This year’s Virginia Film Festival, presented by the University of Virginia, combines international star power with a celebration of the power of Virginia filmmaking, highlighting actors and filmmakers who call the commonwealth home.
From Thursday to Sunday, the festival will screen more than 120 films around Charlottesville and on Grounds. Celebrity guests include Richmond-born actress Shirley MacLaine, filmmaker Werner Herzog, actor-director Liv Ullmann, actor and producer Colin Firth and actor and comedian Danny McBride.
MacLaine will take the stage Friday at the Paramount Theater for a moderated discussion during the festival’s “A Salute to Shirley MacLaine” event. Herzog will screen his acclaimed new documentary, “Into the Inferno” and his 1974 classic “The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser.” He will also conduct a mini-residency in UVA’s studio art department and join a moderated discussion at the Paramount on Saturday afternoon. Ullmann will host a discussion Thursday afternoon at UVA’s Culbreth Theatre in addition to conducting a master class for UVA students and introducing Friday’s screening of “Liv & Ingmar,” which chronicles her relationship with filmmaker Ingmar Bergman.
McBride, who grew up in Spotsylvania County, has starred in numerous comedies and is now the star, writer, co-creator and executive producer of two HBO television series, “Eastbound & Down” and “Vice Principals.” He will join festival-goers for a discussion after Friday’s screening of “Vice Principals.”
“This is shaping up to be a truly historic year for the Virginia Film Festival,” said Jody Kielbasa, the festival’s director and UVA’s vice provost for the arts. “To attract these types of legendary artists while presenting the extraordinarily deep and wide selection of films we are offering speaks to our emergence as one of the nation’s premiere regional film festivals.
“As a program of the University of Virginia, we are able to provide a unique context and an insightful discussion of these films from our scholars and experts as no other festival can.”
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe will join Firth in giving introductory remarks before Thursday’s opening night film, “Loving,” which Firth produced. The film features the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, whose 1967 U.S. Supreme Court case overturned Virginia’s laws prohibiting interracial marriage. It was shot entirely in the commonwealth and is already earning Oscar buzz for the performances of lead actors Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga. The film’s director, Jeff Nichols, will be in Charlottesville for a post-screening discussion.
The festival’s closing film, “La La Land,” is another Oscar frontrunner, starring Emma Stone as an aspiring actress and Ryan Gosling as a jazz musician struggling to make ends meet in modern Los Angeles.
UVA faculty will be on hand at many screenings to provide insight into the social, political and cultural context of featured films. (See a full schedule of faculty appearances here). Associate art professor Carmenita Higginbotham, for example, will preside over a special 25th anniversary screening of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” on Saturday, featuring a discussion with Paige O’Hara, the actress who voiced Belle in the film. Higginbotham has extensively studied Disney’s impact on American culture and appeared in a PBS documentary about the life and legacy of Walt Disney last year.
UVA’s Center for Politics will present a documentary, “The War Room,” about Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, appropriately timed just before Tuesday’s presidential election. Professor Larry Sabato, who has been an in-demand political analyst this election season, will moderate a post-screening discussion with directors D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, along with noted political consultant and commentator Paul Begala, who is featured in the film.
UVA film professor and internationally renowned filmmaker Kevin Everson will present a series of his short films on Friday afternoon, combining historical observations with socially relevant narratives.
Several UVA alumni also will present films they helped create. For example, Ron Suskind, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, will present his documentary, “Life, Animated,” chronicling how he used Disney films to connect with his autistic son. Julie Lynn will screen two films she produced: “The Sweet Life,” about a couple who fell in love after making a suicide pact; and “Wakefield,” starring Bryan Cranston as a successful lawyer who escapes from his own family and life, yet stays close enough to secretly see the effects of his absence.
Aspiring filmmakers will also have an opportunity to test their skills. The festival’s Adrenaline Film Project, a 72-hour guerrilla filmmaking competition, invites 10 to 12 teams to shoot, edit and screen short films, culminating in an awards ceremony on Saturday. UVA cinematography students will present their films in a Digital Media Gallery at Charlottesville’s Second Street Gallery, running through Nov. 17. A Family Day event on Saturday will welcome young filmmakers and fans with a 20th-anniversary screening of “James and the Giant Peach” and showcase work from more than 600 elementary and middle school students in the local area who participated in the Virginia Film Festival’s Young Filmmakers Academy. Music lecturer Elizabeth Roberts has also worked with the Charlottesville Symphony to coordinate Family Day festivities, including a chamber music ensemble performance and a musical instrument “petting zoo” where aspiring musicians of all ages can try out different instruments.
For information and a full schedule of events, visit virginiafilmfestival.org.