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THE PROMISE, Karin Steinberger and Marcus Vetter
THE PROMISE, Karin Steinberger and Marcus Vetter

The upcoming 29th Virginia Film Festival taking place in Charlottesville this November 3 to 6, 2016, unveiled a lineup of more than 120 films.

The Virginia Film Festival is presented by the University of Virginia and the Office of the Provost and Vice Provost for the Arts.

The festival will present the North American Premiere of The Promise, a gripping documentary about one of Virginia’s most notorious crimes and the many questions that still surround the case 30 years later, as the Centerpiece Film. Echoing the hit Netfilx series Making a Murderer and the NPR sensation Serial, The Promise looks back at the gruesome 1985 double murder of Nancy and Derek Haysom in bucolic Bedford County, Virginia, and the man who continues to proclaim his innocence after three decades of incarceration. German national Jens Soering and his girlfriend Elizabeth Haysom, both honor students at the University of Virginia, were convicted of the crimes in 1990 and German filmmakers Karin Steinberger and Marcus Vetter present a fascinating look back at a complicated and troubling true crime story that has returned to the headlines in the last month, thanks to a defense team claim of newly-discovered DNA evidence that could impact the case.

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) in LA LA LAND. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.
Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) in LA LA LAND. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

The Closing Night Film is La La Land, written and directed by Academy Award™ nominee Damien Chazelle, that tells the story of Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a dedicated jazz musician, who are struggling to make ends meet in a city known for crushing hopes and breaking hearts. Set in modern day Los Angeles, this original musical about everyday life explores the joy and pain of pursuing your dreams.

This year, the Virginia Film Festival’s Opening Night Film will be announced by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and officials from the Virginia Film Office in a special press conference at the Executive Mansion in Richmond on Thursday, September 29.

This year the VFF will welcome a trio of internationally-renowned film legends, including Virginia’s own Shirley MacLaine, filmmaker Werner Herzog, and actor-director Liv Ullmann. The three will kick off the VFF’s Conversation Series that will combine intimate and wide-ranging discussions of their careers and lives with clips of some of their most notable work. The 2016 VFF special guest list will also include Fredericksburg, Virginia native Danny McBride of HBO’s hit comedy Vice Principals.

The VFF will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the groundbreaking Disney animated classic Beauty and the Beast by welcoming Paige O’Hara, the voice of Belle in the film, along with the film’s producer, Don Hahn. VFF audiences will have a chance to see the unfinished work-in-progress version of the film that famously premiered at the 1991 New York Film Festival, and has not been screened since.

Don Hahn will also be on hand for a discussion following the critically-acclaimed 2009 documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty. The film, which Hahn directed and narrates, chronicles the rise of Disney animation from 1984 to 1994.

Life, Animated
Life, Animated

Another angle on the magic of Disney in this year’s festival comes courtesy of Pulitzer Prize-winner and UVA alumnus Ron Suskind, who will present his moving documentary Life, Animated detailing how he was able to use Disney films to connect with his autistic son.

Just days before the 2016 Presidential election, noted documentarians D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus will present their award-winning film The War Room, which famously followed the 1992 Clinton campaign. They will be joined by political consultant and CNN commentator Paul Begala, who is featured in the film along with fellow campaign principals George Stephanopoulos and James Carville. The event is presented by the UVA Center for Politics and will be moderated by Larry J. Sabato, its founder and director, and one of the nation’s leading political experts.

In addition, Hegedus and Pennebaker will present their acclaimed new film Unlocking the Cage, which follows animal rights lawyer Steven Wise and his legal team, the Nonhuman Rights Project, as they file the first lawsuits aimed at ineffective animal welfare laws in an effort to protect cognitively complex animals such as chimpanzees, whales, dolphins, and elephants from physical abuse.

The Virginia Film Festival will also salute the 20th Anniversary of IndieWire. Since launching on July 15, 1996, IndieWire has grown into the leading news, information and networking site for independent-minded filmmakers, the industry, and moviegoers alike.

Spotlight Screenings

All the Way – Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Schenkkan will present his Emmy-nominated HBO film starring Bryan Cranston as President Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Bleed for This – Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart star in this biopic of world champion boxer Vinny Pazienza and his miraculous comeback from a broken neck suffered in a devastating car wreck.
The Eagle Huntress – This spellbinding documentary, narrated by Daisy Ridley, follows Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl, as she trains to become the first female in twelve generations of her Kazakh family to become an eagle hunter.
Elle –Paul Verhoeven’s controversial and provocative thriller stars Isabelle Huppert as a high-powered videogame company CEO who goes in search of the man who sexually assaulted her.
I Am Not Your Negro – This powerful documentary is based on James Baldwin’s unfinished book “Remember This House,” which is considered to be one of the great incomplete works of American literature. In the book, Baldwin attempts to recount the lives and successive assassinations of his friends Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.

Julieta, by Pedro Almodóvar
Julieta, by Pedro Almodóvar

Julieta – The latest film from Pedro Almodóvar is based on the short stories of Alice Munro, and tells the story of a brokenhearted woman who, after a casual encounter, decides to confront her life and the most important events surrounding her stranded daughter.
Land of Mine – A young group of German POWs are forced to dig up some 45,000 landmines on the west coast of with their bare hands in this little-remembered and haunting historical chapter that came in the immediate aftermath of World War II.
Lion – A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost in the streets of Calcutta, thousands of miles from home, and somehow survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple from Australia. Dev Patel stars as the man who, 25 years later, goes in search of his family.
Lost in Paris – Fiona, a small town Canadian librarian, receives a letter of distress from her 88-year-old Aunt Martha. Fiona hops on the first plane only to discover that Martha has disappeared. In an avalanche of spectacular disasters, she meets Dom, a seductive egotistical homeless guy who won’t leave her alone, in this whimsical ode to slapstick idols such as Chaplin, Keaton, and Tati.
Memories from Gehenna – More than a decade after a local man gunned down a North African immigrant, director Thomas Jenkoe visits the suburban port of Grande-Synthe in Northern France and finds a town still deeply scarred.
Mifune: The Last Samurai – Steven Okazaki’s new documentary tells the story of legendary Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune, whose 170 films notably included Rashomon, Seven Samurai, and more classic collaborations with Akira Kurosawa and other legends of world cinema. Narrated by Keanu Reeves, the film features commentary from Martin Scorcese and Steven Spielberg on his unique partnerships and his effect on American and international film.
The Red Turtle –The Special Jury Prize winner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, this animated, wordless film is the first co-production from the Japanese Anime film company Studio Ghibli, which teamed with Dutch animator Michael Dudok de Wit on a powerful castaway story that combines, beauty, mystery, drama, and heartbreak.
The Sweet Life – Chris Messina and Abigail Spencer star as Kenny and Lolita, who are each struggling with their own set of demons. They first meet by chance in Chicago and make a pact to travel across country to the Golden Gate Bridge to commit suicide – a plan which becomes complicated when they fall in love along the way. Director Rob Spera will join the film’s producers, Bonnie Curtis and UVA alumna Julie Lynn, for a conversation following the film.
Wakefield – Based on an E.L. Doctorow story, and starring Bryan Cranston and Jennifer Garner, Wakefield is the story of a man who has a breakdown and leaves his wife and family by escaping to a garage attic and observing them. Writer-Director Robin Swicord will join the film’s producers, Bonnie Curtis and UVA alumna Julie Lynn, for a conversation following the film.

Documentary Films

The Anthropologist –The fate of the planet is considered from the perspective of American teenager Katie Crate, who travels alongside her anthropologist mother Dr. Susie Crate to study the impact of climate change on indigenous communities in a journey that parallels that of renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead.
Boone – A unique sensory experience and unsentimental peek beneath the veil of the utopian idyll of farming, stripped of interviews with farmers or agricultural experts, the film offers a meditation on the gritty reality of three young goat farmers.
Bugs – Equal parts culinary documentary, political conversation starter and travelogue, filmmaker Andreas Johnsen’s absorbing documentary sets out to unearth the role bugs will play in the future of agriculture and to break down the cultural barriers keeping insects off our plates.
Care –Delving deep into the world of home elder care through the eyes of both paid caregivers and their elderly clients, Care reveals the deep humanity and poignancy of care work and the challenges and frustrations faced by elders, their families, and the care workers.
Contemporary Color – Watch what happens when ten of the country’s elite color guard teams—the flag-flipping, sequin-studded crème de la crème of the “sport of the arts”—sync steps with musical luminaries from David Byrne to tUnE-yArDs to St. Vincent for a bacchanalia of beats, saber-spinning, and glitter cannons.
Good Work: Masters of the Building Arts – A group portrait of artisans in the building arts in America that celebrates art, craftsmanship, tradition and the importance of Good Work.
Landfill Harmonic – A heartfelt and moving story of how instruments made from recycled trash bring hope to children whose future is otherwise spiritless.
A Late Style of Fire – This look at the brilliant poetry and scandalous life of the late Californian poet Larry Levis asks whether self-destruction is required for a serious life of art and features an original score by Iron and Wine.
Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise – The first documentary about this American cultural legend features rarely-told stories that shed new light on the way history, culture, and the arts shaped Dr. Angelou’s life, and how her thoughts and words continue to shape our ours.
The Million Dollar Duck – The strange and wonderful world of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest, the only juried art competition run by the U.S. government, comes to life complete with eccentric contestants who seek wildlife art stardom each year.

TOWER, Keith Maitland
TOWER, Keith Maitland

Tower – This action-packed documentary shares the untold story of the day, nearly 50 years ago, when a gunman rode to the 27th floor of the University of Texas Tower and opened fire in America’s first mass school shooting, utilizing talking-head footage and rotoscope animation.

Liberty & Slavery: The Paradox of America’s Founding Fathers
The Virginia Film Festival partners with James Madison’s Montpelier to present this historical documentary that examines the paradox at the core of the lives and legacies of America’s Founding Fathers: How is it that the same men who created our nation based on the ideals of freedom and liberty were able to do so while enslaving fellow human beings? The screening will be accompanied by a discussion with director Thomas Troy, Margaret Jordan (Montpelier), Paul Jennings, and Dr. Marcus Martin (UVA).

Indigenous Voices – Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection

In partnership with the University of Virginia’s Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection, one of the largest collections of Australian Aboriginal art outside of Australia, the VFF will present a series of films made by or telling the stories of indigenous peoples. The films include Heaven’s Floor, and Putuparri and the Rainmakers, a documentary about an Aboriginal man living in Fitzroy Crossing in Western Australia that maps out his ancestors’ spiritual connection to the land and his family’s continuing custodianship of it.

Jewish and Israeli Film Series

The Virginia Film Festival will once again partner with Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville to present a series of acclaimed Jewish and Israeli films including:

Eva Hesse – Profiling German-born artist Eva Hesse, a pioneer in post-minimal art who was known for her use of plastics in sculptures, and who enjoyed critical success during the 1960s before her life was tragically cut short by a brain tumor at the age of 34.
NOT The Last Butterfly– This new documentary traces the exciting global evolution of The Butterfly Project, whose mission it is to paint and exhibit 1.5 million sculpted butterflies to honor each Jewish child killed in the Holocaust.
Restoring Tomorrow – Restoring Tomorrow is not only an exciting glimpse into the rebirth of the famous Wilshire Boulevard Temple and its magnificent 2013 restoration, but also an exploration of how Los Angeles’ past, the growth of Hollywood, and its Jewish community go hand-in-hand in their evolution.

sand storm

Sand Storm – Winner of the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema Dramatic section at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, this film focuses on the shattered lives of two Bedouin women who are struggling to change the unchangeable rules, each in her own individual way.
Tenth Man – This well-observed comedy from award-winning director Daniel Burman wrestles with notions of identity, home, and the intricacies of the father son relationship as a man‘s efforts to reconcile with his father in Buenos Aires also reconnects him with his Jewish roots.
One Week and a Day – In the span of a day, a grieving father steals medicinal marijuana from a hospice, skips work, and hangs out with his estranged neighbor’s son while his wife tries to get back to her daily routine as she fights off school teachers, stray kittens, and dental clinic workers.

Spotlight on Virginia Filmmaking

In 2016, the Festival will shine a spotlight on an impressive collection of films that were made in Virginia or have roots in the Commonwealth. Titles include:

Before the Fall – A re-imagining of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice moves the tale to modern-day rural Virginia and replaces Elizabeth Bennett with Ben Bennett an arrogant attorney who first insults, then falls for a local factory worker charged with domestic abuse.
Farewell Ferris Wheel – Called “visually glorious” by The Hollywood Reporter, this film from UVA alum Jamie Sisley and Miguel (M.i.G.) Martinez spends six years exploring how the U.S. carnival industry fights to keep itself alive by legally employing Mexican migrant workers with the controversial H-2B temporary work visa.
Hot Air – A young man, played by Criminal Minds star Matthew Gray Gubler, attends the funeral of the biological father he never knew, and ends up on a comic adventure with a quirky stranger (Jere Burns), who claims to have been his dad’s best friend.
Hunter Gatherer – After three years in prison, an unreasonably optimistic middle-aged man returns to his stagnant neighborhood to win back his girlfriend only to find that she and his family have done what they always wanted to do – forget he exists.
London Town –This tale of a 14-year-old London boy whose life changes forever when his estranged mother introduces him to the music of The Clash is directed by Virginia Beach native Derrick Borte, and stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the band’s legendary front man, Joe Strummer.
Macbeth Unhinged – This modern interpretation of the Bard’s tragedy is set in the claustrophobic confines of a stretch limousine which prowls the streets of a contemporary landscape as its agoraphobic passengers struggle for existential meaning in a dog eat dog world where only the fit survive, and tragedy unfolds.
The Rebound – Shaina Koren Allen’s inspiring directorial debut follows the lives and fortunes of a Miami wheelchair basketball team as its players fight for their championship dreams while adapting to overcome the challenges of their physical disabilities.

Emerging Artist Series

With support from the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, the VFF will continue its focus on highlighting and sharing some of the most talented new voices on the filmmaking scene today. In addition to Before the Fall, Farewell Ferris Wheel, The Rebound, and Hunter Gatherer, the series will include:

The Alchemist Cookbook
The Alchemist Cookbook

The Alchemist Cookbook – Filmmaker Joel Potrykus makes his second visit to the Virginia Film Festival with this story of a young hermit suffering from delusions of fortune who hides out in the forest hoping to crack an ancient mystery, but pays a price for his mania.
Best and Most Beautiful Things – A celebration of outcasts everywhere, following a precocious young blind woman who disappears into quirky obsessions and isolation. With humor and bold curiosity, she chases love and freedom in a surprising, sex-positive community.
Driftwood – A young woman washes ashore and is claimed by an older man in Paul Taylor’s intricately layered, dialogue-free exploration of familial roles, isolation and captivity.
Lupe Under the Sun – Mexican-American filmmaker Rodrigo Reyes captures the simple poetry of immigrant life, using real farmworkers to tell the moving story of a peach picker who longs to return to his native Mexico before he dies.
She Started It – Directors Nora Poggi and Insiyah Saeed offer a rare look into the lives and the challenges of five inspiring young female tech entrepreneurs who will stop at nothing to pursue their dreams. The film is presented in partnership with the UVA Darden School of Business.

International Films

The 2016 Virginia Film Festival will once again feature an array of some of this year’s top foreign films, including seven that have been submitted for consideration for the 2017 Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award. These films include Elle, Julieta, and Land of Mine (featured in the “Spotlight” films above); Sand Storm (part of our Jewish and Israeli film series); and the three films listed below.

Apprentice (Singapore) – Aiman, a 28-year-old correctional officer at a maximum security prison must overcome his conscience and haunting past when he strikes up a friendship with the chief executioner and is asked to beome his apprentice.
As I Open My Eyes (Tunisia) – On the eve of the Tunisian revolution in 2010 a young woman just accepted to medical school chooses to follow her passion for music, and her underground rock band draws attention from fans and government authorities alike.
Fire at Sea (Italy/France) – Gianfranco Rosi’s Berlin Golden Bear winning documentary follows a 12-year-old boy who lives on the Lampedusa island in the middle of the sea and on the front lines of the European migrant crisis.

The international films at the VFF will also include:

After Coal (USA/Wales) – What happens when fossil fuels run out? After Coal takes viewers to the front lines of the transition away from fossil fuels, profiling inspiring individuals who are building a new future in the coalfields of eastern Kentucky and South Wales.
Being 17 (France) – Two rival teenage boys are thrown together by circumstance unraveling long suppressed desires neither realized they had for each other in a refreshing and honest exploration of masculinity and sexuality for the modern age.
Dead Slow Ahead (Spain/Italy) – This hypnotic, immersive, and one-of-a-kind documentary follows the anonymous crew of a massive shipping freighter – both the captains and the captives of the grinding machinery that dominates their lives.
Don’t Call Me Son (Brazil) – In her newest work, filmmaker Anna Muylaert explores the mother-child relationship through the eyes of a rebellious son whose whole world unravels overnight.
Heaven’s Floor (Canada) – An L.A. photographer’s whimsical trip to the Canadian Arctic becomes a life-threatening disaster when she finds herself abandoned there and is rescued by a 12-year-old Inuit girl who shares dark truths about her own life.
Memories from Gehenna (France)– More than a decade after a local man gunned down a North African immigrant, director Thomas Jenkoe visits the suburban port of Grande-Synthe in Northern France and finds a town still deeply scarred.
Old Stone (China) – Johnny Ma’s thrilling feature debut tells the story of a hard-working cab driver in a bustling Chinese metropolis who is plunged into a bureaucratic nightmare when he takes an injured man to the hospital.
Putuparri and the Rainmakers (Australia) This powerful documentary explores the complex indigenous and colonial history of Australia through the story of Tom ‘Putuparri’ Lawford.
Shepherds and Butchers (South Africa/Germany) – A lawyer (Steve Coogan) takes on the case of a prison guard in South Africa who is traumatized by the executions he’s witnessed.
Staying Vertical – French filmmaker Alain Guiraudie follows up his acclaimed Stranger by the Lake with this story of a filmmaker who must raise a child by himself while looking for an inspiration for his new film.
Suntan (Greece) – On a hedonistic Greek island, a middle-aged doctor becomes obsessed with a young tourist when she lets him tag along with her group of hard partying friends.
The Son of Joseph (France) – Vincent, an adolescent, has been lovingly raised by a single mother who has always refused to tell him his father’s name. Vincent discovers that he is a selfish and cynical Parisian publisher, Oscar Pormenor. Vincent plots his revenge, but his encounter with Joseph will change his life.

The Yellow Ticket with Live Musical Accompaniment
This silent film tells the story of Lea, a young girl living in the Jewish ghetto of Warsaw with hopes of studying medicine at a university in Russia. When her father dies, she moves to St. Petersburg to pursue her dream, but must assume the identity of her tutor’s deceased sister in order to be accepted to the university. Lea attends school during the day, but spends her nights working as a prostitute, until a fellow student discovers her secret. Esteemed Klezmer musicians Alicia Svigals, Marilyn Lerner, and UVA faculty member Joel Rubin will accompany the screening with a live performance of a score written by Svigals, which was commissioned by the Foundation for Jewish Culture’s 2013 New Jewish Music Network.

Family Day

Family Day returns to the Betsy and John Casteen Arts Grounds on Saturday, November 5 with a day-long celebration for all ages, highlighted by screenings of Walt Disney Animation Studios Shorts and a 20th Anniversary screening of the family classic film James and the Giant Peach. Also on hand will be the Charlottesville Symphony with their “Musical Petting Zoo,” and the VFF Young Filmmakers Academy, which will showcase the work of more than 600 student filmmakers from around the area who create their own films with the help of classroom mentorship from representatives of Light House Studio.

The day will also include dynamic interactive arts fair and a series of workshops led by UVA and community arts professionals. This year’s workshops include: Lights, Camera, Chain-re-Action! by Earl Mark of UVA School of Architecture; Get Animated with the Virginia Discovery Museum by Katilin German; and Creating Art Together by Emma Lewis and Susan Xie, UVA Arts Scholars. The workshops are free, but require advance registration.

All Family Day events are free and open to the public, and feature complimentary and convenient parking at the Culbreth Road Garage.

Digital Media Gallery

The Digital Media Gallery returns to Second Street Gallery, inside the City Center for Contemporary Arts, where it will feature video projection art and experimental films by students from acclaimed filmmaker Kevin Everson’s intermediate and advanced UVA cinematography students and local students from the award-winning Light House Studio. This year’s DMG will also feature an interactive virtual reality lab presented by open-source virtual reality company Razer. The Digital Media Gallery will open on October 28 and run through November 17. It is free and open to the public, and made possible by generous support from The AV Company and the University of Virginia Arts Council and is part of the Virginia Film Festival’s Community Outreach & Education Program.

Adrenaline Film Project

The 2016 Virginia Film Festival will once again get a jolt of caffeinated creativity courtesy of the 13th Annual Adrenaline Film Project, a 72-hour guerrilla filmmaking adventure in which 10-12 teams of filmmakers shoot, edit, and screen their own 5-7 minute films with a guidance from Adrenaline mentors as well as some of Festival’s special guests. Charlottesville native and acclaimed filmmaker Jeff Wadlow, who co-founded the AFP, will return as mentor and will be joined by noted acting coach Leigh Kilton-Smith, and UVA alum and three-time Adrenaline veteran Kevin Hart, a recent graduate of USC’s Peter Stark Producing Program. The Adrenaline Film Project will culminate in a competitive screening and awards ceremony before a live audience at Culbreth Theatre on Saturday, November 5.

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