Your Guide to the 2019 Virginia Film Festival, Starting Wednesday

large crowd watching a film in a theatre

The Virginia Film Festival draws large crowds of film enthusiasts each year. (Photo by Eze Amos)

The 32nd annual Virginia Film Festival will kick off Wednesday night, bringing highly anticipated films and their creators to Charlottesville and the University of Virginia.

The festival, which will run through Sunday, is a program of the University of Virginia and its Office of the Provost and Vice Provost for the Arts. Screenings and events are scheduled around Charlottesville and UVA’s Grounds.

Highlights include guest appearances from award-winning actors like Ethan Hawke and Ann Dowd (“The Handmaid’s Tale”), and the chance to see films like “Just Mercy,” based on the true story of Bryan Stevenson’s fight for justice for death row inmates, before they premiere nationwide.

Check out some of the events below and find a full schedule and ticket information at Tickets are also available at the University’s Arts Box Office in the lobby of the UVA Drama Building (open weekdays from noon to 5 p.m.), at the Violet Crown cinema on the Downtown Mall, or by phone at 434-924-3376.

Feature Films

The 2019 festival includes more than 150 films. As in past years, many of them focus on social, political and cultural issues, and will include discussion sessions and talks with UVA scholars and other experts. Featured screenings include:

  • Opening Night Film: “Just Mercy,” Wednesday: Starring Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson, “Just Mercy” tells the true story of lawyer Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. In his bestselling book of the same name, Stevenson shares powerful stories of freeing innocent men from death row and fighting for those who have been wrongly condemned by the justice system.
  • Gala Screening: “Western Stars,” Thursday: Bruce Springsteen performed all 13 songs from his latest record at his Colts Neck, New Jersey, barn, and this documentary, presented in partnership with UVA’s Miller Center, captures it all. Co-director Thom Zimny will be on hand for a post-screening conversation.
  • Centerpiece Film: “Harriet,” Saturday: “Harriet,” filmed in Virginia, chronicles the remarkable life of Harriet Tubman, including her escape from slavery and her heroism in freeing hundreds more. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with actor Vanessa Bell Calloway and producers Debra Martin Chase and Daniela Taplin Lundberg.
  • Closing Night Film: “The Two Popes,” Sunday: Already acclaimed on the festival circuit, “The Two Popes” looks at conversations between Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) and Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce) ahead of Benedict’s retirement.

Special Guests

In all, more than 100 actors and filmmakers will be in Charlottesville for the festival. Here are just a few to look for:

  • Ethan Hawke will take the stage Saturday at The Paramount Theater for a conversation about his career following a screening of “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” which stars Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
  • Ann Dowd, who won a 2017 Emmy Award for her portrayal of Aunt Lydia in Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” will be on hand Saturday to discuss “Dismantling Democracy,” a new documentary co-produced by the UVA Center for Politics. Dowd narrates the documentary.
  • John Grisham will take part in a Sunday celebration of the 25th anniversary of “The Client,” a legal thriller based on his hit novel.
  • Liana Liberato (from the Hulu thriller "Light as a Feather") will be presented with the festival's "Rising Star" Award at a screening of her acclaimed new film "To The Stars" on Saturday. 
  • Wanuri Kahiu, a filmmaker and one of the festival’s guest artists, will 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.

For a full list of special guests, visit the festival website.

UVA Connections

Many screenings will feature UVA faculty members and students, either on stage or behind the scenes. These include:

  • Dismantling Democracy,” featuring Dowd, which was co-produced by UVA’s Center for Politics and examines challenges to democracy around the world. It includes interviews with Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato, alumna and CNN journalist Margaret Brennan, Black Lives Matter Activist and UVA professor Jalane Schmidt, and more.
  • Fishing with Dynamite,” a documentary from Oscar-winning Charlottesville-based filmmaker and UVA drama professor Paul Wagner, features Darden professor Bobby Parmar and several colleagues outlining a path to more ethical business with strategies they are promoting in books, talks, academic papers and, now, on screen.
  • Port of Destiny: Peace,” presented by UVA’s Miller Center of Public Affairs, which chronicles former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ path to peace after grappling with the terrorist guerrilla movement FARC.
  • Best of Film at UVA, which will highlight several short films by UVA student filmmakers and include a discussion with the students, moderated by drama professor Paul Wagner. UVA students are also participating in the Festival Scholars Program, which offers a six-day immersive experience for students to meet with mentors, learn from Q&A sessions and attend as many film screenings as they like.

Family Day

The festival’s annual Family Day will be held Saturday at UVA’s Betsy and John Casteen Arts Grounds. It will include favorite clips from “Sesame Street,” in celebration of the show’s 50th anniversary, as well as a Musical Instrument Petting Zoo with the Charlottesville Symphony at UVA, an animation station, an Interactive Arts Festival with UVA student groups and a visit with Walkaround Elmo.

All Family Day events are free and open to the public, with complimentary parking available in Culbreth Garage. More information is available here.