What to Watch: Your Guide to the 2017 Virginia Film Festival

What to Watch: Your Guide to the 2017 Virginia Film Festival

Movie buffs flock to the Virginia Film Festival each year for a weekend of discussions, workshops and, of course, excellent cinema. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)
November 06, 2017

The Virginia Film Festival is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and organizers have put together a star-studded lineup worthy of the occasion.

The festival – a program of the University of Virginia and its Office of the Provost and Vice Provost for the Arts – will entertain thousands of film lovers with more than 150 screenings in Charlottesville from Thursday through Sunday. In addition to enjoying the films themselves, festival goers can expect talks and discussion sessions with an array of well-known producers, actors and directors.

Check out some of the highlights below and visit virginiafilmfestival.org for a full schedule and ticket information.  

A Star-Studded Guest List

This year’s festival includes guests like Academy-Award winning filmmakers Spike Lee and Ezra Edelman, Emmy Award-winning actor William H. Macy, documentary filmmaker Lynn Novick and UVA alumna and author Margot Lee Shetterly.


Acclaimed filmmaker Spike Lee is among the special guests heading to Charlottesville this weekend. (Photo by Marc Baptiste)

Lee, who has directed more than 30 films, will present his Oscar-nominated documentary “4 Little Girls,” on Saturday. It focuses on the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. Also on Saturday, Lee will screen “I Can’t Breathe,” a short film about Eric Garner’s 2014 chokehold death while in the custody of New York City police.

The festival will also welcome some of the most famous documentary filmmakers working today. On Saturday, Edelman will present his Oscar-winning documentary, “O.J.: Made in America,” on the infamous saga of the O.J. Simpson murder trial. On Thursday, Novick will discuss clips from “The Vietnam War,” a comprehensive look at the controversial war that she co-directed with Ken Burns.

Macy, whose acting résumé includes films like “Seabiscuit,” “The Cooler,” “Magnolia,” “Boogie Nights,” “Jurassic Park III,” “Fargo” and “Room,” will present the third film he has directed, “Krystal,” on Friday.


UVA alumna Margot Lee Shetterly is the author of the bestseller “Hidden Figures,” chronicling the historic contributions of NASA “computers” Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

Shetterly, who graduated from UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce in 1991, had a big year last year as her acclaimed book, “Hidden Figures,” became an Oscar-nominated film showcasing the African-American women who helped vault America ahead in the space race. This year, the Charlottesville resident will present the film and share her research in a post-screening discussion on Sunday.

(Check out the full list of special guests.)

No Shortage of Drama

This year’s slate of films features both clever comedies and hard-hitting dramas tackling pressing social issues.

The festival’s opening film, “Downsizing,” is set in the near future, as stars Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig join an eco-friendly movement that promises to reduce humanity’s carbon footprint by miniaturizing humans to 5-inch-tall versions of themselves. The Thursday night screening will include a discussion with producer Mark Johnson, a UVA alumnus who chairs the film festival’s advisory board.


Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig star in “Downsizing.” (Contributed photo)

Another star-studded film is set for Saturday night. “Hostiles,” starring Christian Bale and Rosamund Pike, is a gritty Western that follow’s Bale’s character, Army Capt. Joseph J. Blocker, and his prisoner, Chief Yellow Hawk.

On the small screen, the festival will give audiences a sneak peek at an upcoming episode of “Homeland,” Showtime’s award-winning television drama starring Claire Danes. The show is filming its seventh season in Richmond, adding another title to the growing list of films and shows made in the commonwealth.

(See a full list of film screenings here.)

Race in America – Presented with James Madison’s Montpelier

The festival will partner with the fourth president’s estate for a “Race in America” film series, tying in with Montpelier’s ongoing exhibition on slavery, “Mere Distinction of Colour.” The series features Lee’s “4 Little Girls” documentary,” “Hidden Figures” and “O.J.: Made in America.”


Spike Lee’s 1997 documentary focuses on the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robinson and Cynthia Wesley. (Contributed photo)

Additional films in the series include a documentary on lynching in the American South called “An Outrage”; “Birth of a Movement,” based on a black newspaper editor’s efforts to ban the divisive “Birth of a Nation” film; a documentary on black colleges and universities called “Tell Them We Are Rising”; and an episode of the Netflix true crime drama, “Confession Tapes,” about the unjust conviction of eight teens in a notorious 1984 murder in Washington, D.C.

A Dose of Politics

Because of its partnership with the University, the festival is uniquely equipped to combine scholarship and entertainment. Among other collaborations, the festival will present films with the Miller Center, a nonpartisan UVA affiliate specializing in presidential scholarship, public policy and political history. The collaboration will include two screenings: a 30th anniversary screening of “Broadcast News,” which dealt with “fake news” long before the 2016 election, on Sunday; and the Thursday screening of a segment of “The Vietnam War,” for which Miller Center experts served as historical consultants.


“Broadcast News” is a romantic comedy following three media workaholics played by Albert Brooks, Holly Hunter and William Hurt. (Contributed photo)

The festival will also partner with UVA’s Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership for a screening of “The Candidate” on Saturday, starring Robert Redford as a would-be senator.

Additionally, many UVA faculty members will lead discussions and facilitate events throughout the weekend, joining student volunteers who are instrumental in bringing the festival to life each year.

To learn more about the festival and purchase tickets, visit virginiafilmfestival.org.

Media Contact

John Kelly

John Kelly PR