Hundreds Pack Theater for Film Festival’s Opening Night

October 26, 2023 By Alice Berry, Alice Berry,

More than 1,000 people packed the seats at the Paramount Theater on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall Wednesday for the Virginia Film Festival’s opening night.

Still more lingered outside the restored 1930s movie palace, hoping that additional tickets might be released for that evening’s sold-out showing of “Maestro,” written and directed by – and starring – Bradley Cooper.

The film, which Entertainment Weekly said has “flashes of genius,” is an exploration of the composer Leonard Bernstein’s life, legacy and romance with actor Felicia Montealegre, played by Carey Mulligan.

University of Virginia President Jim Ryan said he has been a fan of the festival, a University program, since he was a law student at UVA in the ’90s. He introduced “Maestro.”

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“Art has the capacity to remind us of our common humanity, and I can’t think of anything we need more in this moment,” Ryan said.

Cooper and his movie were a big draw for Michael and Betsy Hancock, who came to the festival fresh off a trip to Palm Springs, California. The couple try to come to the Virginia Film Festival every year.

“We’re just really excited to see the movie, which sounds like it should be really cool,” Michael said.

Crowd waits eagerly outside of the paramount theater
Over the course of five days, the festival will show more than 100 films. (Photo by Erin Edgerton, University Communications)

The Hancocks weren’t the only ones eager for the evening’s events. Emma Singer and Sofia Hartney, fourth-year students at UVA, have taken advantage of the free student tickets since 2021.

“I just love coming to the Paramount for this,” Singer said. “It’s special.”

The two were looking forward to Saturday’s screening of “Eileen,” a film adaptation of Ottessa Moshfegh’s novel of the same name, starring Anne Hathaway. They were just as excited to listen in on a discussion with “Daisy Jones and the Six” actor Riley Keogh, who will speak Saturday as the writer and director of “War Pony.”

There are still other highlights for film fanatics to catch. On Friday evening, the National Geographic documentary “Space Race” will be showing, followed by a discussion with UVA alumnus Leland Melvin, the only person to be drafted by the NFL and be an astronaut.

A documentary on the acclaimed poet Nikki Giovanni, “Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project,” also will play on Saturday. Giovanni will discuss her life and work after the movie.

President Jim Ryan
University President Jim Ryan has been a fan of the festival since his law school days. (Photo by Erin Edgerton, University Communications)

The festival wraps up Sunday with “American Symphony,” which documents award-winning musician Jon Batiste’s effort to compose a uniquely American kind of music just as his wife was diagnosed with cancer after 10 years in remission. Batiste will be on hand for a post-screening conversation with the film’s director, Matthew Heineman, followed by a brief musical performance.

Ticket sales for this year’s festival are outpacing last year’s, but some are still available online. Tickets may be picked up in person at the Violet Crown or the Paramount Theater, both on the Downtown Mall. If tickets are sold out for the screenings, stand-by tickets may be available.

Media Contact

Alice Berry

University News Associate Office of University Communications