This year’s Virginia Film Festival will feature a diverse program array of more than 100 films and a guest lineup that includes Hal Holbrook, Jenna Elfman, Frank Langella, Patrick Wilson, Barry Levinson, Katie Couric, Richard Roundtree and Jasmine Guy.
The festival, set for Nov. 6-9, is presented by the University of Virginia.
“I think we have an incredibly strong program of films that entertain and engage us in addition to inspiring important dialogue around the issues we face every single day,” said festival director Jody Kielbasa, U.Va.’s vice provost for the arts. “We are thrilled to welcome an extraordinary lineup of special guests who include all-time acting and directing greats, some of today’s most talented actors, leading cultural figures and personalities, and the largest collection of filmmakers we have ever brought in.”
For a full schedule and more information regarding the Virginia Film Festival, visit www.virginiafilmfestival.org. Tickets will go on sale Friday via that website, in person at the U.Va. Arts Box Office (at Culbreth Theatre), and via phone at 434-924-3376.
Taking a closer look at some of the festival’s highlights …
• Opening Night Film: “Big Stone Gap”
The festival will kick off Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. with the world premiere of “Big Stone Gap,” filmed in Virginia and based on the popular series of books by noted author and Big Stone Gap native Adriana Trigiani. The film stars Ashley Judd as the small town’s self-appointed, middle-aged spinster who keeps countless secrets before discovering one of her own that will change her life forever.
Trigiani, also the movie’s screenwriter and director, and cast members Patrick Wilson, Jenna Elfman and Jasmine Guy will attend the screening.
The film “wonderfully celebrates the commonwealth’s unique spirit and natural beauty,” Kielbasa said. “It all combines to make this a perfect choice for our opening night, and we are looking forward to a truly special evening.”
• Centerpiece Film: “5 to 7”
The festival’s primetime Saturday evening slot, traditionally reserved for new films, goes this year to “5 to 7,” the tale of a “cinq-a-sept” romance, and love’s power to conquer even the most insurmountable of obstacles. The screening will be followed by a discussion with guest Frank Langella, who will be joined by the film’s director, Victor Levin, along with U.Va. grad Julie Lynn and her Mockingbird Pictures partner Bonnie Curtis, the film’s producers.
• Closing Night Film: “Dead Poets Society”
The festival will offer a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most iconic films of the last quarter-century as it celebrates the 25th anniversary of “Dead Poets Society.” The screening will be followed by a discussion with its producer, U.Va. alum Paul Junger Witt, and its Oscar-winning screenwriter, Tom Schulman. The movie’s star, Robin Williams, earned an Academy Award nomination for his performance.
• Special Event: Hal Holbrook in “Mark Twain Tonight!”
Hal Holbrook will give a live theatrical performance of his signature one-man-show “Mark Twain Tonight!” at the Paramount Theater on Friday evening. The following afternoon, the 89-year-old actor will join director Scott Teems to present the acclaimed documentary “Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey.” Holbrook first played Twain as part of an honors project at Denison University after World War II; today “Mark Twain Tonight!” is among the longest-running shows in theater history. In 2014 – Holbrook’s 60th consecutive year in the Tony Award-winning role – Holbrook will give his 2,298th performance. He continues to change the show, mining over 20 hours of material to fit the times.
• Barry Levinson, “The Natural” and “The Humbling”
Barry Levinson, one of the most popular directors of the modern movie era thanks to hit films including “Diner,” “Rain Man,” “Bugsy,” “Good Morning Vietnam” and others, will present a 25th anniversary screening of “The Natural” on Sunday at The Paramount Theater. In addition, Levinson will offer a sneak peek at his latest directorial effort, “The Humbling,” starring Al Pacino.
• Katie Couric, “Fed Up”
U.Va. graduate Katie Couric returns to her alma mater to present and discuss a powerful documentary on America’s runaway childhood obesity epidemic. Couric narrates the film, which she co-executive-produced with Laurie David (“An Inconvenient Truth”). “Fed Up” features interviews with food and nutrition experts and heartbreaking first-person interviews with children, as it takes on the powerful “Big Sugar” lobby and questions many of the basic “truths” we have been told about food and nutrition for the past 30 years.
• Spotlight Screenings
“Buzzard” – Director Joel Potrykus will present his dark comedy about a horror metal slacker who flees a dead-end temp job to hide out in a friend’s basement, armed with a pile of pilfered bogus checks and a nasty temper.
“Dumb and Dumber To” – Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey are back in a sequel that picks up 20 years from the time we first met their dimwitted duo, and the boys are on a quest to find their long-lost children in hopes of finding a kidney.
“Fishing Without Nets” – This affecting film from director Cutter Hodierne won Best Director at Sundance this year and tells the story of a young Somali pirate from the perspective of the pirates themselves.
“Foxcatcher” – This powerful psychological drama tells the story of John DuPont (chillingly played by Steve Carell), a deeply troubled man who lures Olympic hopeful wrestler Dave Schultz (Channing Tatum) to live and train with him. It was a move that would have tragic repercussions.
“Hellion” – “Breaking Bad” star Aaron Paul stars in a disturbing, powerful and authentic story about a fractured family’s response to a 13-year-old boy’s spiraling out of control. The film, directed by Kat Candler, was one of the most talked-about films at Sundance this year.
“The Imitation Game” – Benedict Cumberbatch is earning significant Oscar talk as mathematician Alan Turing, whose status as a war hero – earned by leading a team that cracked the German Enigma Code and shortened World War II – is destroyed by revelations about his personal lifestyle and the unenlightened reactions of his countrymen.
“Low Down” – Directed by Jeff Preiss, the film looks at the life of celebrated jazz pianist Joe Albany and his battle with a drug addiction in the 1970s and ’80s through the eyes of his young daughter, Amy Jo Albany, who wrote the memoir upon which the film is based.
“Mommy” – Canadian director Xavier Dolan tells the emotionally charged story of a widowed single mom trying to manage her explosive 15-year-old ADHD son and a neighbor whose unexpected support adds an unexpected sense of stability, and ultimately, hope, to their lives. The film shared the 2014 Jury Prize at Cannes with Jean-Luc Godard’s “Goodbye to Language,” which also will be featured at this year’s festival.
“Mr. Turner” – Filmmaker Mike Leigh turns his unblinking and improvisational focus to the last 25 years of eccentric British painter J.M.W. Turner, whose complicated life and relationships make him at once loved and reviled by the art world, the public and royalty.
“Shaft” – Part of a larger tribute to the famed photographer and film director Gordon Parks, the screening of the film that introduced true “cool” to the ’70s will be followed by a discussion with its star, Richard Roundtree.
“Wild” – Reese Witherspoon is earning significant Oscar buzz for her performance as author Cheryl Strayed, who sets out on a grueling 1,000-plus-mile hike along the Pacific Trail in an attempt to heal herself from the loss of her mother, a divorce and years of self-destructive behavior.
• Documentary Films
“Alive Inside” – This stirring film follows social worker Dan Cohen, founder of the nonprofit organization Music & Memory, as he fights against a broken health care system to demonstrate music’s ability to combat memory loss and restore a deep sense of self to those suffering from it.
“All Fall Down” – Filmmaker Emily Topper looks back at her family’s complex reaction to her grandfather’s violent murder in Baltimore in 1972 in a first-person, close-to-the-bone treatment of the incident and its racially charged aftermath. The film will be presented by its executive producer, Virginia Film Festival Advisory Board member Ron Yerxa.
“Gray Matters” – Marco Orsini’s captivating documentary presents the story of Eileen Gray, the 20th-century artist whose vision, imagination and sensibility changed the way we live with furniture and within houses.
“The Hip Hop Fellow” – This film follows Grammy Award-winning producer 9th Wonder’s tenure at Harvard University as he teaches “The Standards of Hip Hop” course, conducts research for his thesis and explores hip-hop’s history, culture and role in academia.
“How I Got Over” – Filmmaker Nicole Boxer’s moving film follows 15 formerly homeless and/or incarcerated women as they craft an original play, based on their harrowing life stories, to be performed one night only at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.
“Out in the Night” – Blair Dorosh-Walther tells the story of four young African-American lesbians in New York City who fight back when they are sexually threatened by a man on the street, then are tried and convicted in the courts and the media as a “Gang of Killer Lesbians.”
“This Time Next Year” – Director Jeff Reichert (who screened his documentary “Remote Area Medical” at the 2013 festival), returns with co-director Farihah Zaman to present a moving look at the devastation Hurricane Sandy brought to Long Beach Island, New Jersey.
• Spotlight on Virginia Filmmaking
This year’s lineup of films that were either made in Virginia, or by filmmakers with distinct Virginia ties or roots includes:
“A Winding Stream” – This music-filled documentary traces the influential musical and personal arc of the legendary Carter family, from their early days in Southwestern Virginia to their famed intersection with Johnny Cash and their efforts to add to their musical legacy today.
“Big Moccasin” – Directed by Virginia native Andrew Moynehan and Chelsea Moynehan, the film explores the meaning of life in the mountains from the varied perspectives of the individual characters to the universal, unified knowledge and love for the mountain way of life.
“Big Significant Things” – Director Bryan Reisberg’s road trip movie earned raves at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. It focuses on what happens when a man lies to his girlfriend in order to take a Southern road trip that culminates in Virginia.
“From Grain to Growler” – A documentary focusing on the explosion of the craft beer culture in Virginia.
“Goodish” – Filmmaker Amanda Patterson’s story of a couple who take their previously platonic relationship physical, only to face up to an interrogation by prying friends that makes them wonder if their friendship will ever be the same.
“Hot Air” – A work-in-progress screening of a new film by Charlottesville filmmaker Derek Sieg and producing partner Jeremy Goldstein.
“Wish You Well” – Best-selling author David Baldacci will present and discuss this adaptation of his 1940s coming-of-age story about a young girl who moves with her brother from New York to a Virginia farm following a family tragedy.
• Library of Congress Series
For the fourth year, the festival is partnering with the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation in Culpeper to present a series of films celebrating the National Film Registry. This year’s lineup includes “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb” (1964), which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year; Gordon Parks’ “The Learning Tree” (1969); and “Shaft” (1971), which honors Parks and his legacy in American cinema and photography; Charlie Chaplin’s “The Immigrant” (1917); and “The Wizard of Oz” (1939), the quintessential musical fantasy film which will be the screened as part of Family Day festivities.
• International Films
“Las Maestras de la Republica” (Spain) – Director Pilar Pérez Solano’s documentary celebrates a group of Spanish women who fought to bring down the walls between male and female students, only to have their efforts destroyed by the Civil War that started in 1936.
“20,000 Days on Earth” (Great Britain) – Writer and musician Nick Cave marks his 20,000th day on the planet.
“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” (Iran) – In the Iranian ghost town Bad City, a place that reeks of death and loneliness, the townspeople are unaware they are being stalked by a lonesome vampire.
“Babadook” (Australia) – This gripping modern suspense thriller tells of a single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, who battles with her son’s nighttime fear of a shadowy monster. But soon, she discovers a sinister presence is lurking in the house.
“Futuro Beach” (Brazil/Germany) – Shortly after facing the failure of an attempt to rescue a drowning man, Donato meets Konrad, friend of the victim. Motivated by the circumstances, Donato decides to begin a new life in Berlin, but pieces of his past are coming after him.
“Girlhood” (France) – A complex look at America’s justice system, the film follows two female inmates, victims of horrific violence and tragedy who are serving time in a Maryland juvenile detention center.
“Level Five” (France) – From filmmaker Chris Marker, whose “Le Joli Mai” was a favorite of last year’s festival, comes this story of a video game designer and his work on a World War II-themed project. The film, first released in 1997, is now available for the first time in the U.S.
“Poison Pen” (Ireland) – From writer Irish writer Eoin Colfer of the internationally bestselling “Artemis Fowl” books comes this frothy tale of a washed-up author forced to join the ranks of common gossip writers.
“Run Boy Run” (Germany/Poland) – The film tells the true story of 9-year-old Jurek, who escapes from the Warsaw ghetto in 1942 and learns to survive in the nearby woods until the end of the war.
“What We Do in the Shadows” (New Zealand) – This dark comedy follows the lives of three roommates just trying to deal with typical life challenges – like being immortal vampires with an insatiable thirst for human blood. The film features “Flight of the Conchords” star Jemaine Clement.
• U.Va. Center for Politics
The Virginia Film Festival and U.Va.’s Center for Politics will continue their collaboration with a screening of “Bombs Away: LBJ, Goldwater and the 1964 Campaign That Changed It All.” This documentary, produced by the Center for Politics in conjunction with WCVE-TV, focuses on the pivotal 1964 presidential election between Lyndon B. Johnson and Barry Goldwater, and particularly on the negative campaign advertisements that many feel set the stage for the hyper-partisanship that defines American politics today. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with guests including Barry Goldwater Jr.
• The Presidency in Film Series
The festival is again partnering with the University’s Miller Center to examine the way chief executives are portrayed on the silver screen.
“Frost/Nixon” focuses on the famous Nixon interviews with talk show host and news personality David Frost and features Frank Langella in a memorable performance as Nixon. Langella will be on hand for a post-screening discussion with noted Nixon expert Ken Hughes of the Miller Center.
“41 on 41” is a CNN documentary focusing on George H.W. Bush as a president, husband, father, grandfather and friend, in stories told by those closest to him. Joining in the panel discussion following the film will be former George H.W. Bush and Reagan press secretary Marlon Fitzwater and Andy Card, who served under Bush as secretary of transportation before serving as chief of staff in the George W. Bush administration.
• Berlin Wall
The festival will present a special series of five films as part of U.Va.’s Berlin Wall Symposium, a weeklong, multidisciplinary exploration of the 25th anniversary of the historic fall of the Berlin Wall. The series will include “Dr. Strangelove” and “41 on 41,” in addition to the compelling new documentary “Red Army.” The film captures the compelling on and off-the-ice drama of the Soviet hockey dynasty through the story of its legendary captain, Slava Fetisov, and how the team’s rise and fall mirrors that of the Soviet Union itself.
The series will also include “Walesa: Man of Hope,” legendary Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda’s biopic tracing the rise of Nobel Prize-winner Lech Walesa’s Solidarity Movement in the 1970s and the peaceful revolution he helped inspire; and Wim Wenders’ 1987 romantic fantasy “Wings of Desire.”
• Family Day
Family Day returns to the Betsy and John Casteen Arts Grounds on Nov. 8 with a daylong celebration for all ages, highlighted by a special 75th anniversary screening of “The Wizard of Oz” (10 a.m., Culbreth Theatre).
A series of free film-inspired workshops will be offered throughout the day, led by U.Va. faculty, students and community organizations. Topics will include audition techniques, dance routines, make-up application and fun with improvisation. Space is limited; registration is available here.
The musicians from the Charlottesville Symphony will return to Family Day for a “Musical Instrument Petting Zoo” at the Helms Theatre. The afternoon will bring an outdoor Interactive Arts Festival, including performances featuring U.Va. a cappella and improv groups.
In what has become a Family Day highlight, more than 600 local students will flock to the Arts Grounds for their own red carpet moments as the festival screens films from its Young Filmmakers Academy in Campbell Hall.
Adding to the fun this year will be an opportunity to stop by The Fralin Museum of Art to see how Charlottesville-area youth interpret the work of Gordon Parks in film.
Family Day events are free and open to the public, and feature complimentary parking at the Culbreth Road Garage.
• School Screening: “Freedom Summer”
More than 1,000 middle and high school students will pack the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for the Performing Arts this year for a special screening of the documentary “Freedom Summer.” The film, from director Stanley Nelson, chronicles 10 memorable weeks in 1964, when more than 700 student volunteers teamed with organizers and African-Americans in a historic effort to shatter the foundations of white supremacy in what was one of the nation’s most racist, segregated states.
Following the film, students will hear and participate in a panel discussion that will include legendary civil rights leader Julian Bond and be moderated by Deborah McDowell, Alice Griffin Professor in U.Va.’s Department of English and director of the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies.
• Digital Media Gallery
The Digital Media Gallery returns to Second Street Gallery, inside the City Center or Contemporary Arts, where it will feature video projection art and experimental films by students from acclaimed filmmaker and U.Va. associate art professor Kevin Everson’s intermediate and advanced cinematography classes, and by local students at the award-winning Light House Studio. The gallery will open with a First Friday reception on Nov. 7 at 5:30 p.m. and will remain open through November. Free and open to the public, it is made possible by support from the University of Virginia Arts Council and The AV 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 again head a mentor team that includes Charlottesville filmmaker Derek Sieg and noted acting coach Leigh Kilton-Smith. Mentors closely supervise each stage of production, and the process culminates in a competitive screening and award ceremony in front of a live audience at Culbreth Theatre on Nov. 8 at 9 p.m.
• Parties and Events
2014 Opening Night Gala, Nov. 6, Jefferson Theater. Doors open at 9 p.m. (21 and over event). Toast the festival launch following the World Premiere of “Big Stone Gap” at the Paramount. Enjoy beverages, light buffet refreshments and big-band music while mixing and mingling with special guests and Virginia Film Festival friends and supporters. Tickets are $75 per person.
Late Night Wrap Party, Nov. 8, 10 p.m., Main Street Arena (21 and over event). Connect with filmmakers, special guests and fellow fans. Tickets are $35.
The 2014 Virginia Film Festival is supported by The AV Company, The Joseph & Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation (Richard M. Ader and Joseph Erdman, trustees), Regal Entertainment Group, the Virginia Film Office and Wells Fargo.