Photos: Curtain Call for Another Successful Virginia Film Festival

October 28, 2019 By Caroline Newman, Caroline Newman,

The 2019 Virginia Film Festival wrapped this weekend, as festival-goers enjoyed more than 150 films and a robust selection of post-screening discussions, panels and other events.

The festival – a program of the University of Virginia and its Office of the Provost and Vice Provost for the Arts – kicked off Wednesday with early Oscar contender “Just Mercy” and concluded Sunday with the closing night film, “Two Popes,” starring Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce as Pope Benedict and Pope Francis.

Related Story

The featured guests included award-winning actor, writer and director Ethan Hawke, Emmy Award-winning actor Ann Dowd, filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu, bestselling author John Grisham, actor Dennis Christopher and many more.

Take a look at just a few of the highlights.

Students walking the downtown mall sidewalks
Photo by Tom Daly

The festival kicked off early Wednesday as more than 500 local high school and middle school students filed into The Paramount Theater for a special screening of the HBO documentary “True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality.” The documentary tracks lawyer and Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson’s work helping those forgotten or wrongfully condemned by the justice system.

Later that night, hundreds more gathered for “Just Mercy,” a feature film about Stevenson’s work that is already garnering Oscar buzz.

Man standing at a podium giving a speech during the Virginia Film Festival
Photo by Tom Daly

Film festival director and UVA Vice Provost for the Arts Jody Kielbasa welcomed the students Wednesday afternoon. Kielbasa, speaking again later Wednesday, called this year’s lineup, including more than 150 films, “the very best in cinema from this year’s festival circuit.”

Jim Ryan standing a podium giving a speech
Photo by Eze Amos

UVA President Jim Ryan introduced “Just Mercy,” which stars Michael B. Jordan as Stevenson and Jamie Foxx as Walter McMillian, a Monroeville, Alabama, man wrongfully condemned to death row. Ryan – who graduated from UVA’s School of Law and served on its faculty for 15 years – called Stevenson one of his heroes.

Crowd watching theatre screen
Photo by John Robinson

Big crowds were on hand all weekend, and there was plenty of opportunity for smaller discussion groups as well, as filmmakers sat down with panelists and UVA faculty members to share the inspiration behind their work.

Robinson talking to a group of people
Photo by John Robinson

Guest artists included Wanuri Kahiu, shown here at left, an award-winning filmmaker who flew in from Kenya to present her film, “Rafiki,” on Saturday. Kahiu is a leader in the “Afrobubblegum movement,” a genre expanding on-screen depictions of Africa and opposing stereotypes of the continent.

Two people sitting on stage talking to crowd
Photo by Jack Looney

Ethan Hawke took the stage Saturday at The Paramount Theater for a conversation about his career following a screening of “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” joined by Elizabeth Flock of “PBS NewsHour.”

Group sitting in a circle talking
Photo by Jack Looney

Hawke also joined UVA students for a smaller Q&A session. The Virginia Film Festival’s Festival Scholars Program, now in its second year, offers a six-day immersive experience for students, including meetings with guest artists like Hawke.

Man and woman sitting on stage talking
Photo by Jack Looney

UVA Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato was one of many UVA faculty members who participated in post-screening discussions, appearing here with Emmy Award-winning actor Ann Dowd of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Dowd narrated “Dismantling Democracy,” a documentary co-produced by the Center for Politics about challenges facing democracies around the world over the past two decades.

Charlottesville downtown walking mall
Photo by Jack Looney

Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall was bustling all weekend long, as early Halloween festivities merged with festival fun.

Two people talking on stage
Photo by Tom Daly

Geeta Patel, a professor in UVA’s Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures, joined director Shelly Chopra Dhar, right, after “Ek Ladki Ko Dekha toh Aisa Laga (How I Felt When I Saw That Girl).” The Hindi-language film was part of the Middle Eastern and South Asian Film series, supported by the department and the UVA Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures.

Two people talking on stage
Photo by Ashley Twiggs

Author John Grisham, a Central Virginia resident, was on hand as well, taking the stage after a screening of “The Client,” based on his bestselling novel. The screening marked the film’s 25th anniversary this year.

Columns on the inside of the Rotunda
Photo by Jack Looney

Even the Rotunda got in on the action, as guests gathered at the University’s historic centerpiece Friday.