October’s Virginia Film Festival Features Artists of All Stripes

September 27, 2023 By Alice Berry, aberry@virginia.edu Alice Berry, aberry@virginia.edu

This year’s Virginia Film Festival, set for Oct. 25-29, will present more than 100 films and feature guests like Academy Award-nominated director Ava DuVernay, Grammy Award-winning musician Jon Batiste and poet Nikki Giovanni.

From the opening-night film “Maestro,” directed by and starring Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein, to an animated movie about a dog and his robot best friend, the festival has options for moviegoers with a variety of tastes.

“We’re always seeking that balance where we’re representing all the various incredible forms of media arts, literary arts, music, and how that comes together on screen,” said Ilya Tovbis, the festival’s senior programmer.

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The festival, a program of the University of Virginia, is celebrating its 36th year. It returned to an in-person format in 2021, after presenting a hybrid virtual/drive-in program in 2020. The full list of programming will be available online Thursday at 9 a.m.

While the just-settled writers' strike and the ongoing actors’ strike in Hollywood have complicated this year’s programming process, Kielbasa and Tovbis are excited about the lineup.

“We’ve ended up with an extraordinary program and we have extraordinary guests,” said Jody Kielbasa, UVA’s vice provost for the arts and the festival’s director.

Tovbis said this is an especially important time to support the arts.

“We’re all for a quick and equitable resolution to this [actors’ strike],” Tovbis said. “The festival’s mission is empowering artists and amplifying their messages, and that’s harder to do when those artists aren’t able to work.”

Ilya Tovbis

Ilya Tovbis, the festival’s senior programmer, said the Virginia Film Festival aims to empower artists. (Contributed photo)

Many of the movies are inspired by books and even music. DuVernay’s film “Origin” dives into what inspired Isabelle to write “Caste,” a work of nonfiction that explores hierarchies across civilizations. An adaptation of Ottessa Moshfegh’s novel “Eileen,” starring Anne Hathaway, will make its regional premiere at the festival. The closing-night film, “American Symphony,” is a documentary about 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 put on a brief performance after the screening.

Tovbis said the films have multiple connections to UVA. Some touch on research that is going on at the University. Alumni are involved in several of the movies.

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.

cartoon to be featured at the film festival

“Robot Dreams” is just one of the more than 100 movies that will be screened at the festival. (Contributed photo)

“Space Race,” a 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’ll participate in a discussion with the film’s producer after the screening.

Kielbasa and Tovbis said the festival isn’t one to miss.

“At the festival, there’s that kind of sense of community that you can’t get in your home alone, even if you have a 75-inch TV screen,” Kielbasa said.

“You’re getting the first chance to see these films, oftentimes months in advance, and with many of them, you might not get a chance to see them at all outside of the festival,” Tovbis said.

Other festival highlights include:

  • “Sometime, Somewhere,” a documentary about Latino immigrants in Charlottesville which will have its world premiere at the Virginia Film Festival.
  • “American Fiction,” a biting satire on popular depictions of Black culture, directed by “Succession” writer Cord Jefferson.
  • “Dream Scenario,” starring Nicolas Cage, about a man ignored even by his family who suddenly begins appearing in millions of strangers’ dreams.

Tickets go on sale online and at the UVA Arts Box Office on Oct. 6. Festivalgoers may also pick up remaining tickets from the Violet Crown on the Downtown Mall beginning Oct. 23. UVA students can get tickets for free.

Media Contact

Alice Berry

University News Associate Office of University Communications