Virginia Film Festival Turns 28

Nov 3, 2015

In a world.... where film festivals are a dime a dozen and everyone with a GoPro is a filmmaker … one small-town film festival breaks the mold. Emily Richardson-Lorente has a preview of this year’s Virginia Film Festival, which begins Thursday, Nov. 5th.

At 28, the Virginia Film Festival is old enough that if it were an actress, it would start getting cast as the leading man’s mother instead of his love interest. Hollywood!

During the festival’s four days, moviegoers will line up at a dozen different locations around Charlottesville to screen more than 125 films.

The opening night film will be “I Saw the Light” — a new movie about the life and tragic times of country music legend Hank Williams.

[movie clip - music]

The film’s director UVa alumnus Mark Abraham will be on hand for a post-film discussion, along with actresses Cherry Jones and Maddie Hasson.

Another featured guest at the festival will be Meg Ryan. Remember her? Film Festival Director Jody Kielbasa does.

JODY KIELBASA:  I actually produced a film that starred Meg Ryan with Bill Macy years ago in 2007 called “The Deal” -- listeners you can go get that film at Netflix and return some of the money to my investors.

Here's hoping that “Ithaca,” Meg Ryan’s directorial debut, is more successful. It was shot in Virginia, by the way, around Richmond and Petersburg.

Jody Kielbasa has been running film festivals and rubbing shoulders with Hollywood types for 16 years now, so at the festival launch party I asked him who he was most excited to meet for the first time.

KIELBASA: For me, it's very often the people who have been a part of history or changed history some, I'm actually really interested in meeting Larry Kramer.

Larry Kramer is a playwright, firebrand AIDS activist and founder of ActUP.  He’s also the star of the HBO documentary “Larry Kramer in Love and Anger”.

LARRY KRAMER (from the film): I don’t think we gave a good flying F what anybody thought of us, and that was part of our strength.”

If Larry Kramer won’t get you out of the house, how about Academy Award winning director Oliver Stone? Could he lure you out? He’ll be at the Festival presenting his 1989 epic “Born on the Fourth of July” starring a very young Tom Cruise.

TOM CRUISE (from the film): “Don’t you know what it means to me to be a Marine, Dad? Ever since I was a kid, I've wanted this, wanted to serve my country. I want to go to Vietnam, and I’ll die there if I have to.”

As in years past, the Festival will shine a spotlight on civil rights films. One of the documentaries being shown is “Rosenwald,” which features an interview with Virginia’s own civil rights icon Julian Bond, who died in August. 

JULIAN BOND (from the film): “Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington combine with this plan for building black schools. They are engaging in a radical experiment.”

Of course, plenty of the films showing at the Festival have a strong link to Virginia. A delightful documentary called “Return to Cuba: In the Footsteps of Walker Evans” was written, shot and edited by a first-time filmmaker from Charlottesville named Ross McDermott.

ROSS MCDERMOTT: I was curious to hear about what theater I’d be in, what my time slot was, and it’s just exciting to be part of a festival that’s networking and its outreach is going to go way beyond Charlottesville. 

Festival officials have also announced a “mystery screening” – a sneak preview of a soon-to-be-released, “star-studded Hollywood movie,” — I’m quoting here — which will be followed by a discussion with the film’s Academy Award-nominated filmmakers, whoever they are.

Finally, if you’re a parent and just don’t see yourself getting a babysitter and hitting the town without the kids, consider attending Family Day on Saturday. In addition to free screenings of films produced by local students from nearly a dozen elementary and middle schools, there will be a cappella concerts, acrobatics performances, vegetable painting, and a handful of interesting film-related workshops for kids. (Zombie makeup, anyone?) The day will also include free film screenings of Pixar shorts and “Babe,” the pig movie. You remember that one, don’t you?

ARTHUR HOGGETT (from the film): “That’ll do pig. That’ll do.”

Lots to do and see at the Virginia Film Festival.