UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 13 Winter 20 Library
Ézé Amos

The 2020 Virginia Film Festival Goes Virtual & Adds Drive-Ins!!

The 2020 Virginia Film Festival was, in its own special ways, one for the record books. In fact, just like with everything else in the COVID-19 era, the 2020 VAFF was full of firsts.

It was the first hybrid offering since the Festival’s founding in 1989. It was the first to feature not one, but two drive-ins each night. It was the first time all guest interviews were virtual, and the first time the Festival bestowed its American Perspective Award

Morven Farms Drive-In!
(Photo: Sanjay Suchak)

Some things, however, never change. There was a robust program of films representing the best on the Hollywood and international film scenes, combining indie fare with some of the hottest studio titles of the year – many of which are already making a big splash on the 2021 awards circuit. There were fascinating discussions aplenty, as the Festival combined 170 films and events with 160 guests from across the worlds of film, culture, and academia.

Jody Kielbasa introducing a film at the Drive-In.
(Photo: Ézé Amos)

VAFF Director and UVA Vice Provost for the Arts, Jody Kielbasa, could not be prouder of the results. “From the time it became clear that we would have to look at alternative formats, “he said, “we as an organization were dedicated to presenting the kind of festival our audiences have come to expect from us – a collection of the year’s very best films coupled with an array of fascinating discussions with filmmakers, artists, and experts.” Kielbasa said that while it was clear that this meant pivoting to a virtual model this year, he wanted to continue to deliver an in-person, event-based experience to the community in the safest way possible.

And that meant, “Ladies and Gentlemen, start (then turn off) your engines!” Each night, the Festival hosted dual drive-in-movie events at the new Dairy Market near downtown Charlottesville, and at picturesque Morven Farm in eastern Albemarle County. Nearly 700 vehicles attended the 10 screenings, presented in a safe and socially-distanced environment. Opening Night audiences enjoyed a screening of One Night in Miami, the directorial debut of Regina King. The Festival closed with a drive-in screening of the Chloé Zhao-directed film Nomadland, starring Frances McDormand and topping many critics’ list of this year’s Best Picture candidates, preceded with a video from the director accepting the American Perspectives Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cinema. Nomadland also earned top narrative feature film honors from VAFF audiences. Other highlights included the powerful documentary MLK/FBI and the Centerpiece Film, Ammonite, starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan.  

Dairy Market Drive-In!
(Photo: Ézé Amos)

The VAFF more than kept its reputation for bringing stellar lineups of guests – this year’s roster included actor, writer, producer, and director Ethan Hawke discussing his Showtime and Blumhouse TV series The Good Lord Bird; Academy Award-nominee Annette Bening; One Night in Miami star Leslie Odom, Jr.; Terminator franchise star Linda Hamilton and accomplished producer, UVA alumna, and longtime VAFF Advisory Board member Julie Lynn in a conversation moderated by UVA President Jim Ryan; Academy Award-nominated composer Thomas Newman and noted writer/director and VAFF Advisory Board member John Lee Hancock, with Charlottesville Symphony Director Benjamin Rous moderating; and Oscar and Emmy-winning producer, UVA alum, and VAFF Board Chair Mark Johnson talking with Vince Gilligan about the longtime creative partnership that spawned the iconic AMC series Breaking Bad and its highly-acclaimed spinoff Better Call Saul. That partnership, and those shows, may never have happened without the Virginia Film Festival – the two first met when Johnson presented Gilligan with the Governor’s Screenwriting Award in the Festival’s inaugural year of 1989 for his script, Home Fries. Johnson went on to produce the feature in 1998, with Drew Barrymore starring.

The 2020 VAFF also featured a continuation of the organization’s commitment to provide a platform for, and be inclusive of, BIPOC voices, artists of color, and diverse points of view. “Ensuring that our films, events, and guest artists fully and inclusively reflect our community is a top priority for the Virginia Film Festival,” said the Festival’s Program Manager Chandler Ferrebee. “Sixty percent of this year’s films were directed by women and/or BIPOC, and 54% of the guests who participated in discussions and introductions also fit this description.”

The Virginia Film Festival Audience Awards included:

Plans are currently underway for the 2021 Virginia Film Festival. For more information about this and about the VAFF’s year-round events including Beyond the Screen: A Virtual Conversation Series, visit virginiafilmfestival.org.

Missed a Discussion at the Virginia Film Festival?

You can watch them all on the VAFF YouTube Channel!
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