Virginia Film Festival Opens; Meg Ryan, Oliver Stone Among Headliners

The Virginia Film Festival again takes the stage this weekend at the Paramount and many other area theaters.
November 04, 2015

Beginning Thursday, celebrities, filmmakers, critics, academics and activists will descend on Charlottesville for the 28th annual Virginia Film Festival, sponsored by the University of Virginia.

This year’s festival, which will screen more than 120 films, has attracted a number of high-profile guests, including actress Meg Ryan, making her directorial debut with the film “Ithaca”; producer Oliver Stone; film critic Leonard Maltin; and activist Larry Kramer, one of the most prominent figures in the push for gay rights. The festival will also include many rising stars and new filmmakers, along with guest appearances from more than 30 UVA faculty members discussing the films and their relationship to art, history and social justice.

“We have, as always, focused on creating a program that is as deep and broad as the interests and passions of our unique Virginia Film Festival audiences,” festival director Jody Kielbasa, U.Va.’s vice provost for the arts, said.

The festival opens Thursday evening with a screening of “I Saw the Light,” the drama about country music legend Hank Williams directed by UVA alumnus Marc Abraham, a prolific filmmaker who has produced major films like “Children of Men,” “Spy Game,” “Air Force One” and “Bring It On.” Thursday’s film will feature Tom Hiddleston as Hank Williams and Elizabeth Olsen as William’s wife, Audrey May. Abraham will be on hand after the film for a discussion with cast members Cherry Jones and Maddie Hasson.

On Friday, Ryan will take the Paramount Theater stage to talk with the audience about her directorial debut, “Ithaca.” Filmed in Petersburg, the coming-of-age-story follows a 14-year-old bike messenger as his small town grapples with the impact of World War II.

Also Friday, UVA student filmmakers will meet with filmmakers, producers and directors in town for the festival during an “Industry Networking Breakfast,” organized by the UVA Career Center. The event will connect student filmmakers with seasoned entertainment professionals who can answer questions and offer advice.

Throughout the festival, stars and academics will come together to discuss the social and cultural themes underlying this year’s films. Stone, never one to shy away from controversial political topics, will lead a discussion on Saturday about his Academy Award-winning film, “Born on the Fourth of July,” telling the story of Vietnam veteran turned anti-war activist Ron Kovic.

On Sunday, Kramer will give a talk reflecting on his career and life, which audiences can catch a glimpse of during a screening of the new HBO documentary, “Larry Kramer in Love and Anger.,” earlier on Sunday. Kramer has spent decades advocating for gay rights, public health policy and AIDS awareness and is also an acclaimed writer, perhaps most famous for his 1985 play, “The Normal Heart.”

The festival will also feature many films on civil rights and race relations, including a screening of “Selma,” presented by the UVA Center for Politics; a documentary about the Black Panthers; “Bound: African vs. African Americans”: a documentary examining how Africans and African-Americans view each other; and a 100th-anniversary screening of the controversial film “The Birth of a Nation,” moderated by Douglas Blackmon, director of public programs at UVA’s Miller Center.

The “Birth of a Nation” screening was organized by the Miller Center with input from two student groups at UVA –  the  Black Student Alliance and SEEDS for Change – as well as the Corcoran Department of History, the Carter Woodson Institute, UVA’s Office of Diversity and the Charlottesville chapter of the NAACP. It is part of the festival’s efforts to revisit historical films through its annual Library of Congress series, which celebrates archived films on the National Film Registry. In addition to “Birth of a Nation,” this year’s festival will showcase a Humphrey Bogart film, “The Maltese Falcon,” and 1930s drama “Employees’ Entrance,” both moderated by Maltin, who is widely recognized as one of the nation’s top film critics.

The festival will close Sunday evening with “Son of Saul,” a film that is already earning Oscar buzz for the 2016 awards season. The directorial debut of Hungarian filmmaker László Nemes, “Son of Saul” tells the story of a Jewish prisoner who, while forced to work in a Nazi crematorium, fights for a proper burial for a body he believes is that of his son.

Films will be screened at several locations on Grounds and around Charlottesville, including the new Violet Crown Charlottesville theater on the Downtown Mall. Festival-goers will be the first to visit the theater after construction completed last month. The dine-in theater, which will serve as the festival’s headquarters, will offer a full bar menu, with cocktails and food emphasizing seasonal and locally sourced ingredients.

For information about the festival and a full schedule of events, visit

Media Contact

Caroline Newman

University News Associate Office of University Communications