UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 17 Fall 23 Library
Movie still from Maestro

Rolling Out the Red Carpet: A Preview of the 36th VA Film Festival

The bright lights of the Virginia Film Festival are about to shine on the Grounds of the University of Virginia, and on downtown Charlottesville once again.

The 36th Annual Virginia Film Festival, coming up from October 25-29, will feature more than 100 films over five days in addition to parties and special events that have long made it a bellwether for the local and regional arts scenes. This year’s Festival will kick off with Maestro, the highly acclaimed biopic of iconic American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein written, produced, and directed by Bradley Cooper that focuses on the relationship between Bernstein (Cooper) and his wife Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan). The VAFF will welcome makeup effects artist Kazu Hiro (Academy Award winner for Bombshell and The Darkest Hour) to receive the VAFF Craft Award alongside the screening.

The VAFF Centerpiece Film, The Holdovers, is the latest from Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways) and stars Paul Giamatti as a curmudgeonly professor at a New England boarding school who is forced to spend a winter break at school with students not heading home, and in the process, and makes surprising connections in the process. The Holdovers will be followed by a conversation with Oscar and Emmy-winning producer Mark Johnson (Rain Man, Breaking Bad), a UVA alumnus and chair of the VAFF Advisory Board.

Movie Still from the Holdovers
Movie still from American Symphony

The VAFF Closing Night Film is American Symphony, a documentary about Oscar and Grammy winning recording artist Jon Batiste, who, in the midst of preparing to debut an important symphonic work, when he and his longtime partner, Emmy award-winning journalist and NYT bestselling author Suleika Jaouad learn that her rare form of leukemia has returned after ten years in remission. Following the screening, director Matthew Heineman will receive the VAFF Directorial Achievement Award, and Batiste will briefly perform following a post-screening discussion. 

The VAFF will also welcome Oscar-nominated director Ava DuVernay (Selma, The 13th), who will be on hand to discuss her latest film Origin, and to receive the VAFF Visionary Award. Origin tells the story of author Isabelle Wilkerson as she writes her groundbreaking and bestselling book Caste

Ava DuVernay & movie still from Origin
Movie still from American Fiction

The stellar 2023 VAFF guest list will also include Cord Jefferson, known as a writer for his work on shows including Succession and The Watchmen, and making his directorial debut with American Fiction, which he will present at the Festival. The film, starring Jeffrey Wright and fresh off winning the coveted People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, is an equally provocative and hilarious satire that skewers literary and Hollywood portrayals of Black culture. Jefferson will receive the VAFF Breakthrough Director Award.

Other VAFF Gala Screenings include Todd Haynes’ May December, starring Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore; a special presentation of War Pony with writer Franklin Sioux Bob and directors and writers Gina Gammell and Riley Keough (Emmy-nominated actor, Daisy Jones and the Six); and Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project featuring a post-screening conversation with Nikki Giovanni, who will receive the VAFF Changemaker Award.  

Nikki Giovanni & movie still from Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project 

As always, the VAFF will shine a light on international cinema, presenting nine films that have official International Oscar selections: 20 Days in Mariupol (Ukraine); About Dry Grasses (Turkey); Fallen Leaves (Finland); Four Daughters (Tunisia); Perfect Days (Japan); The Settlers (Chile); The Taste of Things (France); The Teachers’ Lounge (Germany); and Tótem (Mexico). 

Movie still from For the Taking

Explore the 2023 VAFF Program!

The full 2023 VAFF program is currently online, and tickets went on sale on Friday, October 6! 

The 36th Annual VAFF will feature several filmmakers and special guests with ties to the University of Virginia, highlighted by Leland Melvin, who earned a Master of Science degree in  Materials Science Engineering at UVA in 1989 and will appear as a subject of the film The Space Race. The a documentary from directors Lisa Cortés and Diego Hurtado de Mendoza dives into the untold experiences of the inaugural Black pilots, scientists, and engineers of NASA, utilizing decades’ worth of archived film footage and interviews to provide a reflective take on the challenges associated with the process of breaking social and scientific barriers. Melvin is a subject of the film in addition to being an executive producer on the project. Another UVA alum showcasing his work at this year’s VAFF Danny Wagner (COL ’18), who will be presenting his directorial debut with For the Taking

As always, the Festival program will also feature dozens of UVA-affiliated moderators and discussants, adding context to a variety of themes and topics central, not only to the films themselves, but to the world in which we live. 

The full 2023 VAFF program is currently online, and tickets went on sale on Friday, October 6 at virginiafilmfestival.org

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