film’s star, Israel Broussard.
  • “Monroe Hill” –This historical documentary-essay film from Charlottesville-based documentarian Eduardo Montes-Bradley traces the roots and historical context of James Monroe’s first home in Albemarle County. The property known as Monroe Hill serves today as the administrative offices of Brown Residential College on the U.Va. Grounds.
  • “Paradise” – Produced over the course of eight years beginning in 2007, the feature-length, non-fiction video by U.Va. professor Lydia Moyer focuses on seven stories of abandoned sites, including Wounded Knee, South Dakota; the mining town of Centralia, Pennsylvania; and the site of the Jonestown massacre in Guyana. Moyer’s work will also be featured in this year’s Digital Media Gallery, located in Second Street Gallery.
  • “Polyfaces” – Four years in the making, this documentary celebrates the unique connection between food and community found at the third-generation family farm of author and activist Joel Salatin (called the “world’s most innovative farmer” by Time Magazine). The screening will feature a conversation with Salatin and filmmakers Lisa Heenan and Darren Doherty.
  • “Night of the Living Deb” – Endearingly awkward Deb wakes up in the apartment of the most attractive guy in Portland, Maine. One problem: she doesn’t remember how she ended up there. A second problem: said guy ushers her out the door and straight into a full-scale zombie apocalypse. Virginia native director Kyle Baker, star Maria Thayer, and cinematographer Tom Ackerman will be present to discuss the film.

Library of Congress Series

The Virginia Film Festival celebrates the fifth year of its unique partnership with the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation in Culpeper, presenting a series of films that celebrate the National Film Registry and the Campus’ dedication to film preservation.

This year’s lineup will include the Humphrey Bogart classic “The Maltese Falcon” (1941), the seedy pre-Code drama “Employee’s Entrance” (1933), and D. W. Griffith’s landmark 1915 film “Birth of a Nation,” which remains one of the most controversial films in American history. The latter screening will be followed by a panel discussion led by the Miller Center’s director of public programs, journalist and author Douglas A. Blackmon, who earned the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for his book, “Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II.”

International Films

  • “Cemetery of Splendour” (Thailand) Palme d’Or winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul (“Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives”) returns in this mysterious and funny new film about a young medium and middle-aged hospital volunteer who investigate a case of mass sleeping sickness that may have supernatural roots.
  • “Dough” (United Kingdom/Hungary)An endearing and heartfelt tale about an old Jewish baker (Jonathan Pryce) struggling to keep his business afloat, who sees sales soar when a young Muslim apprentice accidentally drops cannabis into the dough.
  • “Eisenstein In Guanajuato” (Netherlands/Mexico)Filmmaker Peter Greenaway looks into the mind of the Russian creative genius Sergei Eisenstein and how that filmmaker’s 10 days in Mexico in 1931 and how the desires and fears of love, sex and death he faced there helped shape the career and legacy of one of the great masters of cinema.
  • “In the Basement” (Austria) – Ulrich Seldl heads deep into his nation’s consciousness by delving into what its people get up to in their basements, one of the most utilized rooms in Austrian homes. The answers run the gamut from mundane hobbies to shocking obsessions and reveal, in some cases, more than we ever hoped to know.
  • “The Kindergarten Teacher” (Israel/France) – A young woman becomes enchanted, then obsessed, with the otherworldly poetic talents of a 5-year-old boy, ultimately pushing boundaries in an effort to protect that talent before his purity is lost.
  • “The Pearl Button” (Chile) – Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzmán uses the metaphor of water, inspired by his nation’s vast coastline, to chronicle the history of the indigenous peoples of Patagonia, whose decimation by colonial conquest foretold the brutal Pinochet dictatorship.
  • “Mountains May Depart” (China) – A sweeping tale from Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhang-ke about a town beauty and two suitors that that jumps from the past to the near future to show how China’s economic boom has impacted the bonds of family, tradition and love.
  • “My Friend Victoria” (France) – Adapted from a short story by Nobel Prize-winning writer Doris Lessing, this powerful tale of race and privilege shifts the scene to Paris to focus on a young orphan girl whose one night in the home of a wealthy family has reverberations that change the course of her life.
  • “Sembene!” (Senegal) – The real life epic about Ousmane Sembene, the “father of African cinema,” tells the tale of an ordinary man who fought enormous odds to give African stories to Africans from the perspective of the man who knew him best.
  • “Summer of Sangaile” (Lithuania/France/Netherlands) – A chance meeting between two restless teenagers sets the stage for a summer of awakening, learning to fly and learning to love, in this film that earned a World Cinema Directing Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
  • “Taxi” (Iran) – Exiled Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi takes the helm, and the wheel, in a slice-of-life documentary that finds him posing as a taxi driver to get a look inside the lives of Tehran residents. The film earned the Golden Bear at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival.
  • “Victoria” (Germany) – Shot in a single two-hour-plus take, this edge-of-your-seat thriller tells the story of a runaway party girl whose spontaneous night out with three men turns into a bank robbery.

U.Va. Center for Politics

The Virginia Film Festival and the Center for Politics continue their annual collaboration with a special screening of “Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot.” The true story of the forgotten heroes in the fight for voting rights depicts the courageous students and teachers of Selma, Alabama who stood up against injustice despite facing intimidation, arrests and violence.

The film will be followed by a panel discussion featuring Joanne Bland, the co-founder and former director of Selma’s National Voting Rights Museum; Charles Mauldin, who at age 16 was elected president of the Dallas County Youth League, the student organization that led many of the nonviolent marches and demonstrations that culminated in the March to Montgomery and the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and whose parents were the first two to be registered as a result of that passage; and Selma foot soldier Albert Southall, who faced dogs, horses, tear gas, billy clubs and cattle prods that fateful day at the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

“Faust,” featuring John D’earth and the Free Bridge Quintet

On Nov. 7, as part of a partnership with U.Va.’s McIntire Department of Music, the Free Bridge Quintet will perform a two-hour accompaniment to the 1926 silent film “Faust,” directed by F.W. Murnau. The score, composed by Free Bridge trumpeter and U.Va. Director of Jazz Performance John D’earth, was originally commissioned by the U.Va. Film Society in 2003 for a presentation of the restored print. The film will screen in Old Cabell Hall and will feature the quintet with guest I-Jen Fang, principal percussionist of the Charlottesville Symphony. (Note: Festival ticket vouchers and badges will not be redeemable for this event.) 

Family Day

Family Day returns to the Betsy and John Casteen Arts Grounds on Nov. 7 with a daylong celebration for all ages, highlighted by screenings of “Pixar Short Films 2007-2012” and the family classic “Babe.” The screenings begin at 10 a.m. at Culbreth Theatre.

Also returning this year will be the Charlottesville Symphony’s Musical Instrument Petting Zoo in the Helms Theatre, and the popular Young Filmmakers Academy, showcasing the work of more than 600 student filmmakers from around the area.

The day will also feature the return of the arts-inspired interactive workshops led by U.Va. and community arts professionals on topics including “Make-up Effects,” “Speak Shakespeare Like a Pro!”, “Music in Movies” and more. The workshops are free, but require advance registration; visit

Family Day events are free and open to the public, and feature convenient free parking at the Culbreth Road Garage.

School Screening: “Most Likely to Succeed”

Middle- and high-school students will attend a special screening of the award-winning documentary “Most Likely to Succeed” on Nov. 6 at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for the Performing Arts at Charlottesville High School. The film, by Greg Whiteley, has been hailed as one of the most important ever made on the topic of the past and present of school.

The film will also be presented at a public screening that evening at Piedmont Virginia Community College’s Dickinson Center.

Digital Media Gallery

The Digital Media Gallery returns to Second Street Gallery, inside the City Center for Contemporary Arts, where it will feature video projection art and experimental films by students from acclaimed filmmaker Kevin Everson’s intermediate and advanced U.Va. cinematography courses and students from Charlottesville’s award-winning Light House Studio. 

The gallery also will feature the debut of a new film by video artist Lydia Moyer, an associate professor at U.Va.

The gallery will open Nov. 6 with a First Friday reception and will remain open through the month. It is curated in company with Beyond Classification, a group exhibition of contemporary photography and video by women artists from Egypt who offer multiple perspectives on current political and social conditions there, as well as diverse strategies for communicating about those conditions in photography and video; these can be viewed beginning Oct. 23.

Beyond Classification and the Digital Media Gallery are both free and open to the public. The Digital Media Gallery is made possible by the support of the U.Va. Arts Council and The A/V Company and is part of the Virginia Film Festival’s Community Outreach & Education Program.

Adrenaline Film Project

Since its launch in 2003, the Adrenaline Film Project has become an annual highlight and audience favorite, bringing together 10 to 12 teams of three filmmakers to write, cast, shoot, edit and screen their films in only 72 hours. Filmmaker and Charlottesville native Jeff Wadlow will once again head a veteran mentor team that includes Charlottesville filmmaker Derek Sieg and acting coach Leigh Kilton-Smith.

Mentors closely supervise each stage of production, and the process culminates Nov. 7 at 9:30 p.m. in a competitive screening and award ceremony in front of a live audience at Culbreth Theatre.

Parties and Events

Highlights of this year’s parties and events include:

  • Opening Night Gala – Nov. 5, Jefferson Theater, Downtown Mall (doors open at 9:30 p.m.; 21 and over event)
    Celebrate the excitement of opening night following the screening of “I Saw the Light” and toast the weekend with beverages, light buffet refreshments and live big band music while mixing and mingling with guests, festival friends and supporters. Tickets are $75 per person.
  • Late Night Wrap Party – Nov. 7, Main Street Arena, Downtown Mall, 10 p.m. (21 and over event)
    Close the festival in style and connect with filmmakers, special guests and fellow film fans in a fun and festive atmosphere. Tickets are $35 per person.

The 2015 Virginia Film Festival is generously supported by premiere sponsors The AV Company, The Joseph & Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, Virginia Film Office, Violet Crown and Wells Fargo.

Media Contact

Caroline Newman

Associate Editor Office of University Communications