Your Guide to the 2021 Virginia Film Festival, Starting Wednesday

Graphic by Ziniu Chen, University Communications

On Wednesday, the Virginia Film Festival will open with Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch,” kicking off a string of highly anticipated films.

The film festival, in its 34th year, is a program of the University of Virginia and its Office of the Provost and Vice Provost for the Arts. This year, it will screen more than 85 films at various locations around UVA’s Grounds and Charlottesville, including a drive-in venue at Morven Farm. 

Check out the guide below to learn about select films and events. For a full list of films and ticket information, visit virginiafilmfestival.org.

Feature Films

With a wide and diverse selection of films to choose from, here are just a few to look out for:

  • Opening Night Film: “The French Dispatch,” Wednesday, 7 p.m. (Paramount Theater and Morven Farm): Wes Anderson’s latest film is a love letter to journalists, bringing to life stories from the final issue of an American magazine published a fictional 20th-century French city. The film recently received a nine-minute standing ovation following its premiere at Cannes.
  • Gala Screening: “The Harder They Fall,” Thursday, 8:30 p.m. (Paramount Theater): In a modern take on stories from real cowboys, outlaw Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) discovers that Rufus Buck (Idris Elba), the man who murdered his parents, is being released from prison. Nat rounds up crews to track down Rufus, who gathers his own team in anticipation. Both groups inch closer to a deadly face off in this action-packed revisionist Western. 
  • Gala Screening: “Spencer,” Oct. 29, 8:30 p.m. (Paramount Theater): This film is a reimagining of the events that catalyzed Princess Diana (Kristen Stewart) to end her marriage with Prince Charles (Jack Farthing) and leave the British royal family. This biographical, psychological film delves into the complex inner world of a woman who “decides, somehow, not to be the queen” over the course of three fateful days.
  • Centerpiece Film: “The Power of the Dog,” Oct. 30, 8:30 p.m. (Paramount Theater): In a powerful exploration of masculinity and love, set in 1925 in the American West, charismatic rancher Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) inspires fear and awe in those around him. But when his brother George (Jesse Plemons) brings home his new wife Rose (Kirsten Dunst) and her son, played by newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee, Phil finds himself exposed to the possibility of love. This film is fresh off its recent world premiere at the 78th Venice Film Festival, where director Jane Campion won the Silver Lion for Best Direction.
  • Gala Screening: “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, Oct. 31, 10 a.m. (Paramount Theater): Benedict Cumberbatch, on the heels of an acclaimed performance in “The Power of the Dog,” is also earning raves for his portrayal of Louis Wain, an eccentric artist. In the film, Wain’s highly creative and at times psychedelic paintings of cats help transform the public’s perceptions of felines forever.
  • Closing Night Film: “C’mon, C’mon,” Oct. 31, 8 p.m. (Paramount Theater): Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) and his young nephew (Woody Norman), forge a tenuous, but transformational relationship when they are unexpectedly thrown together in this delicate and deeply moving story about the connections between adults and children, and between the past and the future.

Special Guests

A wide variety of actors and filmmakers will flock to Charlottesville for the festival, including:

  • Martha Plimpton, Emmy award winner, will come to the Virginia Film Festival for a tribute event highlighting her remarkable career, and for a screening of her latest film, “Mass,” which follows a private talk between two sets of parents as they attempt to move forward, years after an unspeakable tragedy tore their lives apart. (Oct. 30, 4 p.m., Paramount Theater)
  • Jeremy O. Harris will be presented with the 2021 American Perspectives Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cinema by the Virginia Film Festival. Harris is an award-winning playwright and actor and recently co-wrote A24’s 2021 film “Zola,” which will be shown at the festival. He is a co-producer for the second season of the hit series “Euphoria,” and recently appeared on the HBO Max reboot of the hit show, “Gossip Girl.” (Oct. 31, 5:30 p.m., Culbreth Theatre)
  • Danny Strong is the writer and executive producer of the new Hulu limited series “Dopesick.” Strong wrote and produced “Recount” (2007) and “Game Change” (2008), both of which became award-winning HBO films. He is a prolific writer, director and producer, working on films including “The Butler” (2013), “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I and II” (2014; 2015), and his 2017 directorial debut, “Rebel in the Rye.” Strong was co-creator and executive producer of the FOX drama “Empire.” As an actor, he played Jonathan on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Doyle on “Gilmore Girls,” and appeared in seasons 4 and 6 of “Mad Men.” (Oct. 30, 12:30 p.m., Paramount Theater)

Drive-In Movies at Morven

Following its popular debut in 2020, the Drive-In Movie Series returns to the picturesque Morven Farm in eastern Albemarle County with a lineup that includes spooky classics for Halloween season.

All Drive-In Movies at Morven Farm will start at 7 p.m. The schedule:

Spotlight on Virginia Filmmaking 

The festival will feature on a diverse collection of films that were made in Virginia or have roots in the commonwealth.

  • “Mending Walls,” Thursday, 6:30 p.m. (Culbreth Theatre) – Artist Hamilton Glass challenges 30 artists from different cultural backgrounds to collaborate on 16 murals in Richmond about race, status and experiences. The film shows how the artists got to know one another through difficult conversations, and what these murals came to symbolize.
  • “Machinery of Dreams,” Oct. 30, 11 a.m. (Culbreth Theatre) – From Charlottesville filmmaker Eric Hurt, 8-year-old Lily goes to stay with her aunt and grandmother after her mother is hospitalized due to a car crash. Her grandmother, who suffers from dementia, tells Lily a fairy tale to pass the time, but it becomes clear that this is not just any fairy tale, as the girl ventures into the story in an attempt to save her mother.
  • “Dopesick,” Oct. 30, 12:30 p.m. (The Paramount Theater) – Starring and executive produced by Michael Keaton, and filmed in Virginia, this film examines how one company triggered the worst drug epidemic in American history. The series takes viewers to the epicenter of America’s struggle with opioid addiction, from the boardrooms of Big Pharma, to a distressed mining community, to the hallways of the DEA.
  • “How the Monuments Came Down,” Oct. 30, 6 p.m. (Culbreth Theatre) – A film revealing the historic roots of white supremacy and Black resistance in Richmond since the end of the Civil War. Through personal stories from descendants and history-makers, the film uncovers how Confederate monuments came to shape Richmond’s landscape and why protestors demanded they come down.
  • “Truth Tellers,” Oct. 31, 1:15 p.m. (The Paramount Theater) – A new documentary film chronicling the lives of Americans fighting for racial equity, environmental justice and indigenous rights through the eyes of Robert Shetterly, the longtime activist and artist.

COVID-19 Policies

Masks will be required for all events held at indoor venues, regardless of vaccination status. For events held at the Paramount Theater, proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test within 72 hours prior is required, along with a photo ID.

Media Contact

Molly Minturn

University Communications