UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 05 Fall 16 Library
Photo Credit: Jack Looney
Virginia Film Festival

Q&A with Wesley Harris (College ‘08), Programmer and Operations Manager

Talk about your first experiences with the VFF as an intern. How did that experience influence you? What did you learn?

Interning at the film festival was the first time as a student that it felt like the work I was doing wasn’t “practice.” It was real work, and it mattered how good of a job we all did as part of such a public-facing organization and series of events. I learned how much could be accomplished by a relatively small group of amazing people working together toward a shared passion and shared goal.

What has it been like to be on the other side and see interns go through this process?

It makes me so happy each year to see new students coming through with an intense passion for the arts. We really couldn’t pull off the VFF without the work that our interns do, and we’re happy to help them build a runway for themselves to launch into the professional world after they graduate.

Wesley Harris on stage with creator and writer Vince Gilligan and executive producer Mark Johnson for a discussion of Breaking Bad, 2010 VFF.
(Photo: Debra Cohen)

You have had some rare opportunities to meet and even interview major writers and filmmakers. Talk about your Breaking Bad experience.

In 2010, we hosted Virginia native Vince Gilligan for a presentation of his series Breaking Bad, which is an all-time favorite of mine. It’s some of the realest American cinema that has been made in the last decade, it just happened to be shown on TV screens. I was thrilled to lead a discussion with Vince and his executive producer Mark Johnson, who also chairs the VFF Advisory Board. Virginia has surprisingly long and deep reaches into the entertainment industry, and this was a great example of that.

Talk about the surreal experience of working with and planning an appearance with Werner Herzog. What has he meant to your life and career?

Werner Herzog was a singularly foundational figure for me as a film student – an artist whose work flipped a switch in my mind and allowed me to embrace the idea that devoting my career to sharing great cinema with an audience might be a worthy pursuit. Having worked with him this year to plan his residency at the 29th VFF was a surreal and humbling privilege, and one of the most exciting things I’ve ever been able to do in this job.

Wesley Harris in conversation with Wener Herzog during the 2016 VFF
(Photo: Amanda Maglione)

The Herzog “get” is obviously a dream come true for you. Tell me some of the other top “gets” on your VFF wish list…

Hard to say, but David Lynch, Agnès Varda, Spike Lee, Kelly Reichardt, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Jean-Luc Godard, and Claire Denis are all incredibly talented film artists whose work I admire.

You’ve had a chance to spend time at some of the most important film festivals it the US. How do those experiences inform your career as a programmer? How do they help you think about the VFF?

Interning at the film festival was the first time as a student that it felt like the work I was doing wasn’t “practice.”
Wesley Harris

Traveling to other film festivals helps let some air into the room. It helps us to not curate in a bubble. Seeing the work that artists are bringing to the festival circuit and how other festivals frame and present the conversations around that art is an invaluable set of experiences to bring home to the VFF. It helps us build a stronger, more diverse, and more nuanced slate of films and artists each year.

You are in a unique position to help the careers of emerging filmmakers. Talk about an experience like that that you found particularly rewarding.

A couple of years ago, we showed two independent films: Big Significant Things by Bryan Reisberg and Buzzard by Joel Potrykus. Each had gotten a fair amount of good response on the festival circuit. While those two directors were in Charlottesville for the VFF, they were able to spend time together and strike up a strong relationship. Bryan then went on to produce Joe’s next film The Alchemist Cookbook which premiered at this year’s SXSW to great reviews. I’m happy to have welcomed them both back to the VFF with their new film this past November.

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