Hoos and Hollywood: Film Festival Begins Its 36th Run

October 24, 2023 By Alice Berry, aberry@virginia.edu Alice Berry, aberry@virginia.edu

The Virginia Film Festival kicks off its five-day run on Wednesday with a showing of “Maestro,” a new film written and directed by, and starring Bradley Cooper about the composer Leonard Bernstein’s life and romance with actress Felicia Montealegre, played by Carey Mulligan.

But “Maestro” isn’t the only showing you’ll want to catch during the festival, which runs through Sunday. Academy Award-nominated director Ava Duvernay’s film, “Origin,” will have its American premiere Friday. Based on Isabelle Wilkerson’s book, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” the film explores how Wilkerson wrote her account of hierarchies across history and the world. Duvernay will stick around after the screening for a discussion and to receive the festival’s Visionary Award.

The festival, a program of the University of Virginia that includes dozens of events, is celebrating its 36th year. It returned to an in-person format in 2021, after presenting a hybrid virtual/drive-in program during the pandemic in 2020.

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“We are so excited to launch the 36th Annual Virginia Film Festival and once again shine a spotlight on the remarkable films and artists coming out of Hollywood, from around the world and from right here in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said festival director Jody Kielbasa, who also is UVA’s vice provost for the arts.

The festival’s centerpiece film, “The Holdovers,” features Paul Giamatti as a grumpy teacher at a New England boarding school who forms a surprising bond with a troubled student. The movie’s producer, Academy Award and Emmy Award winner Mark Johnson, graduated from UVA in 1971 and chairs the festival’s advisory board. Known for producing “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul,” Johnson will be on hand for a question-and-answer session after the movie.

“The Holdovers” isn’t the only movie in the lineup with a UVA tie. “Space Race,” a National Geographic documentary about the first Black astronauts, includes alumnus Leland Melvin. Melvin earned his master’s degree in materials science at UVA and was the first person to be both drafted by an NFL team and become an astronaut. He’s also the only astronaut to have his pets, two beloved dogs, in his official NASA portrait. He’ll participate in a discussion with the film’s producer after the screening.

Crowd in the paramount looks on
Guests for the festival include award-winning director Ava Duvernay, musician Jon Batiste and UVA alumnus Leland Melvin, a former NASA astronaut. (Contributed photo)

Another highlight of the festival is “Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project,” a documentary on the world-renowned poet. The film weaves together archival footage, visual accompaniments to her poetry, and commentary from Giovanni herself. Giovanni will participate in a post-film talk, too.

This year’s festival wraps up with a showing of “American Symphony,” a documentary that follows Grammy Award winner Jon Batiste’s quest to compose a uniquely American piece of music when he learns that his wife’s cancer has returned after 10 years in remission. Batiste will have a conversation with director Matthew Heineman after the screening, then give his second musical performance of the day. In the afternoon, he’ll perform at Carr’s Hill as part of the Arts on the Hill event series.

You can check out the rest of the festival’s lineup here. Tickets are on sale online or in person at the UVA Arts Box Office, the Violet Crown downtown and the Paramount Theater. UVA students get tickets for free.

Media Contact

Alice Berry

University News Associate Office of University Communications