There will be Oscar contenders, like “Ammonite,” starring Kate Winslet as 19th-century paleontologist Mary Anning, and “Nomadland,” about a modern-day nomad after an economic collapse; a wide range of independent films; and a star-studded guest list, including Annette Bening, Leslie Odom Jr., Ethan Hawke, photographer Pete Souza, “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” creator Vince Gilligan and many more. (Find a full schedule and ticketing information.)
And, for Kielbasa and his staff, there will be both nerves and excitement as the festival they love takes on a new form in a different and difficult year. As they wrapped up final preparations, they took some time to discuss how it all happened.
Research and Test Drives
“Once we made the decision to go virtual, I felt relief, in some ways,” Jenny Mays, the festival’s managing director, said. “The time leading up to that decision was really tough, because no one knew how the pandemic would go, but once we knew we needed to go virtual, we could roll up our sleeves and get going.”
Normally, Mays pointed out, festival staff would be booking venues, hiring part-time staff and coordinating guests by the spring. Instead, this spring, they started hosting small virtual events to test the technology and build their skills, and attended spring and summer virtual festivals to see how other organizers were adapting.
“We were encouraged to see other festivals making the shift, and it gave us the luxury to see what worked and what didn’t,” Kielbasa said.
Kielbasa also took his family to a local drive-in theater in Goochland, something he had not done for years. As he sat in his car, watching the movie through his windshield, the ideas began to flow
“It was a great experience, well-run and socially distant,” he said. “I just kept thinking about how great it would be to have some in-person component to our festival, even if most of it is online.”