The Virginia Film Festival returns to Charlottesville for its 28th year from November 5 to 8, 2015. Opening the 2015 Virginia Film Festival will be I Saw the Light, the Hank Williams film from director Marc Abraham that chronicles the country music legend’s meteoric rise to fame and its tragic consequences on a life cut short at the age of only 29. The film stars Tom Hiddleston in the lead role and Elizabeth Olsen as Williams’ wife Audrey Mae, and is directed by Marc Abraham, a University of Virginia alumnus and VFF Advisory Board member. Marc will be on hand to present the film along with cast members including theater legend and Emmy and Tony Award-winning actor Cherry Jones, and rising Hollywood star Maddie Hasson, who plays Williams’ second wife and widow. “We are delighted to share this film with our audiences,” Kielbasa said “and to celebrate a University of Virginia alumnus and his film, which shines a light on the incredible legacy and troubled life of one of America’s most renowned musical figures.”
The Centerpiece Film is The Lady in the Van, starring the legendary Maggie Smith, in this funny, poignant, and life-affirming true story about an elderly woman of uncertain origins who “temporarily” parked in the London driveway of acclaimed writer Alan Bennett (History Boys) …and proceeded to stay for 15 years. The film is directed by longtime Bennett collaborator Nicholas Hytner (The Madness of King George), and also stars Alex Jennings and Jim Broadbent.
Closing Night Film is Son of Saul, Hungarian director László Nemes’ astonishing directorial debut that created an international sensation when it captured the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The film offers a raw and rarely-seen first-person perspective on the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust through the story of a Jewish prisoner and Sonderkommando worker forced to work in a Nazi crematorium. When the man comes across the body of a boy he takes to be his son, he embarks on the impossible task of saving the body from the flames, finding a rabbi to recite the mourner’s Kaddish, and offering the boy a proper burial.
Ithaca – Featuring Special Guest Meg Ryan
The famed actor’s directorial debut, filmed in Virginia, tells the story of a 14-year-old boy in 1942 working as a bike messenger to deliver messages of love, hope, pain…and death, to the people of Ithaca, and how he deals with one particular message that will change him forever. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Saroyan’s 1943 novel The Human Comedy, Ithaca is a coming-of-age story about the exuberance of youth, the abruptness of change, the sweetness of life, the sting of death, and the sheer goodness that lives in each and every one of us.
Carol – Set in 1952 New York, this new film from award-winning director Todd Haynes tells the story of an aspiring young photographer (Rooney Mara) whose chance department store encounter with an older, married woman (Cate Blanchett) sparks a relationship that changes both of their lives forever.
Entertainment – Richmond, Virginia native Rick Alverson presents this nightmarish account of an entertainer on the brink as an aging comedian tours a series of fourth-rate venues in the California desert while trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter. Director Alverson will be on hand for a post-film discussion.
In Transit – The final project of the late legendary documentarian Albert Maysles takes viewers on a journey into the hearts and minds of everyday passengers aboard Amtrak’s Empire Builder, America’s busiest long-distance train route, capturing a beautiful portrait of America told in gorgeous landscapes and fascinating interconnected vignettes.
Lamb – A man’s journey to self-discovery, fueled by the disintegration of his marriage and death of his father, takes an unexpected detour when he meets an awkward and unpopular eleven-year-old girl who he takes on a mountain road trip that affects them both in surprising ways. The film’s writer, director and star Ross Partridge will be on hand for a discussion of the film.
Last Days in the Desert – Ewan McGregor plays Jesus and The Devil in an imagined chapter from his 40 days in the desert that finds the two tangling over the fate of a family in crisis in this latest film from director Rodrigo Garcia and produced by U.Va. alumna Julie Lynn and her producing partner Bonnie Curtis at Mockingbird Pictures. Lynn will be on hand for a discussion of the film.
A Light Beneath Their Feet – A high school senior must choose between going to college and taking care of her bipolar mother (played by Taryn Manning) in this film starring Maddie Hasson, who will be on hand to participate in a discussion of the film.
Louder Than Bombs – Writer/director Joachim Trier’s drama follows a father (Gabriel Byrne) and his two sons, played by Jesse Eisenberg and Devin Druid, as they confront their very different memories of their wife and mother, a famed war photographer. Druid will be on hand to discuss the film along with its producer, VFF Advisory Board member Ron Yerxa.
Mully – Actor Scott Haze, a graduate of The Miller School in Albemarle County, makes his directorial debut with this inspiring story of Charles Mully, a one-time Kenyan orphan who rose to great wealth and power then risked it all to launch a foundation dedicated to creating a better life for orphans in the country today. Haze will be on hand for a discussion of the film along with the film’s executive producer, Academy Award-winning filmmaker James Moll.
Project Greenlight Film – Enjoy a sneak peek at the result of HBO’s acclaimed documentary series about filmmaking from executive producers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. The series focuses on the challenges facing a first-time director as cameras roll from pre-production to casting through principal photography and post production. Director Jason Mann will take part in a conversation about the film.
Another Way of Living: The Story of Reston, VA –Visionary American planner Robert Simon dreamed of “another way of living” in the suburbs, and in 1964 created the New Town of Reston, Virginia. The film follows his unwavering belief in the project, despite being fired due to financial challenges in its earliest stages, and highlights his insistence that the town remain true to its core principles, even with the challenges brought on by financial success.
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution –Filmmaker Stanley Nelson (Freedom Riders) examines the rise of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s and its impact on civil rights and American culture. Nelson weaves together a treasure trove of source material with the voices of those who lived it- from the Black Panthers themselves to detractors, FBI informants, journalists, white allies, and others.
Bound: Africans versus African Americans – Controversial and illuminating, this documentary from Kenyan-born Peres Owino uses testimonials to expose the seldom-discussed ways that Africans and African Americans view each other, and looks at the cultures’ shared history to foster mutual understanding. Owino will be present to share her film and a post-screening discussion.
Generation A: Portraits of Autism in the Arts – This powerful and insightful film, which features Temple Grandin and Ed Asner, shows how young people on the autism spectrum use the arts to reach their highest potential and to connect with others and build pathways into their community.
Harry & Snowman – This heartwarming documentary about renowned Central Virginian equestrian Harry deLeyer tells the Cinderella love story that began when he paid $80 for a broken down Amish plow horse headed for the glue factory. Two years later, the pair won the triple crown of show jumping, gaining worldwide fame and forging friendship that lasted a lifetime.
Imba Means Sing – An eight-year-old star drummer from Uganda’s Grammy®-nominated African Children’s Choir leads audiences on an inspirational journey highlighted by a life-changing opportunity and showcasing the importance of education.
Rosenwald – Filmmaker Aviva Kempner’s latest film tells the incredible yet too-little-known story of how businessman and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald joined with African-American communities in the South to build schools during the early part of the 20th century, and the ongoing efforts to reconfigure those schools. The screening will be in tribute to Julian Bond, who is featured in the film. Mr. Bond’s wife, Pamela Horowitz, Rita Dove, and director Kempner will be in attendance.
Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot – The true story of the forgotten heroes in the fight for voting rights—the courageous students and teachers of Selma, Alabama, who stood up against injustice despite facing intimidation, arrests, and violence. Presented in partnership with the U.Va. Center for Politics.
Sol LeWitt: Wall Drawings – Filmmakers Edgar B. Howard and Tom Piper present a retrospective of LeWitt’s wall drawings in North Adams, Massachusetts. Born in 1928, LeWitt is considered one of the key pioneers of conceptual art for his belief that concept is more important than execution. This screening supports an exhibition this fall at the Fralin Art Museum.
Until 20 – When James Ragan was 13, he received the most devastating news: he had a rare childhood cancer. What he did after he heard that news is the basis for this film, a moving account of James’ life after his diagnosis that asks the question “how would you live if you knew your life would end at 20?”
Spotlight on Virginia Filmmaking
Coming Through the Rye – Jamie Schwartz, obsessed with Holden Caulfield, runs away from boarding school in the year 1969 to find reclusive author JD Salinger. Inspired by actual events, Jamie’s search for Salinger becomes a journey into sexual awakening, love, and loss in this film directed by James Steven Sadwith.
H8RZ – With the intrigue of a crime thriller, this story of a mysterious high school “incident” tells a many-layered story that unravels throughout the course of the school’s investigation, and cleverly deals with issues of bullying, school corruption, and the darker side of teen interactions. The screening will feature a discussion with writer/director Derrick Borte (from Norfolk, Virginia) and the film’s star, Israel Broussard.
Monroe Hill –This historical documentary-essay film from Charlottesville-based documentarian Eduardo Montes-Bradley traces the roots and historical context of James Monroe’s first home in Albemarle County. The property known as Monroe Hill serves today as the administrative offices of Brown Residential College and is located on the Grounds of the University of Virginia.
Paradise–Produced over the course of eight years beginning in 2007, Paradise is a feature-length non-fiction video by U.Va. professor Lydia Moyer that focuses on seven American stories of abandoned sites, including Wounded Knee, South Dakota; the mining town of Centralia, Pennsylvania; and the site of the Jonestown massacre in Guyana. Moyer’s work will also be featured in this year’s Digital Media Gallery, located in Second Street Gallery.
Polyfaces – Four years in the making, this documentary celebrates the unique connection between food and community found at the third-generation family farm of internationally-acclaimed author and activist Joel Salatin (called the “world’s most innovative farmer” by Time Magazine). The screening will feature a conversation with Joel Salatin alongside filmmakers Lisa Heenan and Darren Doherty.
Night of the Living Deb –Endearingly awkward Deb wakes up in the apartment of the most attractive guy in Portland, Maine. One problem…she doesn’t remember how she ended up there. A second problem…said guy ushers her out the door…and straight into a full-scale zombie apocalypse! Virginia native director Kyle Baker, star Maria Thayer, and cinematographer Tom Ackerman will be present to discuss the film.
Cemetery of Splendour (Thailand) – Palme d’Or winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives) returns in this mysterious and funny new film about a young medium and middle-aged hospital volunteer who investigate a case of mass sleeping sickness that may have supernatural roots.
Dough (UK/Hungary) – An endearing and heartfelt tale about an old Jewish baker (Jonathan Pryce) who is struggling to keep his business afloat, and then sees sales soar when a young Muslim apprentice accidentally drops cannabis into the dough.
Eisenstein In Guanajuato (Netherlands/Mexico) – Filmmaker Peter Greenaway looks into the mind of the Russian creative genius Sergei Eisenstein and how that filmmaker’s ten days in Mexico in 1931 and the desires and fears of love, sex, and death, he faced there, helped shape the career and legacy of one of the great Masters of Cinema.
In the Basement (Austria) – Ulrich Seldl heads deep into his nation’s consciousness by delving into what its people get up to in their basements, one of the most utilized rooms in Austrian homes. The answers run the gamut from mundane hobbies to shocking obsessions and reveal, in some cases, more than we ever hoped to know.
The Kindergarten Teacher (Israel/France) – A young woman becomes enchanted, then obsessed, with the otherworldly poetic talents of a five-year-old boy, ultimately pushing boundaries in an effort to protect that talent before his purity is lost.
The Pearl Button (Chile) The great Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzmán uses the metaphor of water, inspired by his nation’s vast coastline, to chronicle the history of the indigenous peoples of Chilean Patagonia, whose decimation by colonial conquest foretold the brutal Pinochet dictatorship.
Mountains May Depart (China) – A sweeping tale from noted Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhang-ke about a town beauty and two suitors that that jumps from the past to the near future to show how China’s economic boom has impacted the bonds of family, tradition, and love.
My Friend Victoria (France) – Adapted from a short story by Nobel Prize®-winning writer Doris Lessing, this powerful tale of race and privilege shifts the scene to Paris to focus on a young orphan girl whose one night in the home of a wealthy family changes has reverberations that change the course of her life.
Sembene! (Senegal) – The unbelievable real life epic about Ousmane Sembene, the “father of African cinema,” tells the tale of an ordinary man who fought enormous odds to give African stories to Africans from the perspective of the man who knew him best.
Summer of Sangaile (Lithuania/France/Netherlands) – A chance meeting between two restless teenagers sets the stage for a summer of awakening, learning to fly, and learning to love, in this beautiful film that earned a prestigious World Cinema Directing Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Taxi (Iran) – Exiled Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi takes the helm, and the wheel, in this slice-of-life documentary that finds him posing as a taxi driver to get a look inside the lives of Tehran residents. The film earned the coveted Golden Bear at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival.
Victoria (Germany) – Shot in a single two hour-plus take, this edge-of-your-seat thriller tells the story of a runaway party girl who spontaneous night out with three men turns into a bank robbery.