The Virginia Film Festival will celebrate its 30th year from November 9 to 12, 2017, with a stellar lineup of more than 150 films and an outstanding array of special guests.
VFF Director and UVA Vice Provost for the Arts Jody Kielbasa announced the first wave of programming and special guests for the 2017 Festival. “We are incredibly excited to share this first announcement regarding our 2017 program,” Kielbasa said, “which we believe captures the things that set us apart, and that contribute to our rising profile on the national and international festival scene. Once again, our audiences will be able to choose from a program of extraordinary depth and breadth, including some of the hottest titles on the current festival circuit, fascinating documentaries that address and comment on the most important topics of our time, the latest work from some of the newest and most exciting voices on the filmmaking scene, and the best of filmmaking from around the world and right here in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
The 2017 Virginia Film Festival will open with Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, a science fiction flavored dramedy about a group of people exploring the possibility of dramatically reducing their footprints on the world through miniaturization. The film stars Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, and Hong Chau in a breakout role that is already garnering her significant Oscar buzz.
The Centerpiece Film will be Hostiles directed by Scott Cooper. In 1892, Army Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale) is ordered to escort an ailing long-time prisoner, Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), and his family across hostile territory back to his Cheyenne homeland to die in this gritty and powerful new Western from director Scott Cooper (Black Mass) that also stars Rosamund Pike, Ben Foster and Jesse Plemons.
William H. Macy comes to the Virginia Film Festival for the first time to present his new film Krystal. The film, which Macy directed and stars in, is about a young man who, despite having never had a drink in his life, joins Alcoholics Anonymous in an attempt to woo the woman of his dreams, an ex-stripper who is dealing with alcoholism and drug addiction, played by Rosario Dawson.
The tragic events surrounding the domestic terrorist incidents in Charlottesville on August 11 and 12 captivated the world and with that in mind, the Virginia Film Festival reached out to a variety of local filmmakers and encouraged them to create a documentary that captures the harrowing events that happened in Charlottesville, as seen by local filmmakers and residents. The result is Charlottesville: Our Streets, which is directed by Brian Wimer and written by Jackson Landers.
This year the Virginia Film Festival is partnering with James Madison’s Montpelier for Race in America – a special series of films and discussions inspired by and built around Montpelier’s acclaimed Mere Distinction of Colour exhibition and its ongoing commitment to exploring its own legacy of slavery, including the recreation of slave dwellings on its historic property. This year’s special guests will include the previously-announced Spike Lee, who will be on hand in Charlottesville as part of “Race in America,” to present his Oscar-nominated documentary 4 Little Girls, about one of America’s most despicable hate crimes – the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Church in Birmingham, Alabama that took the lives of four African American girls, Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robinson, and Cynthia Wesley. He will also present I Can’t Breathe, a short video piece that combines footage of the chokehold death of Eric Garner at the hands of the New York City Police Department with footage of the similar death of the Radio Raheem character in Lee’s iconic 1989 film Do The Right Thing. In addition to 4 Little Girls, the films in the series will include:
Race In America
An Outrage – This documentary by Hannah Ayers and Lance Warren about lynching in the American South was filmed on location at lynching sites in six states, and is bolstered by the memories and perspectives of descendants, community activists, and scholars, creating a hub for action to remember and reflect upon a long-hidden past.
Birth of a Movement – This powerful story is based on William Monroe Trotter, the nearly-forgotten editor of a Black Boston newspaper and his 1915 campaign to ban D.W. Griffith’s deeply divisive Birth of a Nation – highlighting the early stages of still-raging battles over media representation, freedom of speech, and the influence of Hollywood.
The Confession Tapes – The VFF will present an episode from Netflix’s true crime documentary series called “8th and H” about a notorious 1984 murder case in Washington, D.C. in which a group of eight teens were unjustly convicted, and remain in prison to this day largely due to a connection to a “gang” that never actually existed.
Hidden Figures – Noted author and UVA alumna Margot Lee Shetterly will be at the Festival to present the widely-acclaimed 2016 film based on her celebrated book about the three brilliant African-American women at NASA — Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) — who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) into orbit.
O.J.: Made in America – Ezra Edelman’s Emmy and Academy Award-winning five-part documentarychronicles the rise and fall of O.J. Simpson, whose high-profile murder trial exposed the extent of American racial tensions, revealing a fractured and divided nation.
Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities – Co-directed by award-winning documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson and Marco Williams, this film examines the impact Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have had on American history, culture, and national identity.
The Ballad of Lefty Brown – Director Jared Moshe’s American Western tells the story of Lefty Brown (Bill Pullman), a 65-year-old cowboy who, after a lifetime of riding in the shadows of Western legend Eddie Johnson (Peter Fonda), is forced by tragedy to emerge from the shadows and face the harsh realities of frontier justice.
Breath – Set on the coast of Australia in the mid 1970’s, Simon Baker’s (The Mentalist) directorial debut tells the story of two teenage boys who forge a friendship with an older, elusive pro surfer who introduces them to the thrill of riding the waves and living in the moment.
Call Me by Your Name – Based on the acclaimed novel by André Aciman, Luca Guadagnino’s transcendent coming-of-age film follows two young men who fall for each other in northern Italy during the early 1980s. With a screenplay by the legendary James Ivory, the film features a masterful turn by actor Armie Hammer.
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool – Annette Bening and Jamie Bell star in Paul McGuigan’s adaptation of the memoir by British actor Peter Turner about his romance with the legendary and famously eccentric Hollywood star Gloria Grahame during the last years of her life.
The Leisure Seeker – Embracing the iconic Americana of road trips and campgrounds, a runaway couple (played by Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren) goes on an unforgettable trip in the faithful old RV they call the Leisure Seeker.
Permanent – Based on the writer, director, and UVA alumna Colette Burson’s own experience while attending E.B. Stanley Middle School in Virginia, Permanent is a coming-of-age story featuring Rainn Wilson and Patricia Arquette about an idiosyncratic family set in 1983 that involves hairstyles, social awkwardness, and poorly made toupees.
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail – From award-winning director Steve James comes this incredible saga of the Chinese immigrant Sung family, owners of the only U.S. bank to face criminal charges in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
The Challenge – Desert landscapes dotted with private jets, pet cheetahs, and souped-up Ferraris provide the backdrop of Italian visual artist Yuri Ancarani’s documentary about the surreal world of wealthy Qatari sheikhs with a passion for amateur falconry.
Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies – Amanda Ladd Jones presents the untold story of her father, Alan Ladd, Jr., the former 20th Century Fox Chairman who greenlit Star Wars, Blade Runner, Alien, and many more of the biggest films in movie history. Featuring interviews with Mel Brooks, Ben Affleck, Richard Donner, Ron Howard, Ridley Scott, and numerous others.
The Road Movie – Dimitri Kalashnikov’s inventive documentary literally puts viewers in the driver’s seat by offering a windshield-eye view of life in Russia made up entirely of dashcam videos posted on YouTube.
Serenade For Haiti – Following Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake, Father David Cesar works tirelessly to continue Sainte Trinité Music School’s more than 60-year legacy of bringing classical music to thousands of Haitians in this testament to resilience, hope, and the power of music. Director Owsley Brown will lead a discussion of his film.
Word is Bond – Director Sacha Jenkins will be on hand to present his acclaimed documentary that tells the never-before-told story about the writers and journalists that created and shaped the language for hip-hop culture.
Health and Wellbeing Documentaries
Ask the Sexpert – Director Vishali Sinha presents a story of popular 93-year-old Mumbai sex-ed columnist Dr. Watsa, whose brand of non-moralistic advice and humor has emboldened many to write in questions against the backdrop of a comprehensive sex education ban in schools that has been adopted by approximately one third of India’s states.
Bending the Arc – An extraordinary team of doctors and activists work to save lives in a rural Haitian village. Through interviews and on-the-ground footage shot in the midst of a deadly epidemic, directors Kief Davidson and Pedro Kos are immersed in the thirty-year struggle of these fiercely dedicated people as they fight ancient diseases.
My Kid is Not Crazy – Revealing the nightmare of a medical system heavily influenced by the pharmaceutical industry, this documentary unpacks the fierce disagreement that occurs among families in addressing youth mental illness. Treated with antipsychotic medication, behavioral therapy, and even hospitalization, years of misdiagnosis leave these children with irrecoverable consequences for the rest of their lives.
Requiem for a Running Back – When she gets the shocking news that her former NFL star father Lewis Carpenter has been diagnosed postmortem as the 18th confirmed case of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), documentarian Rebecca Carpenter embarks on a three-year odyssey across America to explore the unfolding controversy surrounding the degenerative brain disease, which is caused by repeated blunt force trauma to the brain.
Starfish – Writer Tom Ray’s picture perfect life falls apart in a single moment when he succumbs to a devastating illness and loses his hands, lower legs, and part of his face after contracting sepsis. This true and moving story chronicles the efforts of Tom and his wife Nicola to keep their family together against impossibly long odds.
Twinning Reaction – Told from the perspective of identical twins and triplets who were secretly split up in infancy and studied by psychoanalysts for decades, the documentary examines the traumatic, long-term effects of the separations – and continuing deception – on the twins and their adoptive families.
What Lies Upstream – Cullen Hoback travels to West Virginia after an MCHM chemical spill poisoned the water supply of 300,000 Americans. When a similar crisis emerges in Flint, Michigan, he follows the guidance of whistleblowers to discover corruption at the highest levels of federal regulatory agencies.
Spotlight on Virginia Filmmaking
Afrikana Film Festival – The VFF is proud to partner with the Richmond-based Afrikana Film Festival for a special program of films dedicated to showcasing cinematic works of people of color from around the world, with a special focus on the global Black narrative.
Best of Film at Mason and Best of VCUarts – As the official film festival of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the VFF will salute some of Virginia’s finest young filmmakers from both George Mason University and Virginia Commonwealth University in a special program that captures and celebrates the diversity of cinematic storytelling found at these institutions.
Double Dummy – Producer and bridge enthusiast John McAllister offers an extraordinary behind-the-scenes look at the competitive world of bridge, and the incredible relationships forged by the game around the world.
The Ruination of Lovell Coleman – This short documentary from Ross McDermott tells the story of a Charlottesville-based 93-year-old fiddle player. Combining footage of his performances with animation and interviews about his unique musical career, the film puts special focus on his many years of service playing at local nursing homes.
Scenes with Ivan – Local filmmakers Doug and Judy Bari chronicle their son Ivan’s life from his birth in 1985 to the present. They spent two years sifting through hundreds of hours of footage they had shot, but never before looked at before. In the process, they discovered forgotten moments of what makes a life, and how things come full circle.
A Fantastic Woman (Chile) – Director Sebastián Lelio’s devastating portrait of grief about a young transgender waitress who faces scorn and discrimination after the sudden death of her older boyfriend.
Happy End (Austria) – The latest from noted Austrian director and two-time Palme D’Or-winner Michael Haneke highlights the cultural blindness and savage indifference of a bourgeois European family in Calais consumed by its own “struggles” as the the migrant crisis rages all around them.
Loveless (Russia) – A couple in the midst of a vicious divorce must come together to lead the search for their missing son in this eerie thriller from Andre Zviagintsev (Leviathan) that highlights a single harrowing story as well as the corruption and moral desolation of modern-day Russia.
November (Estonia) – A mixture of magic, black humor, and romantic love, November is the story of pagan villagers raging against bitter winter, werewolves, the plague, and evil spirits.
Song of Granite (Ireland) – This life story of renowned traditional Irish folk singer Joe Heaney from director Pat Collins combines documentary footage of the singer with masterful performances and gorgeous cinematography that highlights the gorgeous Irish countryside to tell a story that celebrates cultural diversity.
Summer 1993 (Spain) – Director Carla Simon’s feature debut is a poignant look at a six-year-old girl who has to leave all she knows behind following her mother’s death as she moves to the countryside and struggles to adjust to a new life with her uncle and his family.
Tom of Finland (Finland) – Director Dome Karukoski brings to life the story of Touko Laaksonen, a decorated WWII officer who returns home after serving his country only to find that country rife with homophobic persecution. He finds refuge in liberating and inhibition-free art that makes him one of the most celebrated and influential figures in 20th Century gay culture.
White Sun (Nepal) – This gripping portrait of post-civil war Nepal during the fragile deadlocked peace process follows an anti-regime partisan who confronts physical, social, and political obstacles related to his father’s funeral. His search for solutions takes him to neighboring mountain villages and results in encounters with police and rebel guerrillas.
Woodpeckers (Dominican Republic) – Julián finds love and a purpose to living in the last place he imagined: Najayo prison in the Dominican Republic. Through sign languages from one prison to another, he encounters Yanelly, separated by 150 meters and dozens of guards, and has to win her love while keeping it a secret.
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 Confession Tapes, Double Dummy, and The Ruination of Lovell Coleman, the series will include producer Han West’s Oh Lucy!, a charming character study following an emotionally unfulfilled woman as she tentatively emerges from her shell, and director Kevin Elliott’s first feature Magnum Opus, a timely conspiracy thriller centered around a principled Desert Storm vet turned reclusive artist.
The Lavender Scare – The first documentary to tell the little-known story of “the longest witch hunt in American history”- an unrelenting federal campaign launched by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953 to identify and fire all employees suspected of being homosexual because they were deemed to be a threat to national security.
Rebels on Pointe – Award-winning filmmaker Bobbi Jo Hart presents the first-ever behind-the-scenes look at Les Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the all-male drag ballet company founded 40 years after the Stonewall riots.
Other LGBTQIA+ films include Call Me by Your Name, A Fantastic Woman (Chile), and Tom of Finland(Finland).
Jewish and Israeli Series
1945 – In August 1945, a rural town in Hungary is preparing for the wedding of the town clerk’s son when two Orthodox Jewish men arrive at the railway station with mysterious wooden boxes.
In Between – Three Palestinian women attempt to balance faith and tradition with their modern lives while living in the heart of Tel Aviv.
Shelter – When Naomi Rimon, a Mossad agent, is sent on a mission to protect Mona, a Lebanese collaborator, the two women find themselves in a compromised safehouse in Hamburg. In this suspense-laden psychological thriller, beliefs are questioned and devastating decisions are forced.
Surviving Skokie – An intensely personal documentary that explores the effects of a late 1970’s threatened neo-Nazi march in Skokie, IL on its large Holocaust survivor population, following producer Eli Adler on a moving trip with his father to his ancestral home in Poland.
The Miller Center
This year the Virginia Film Festival is again partnering with The Miller Center, a nonpartisan affiliate of the University of Virginia that specializes in presidential scholarship, public policy, and political history, and strives to apply the lessons of history and civil discourse to the nation’s most pressing contemporary governance challenges. The series will include a 30th anniversary screening of Broadcast News, the 1987 romantic comedy that took a clear-eyed, satirical look at the concept of “fake news” long before the phrase was vaulted into the American lexicon in the 2016 election. The screening will be followed by a conversation with legendary news reporter and anchor Jim Lehrer and longtime CBS News correspondent and now UVA Media Studies professor Wyatt Andrews about the concepts of truth and veracity in our rapidly-changing news landscape. This year’s Miller Center series will also feature a screening of an episode from The Vietnam War, the highly-acclaimed 18-part PBS documentary series from Ken Burns and Lynn Novick that tells the epic story of one of the most consequential, divisive, and controversial events in American history as it has never before been told on film. The VFF is proud to welcome Lynn Novick to the Festival for a special post-screening discussion with Marc Selverstone, associate professor and chair of the Miller Center’s Presidential Recordings Program.
This year the Virginia Film Office added another impressive title to its growing resume when Showtime announced that its award-winning series Homeland would film its upcoming seventh season in the Commonwealth. The Virginia Film Festival will screen an episode of the show from its sixth season, followed by a conversation with its director, Lesli Linka Glatter.
Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership
The VFF and the University of Virginia’s Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership are launching a new partnership this year with a special screening of the 1972 Michael Ritchie film The Candidate, starring Robert Redford. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion that will include political consultant and longtime CNN contributor Paul Begala, who returns to the VFF after his 2016 post-screening discussion of the D.A. Pennebaker classic documentary The War Room.
The VFF and the Library of Congress Celebrate the National Film Registry
This year the Virginia FIlm Festival continues its unique partnership with the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation in Culpeper, Virginia, presenting a series of films that celebrate the National Film Registry and the Campus’ dedication to film preservation. This year’s lineup will include the Mike Nichols 1967 coming-of-age classic The Graduate, Hal Ashby’s 1971 romantic black comedy Harold & Maude, and Charlie Chaplin’s 1917 silent film The Immigrant.
The VFF will revisit its longstanding tradition of presenting silent films with live musical accompaniment with a pair of programs featuring the music of Matthew Marshall and the Reel Music Trio. A special 100th Anniversary screening of Charlie Chaplin’s The Immigrant, which features Chaplin in one of his most famous roles – as an immigrant who endures a challenging voyage only to face even more trouble when he gets to America, a story all-too-relevant in today’s world. This program will also feature two more of Chaplin’s most beloved two-reelers Easy Street and The Adventurer, also celebrating their 100th Anniversary. Additionally, the Festival will present a rare treat with a late-night Paramount Theater screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1927 film The Lodger, about a Jack The Ripper style killing spree in London, with a chilling original score performed by Marshall.
Longtime Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz returns to the VFF, where he will host discussions around a number of screenings including The Candidate, The Graduate, The Immigrant, The Lodger, and more.
The Rookie with John Lee Hancock
The VFF will present a 15th anniversary screening of The Rookie, the inspirational true story starring Dennis Quaid as a high school baseball coach whose career and life takes an improbable turn when he promises his team that if they make the playoffs, he will attend a Major League tryout. The screening will be followed by a conversation with the film’s director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, Snow White and the Huntsman) and screenwriter Mike Rich (Finding Forrester, Secretariat).
For this 30th anniversary year, the Festival is reviving its Shot-by-Shot Workshop, one of its most cherished traditions. Created and presented for many years by the late Roger Ebert, the yearly Shot-by-Shot Workshop offers movie lovers a rare chance to enjoy live commentary on classic films by leading film experts. This year’s presentation will be Harold and Maude, presented by Nick Dawson, biographer of the film’s legendary director Hal Ashby.
Honoring Our Veterans
As the nation marks Veterans Day weekend, the VFF will pay tribute to those who have sacrificed and continue to sacrifice for our nation with a series of military-themed presentations. In addition to The Vietnam War, this series will include Last Flag Flying, Richard Linklater’s latest film, which stars Steve Carrell, Laurence Fishburne, and Bryan Cranston as a trio of Vietnam vets who reunite to bury one of their sons, who was killed in action in Iraq. The friends accompany the young man’s casket on a trip through coastal New Hampshire, reminiscing about and coming to terms with the shared memories of a war that continues to shape their lives. The Festival will also present American Veteran, a new documentary from director Julie Cohen about Army Sergeant Nick Mendes, who was paralyzed from the neck down by a massive IED in Afghanistan in 2011, when he was only 21 years old. The film follows Mendes from the earliest days of his recovery as he learns to eat and breathe on his own to his life today with wife Mandy, whom he met when she worked as one of his caregivers. The film shows a nuanced portrait of a quadriplegic soldier’s sometimes harrowing, sometimes romantic, and often surprisingly funny life.