The 27th annual Virginia Film Festival, presented by the University of Virginia, opened Thursday night with a roaring start: the sold-out world premiere of “Big Stone Gap” at Charlottesville’s Paramount Theater.
Appropriately enough, a Virginian made the film in Virginia – and it’s all about Virginia.
Many of the local and national celebrities as well as University faculty, staff, students and alumni who were in attendance for the film’s debut later made their way to the opening night gala, held across the Downtown Mall at the Jefferson Theater.
The screening and the gala attracted a VIP crowd of dignitaries, which was expected to include Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, former Virginia Govs. Linwood Holton and Gerald Baliles and U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan, in addition to the film’s cast members, writer-director and producer.
Prior to the screening, a press conference featured the film’s stars – Ashley Judd, Jenna Elfman, Patrick Wilson, Paul Wilson and Jasmine Guy – as well as writer-director Adriana Trigiani.
“This romantic and beautiful film begins with this cast,” Trigiani said. “Every time I saw Ashley do a scene I thought of the great, classic movie actresses from Hollywood.”
“Big Stone Gap,” both the film and the book it’s based on, is the work of Trigiani, the best-selling author of 15 books. The story, set in her hometown in Southwest Virginia, actually started out as a screenplay before it was published as part of an acclaimed book trilogy in 2001.
“Big Stone Gap” tells the story of the small coal-mining town nestled in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, which is home to an eccentric cast of characters. Judd stars as a middle-aged spinster who lives a quiet existence until her life is thrown off-course by her discovery of a long-buried family secret.
“In a business that gets called vapid, ‘Big Stone Gap’ is a different kind of film, bringing a whole town together to care about community,” Patrick Wilson said.
Andy Edmunds, director of the Virginia Film Office in Richmond, estimated the economic impact of “Big Stone Gap” in Virginia at close to $4 million, not including the anticipated tourism benefits the film may generate. Edmunds worked with Trigiani for 15 years to get the movie made in Virginia.
McAuliffe greeted the cast at the conclusion of the news conference and had high praise for the new film.
“Virginia is the place to make movies,” the governor said.
“‘Big Stone Gap’ wonderfully celebrates the commonwealth’s unique spirit and natural beauty,” said film festival director Jody Kielbasa, U.Va.’s vice provost for the arts. “It all combines to make this film a perfect choice for the opening night.”
The Virginia Film Festival continues to grow in popularity and stature, and breaks box office records every year. More than 30,000 people are expected to attend this year’s festival, which runs through Sunday.
The schedule features screenings of more than 100 films in just four days and a guest lineup that includes Hal Holbrook, Frank Langella, Barry Levinson, U.Va. alum Katie Couric and Richard Roundtree, among many others.
“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,” Kielbasa said.
For a schedule and information regarding the Virginia Film Festival, visit www.virginiafilmfestival.org.