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31st Annual Virginia Film Festival Draws Big Crowds

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The 31st annual Virginia Film Festival (FILE IMAGE) The 31st annual Virginia Film Festival (FILE IMAGE)

11/08/2018 Release from the Virginia Film Festival:

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA – November 8, 2018 – The 31st Annual Virginia Film Festival once again delighted, engaged, and challenged audiences across Charlottesville with an expansive program that featured some of this fall’s hottest titles in addition to a vast array of features, documentaries, and shorts from around the world.

The Virginia Film Festival is a program of the University of Virginia and the Office of the Provost and Vice Provost for the Arts.

The 2018 Festival featured nearly 200 films, plus a guest list highlighted by two-time Academy Award-winning actor Christoph Waltz; Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King III; filmmaker Michelle Jackson (Another Slave Narrative); renowned film historian and Turner Classic Movies (TCM) host Ben Mankiewicz; and filmmaker Allen Hughes, who, along with his brother Albert, wrote and directed the groundbreaking and critically-acclaimed film Menace II Society 25 years ago.

Festival officials report that this year’s VAFF recorded 30,474 attendances, including paid and free events, which represents a slight increase over last year. The impact of the festival goes far beyond its venues, a fact supported by many Downtown Mall merchants who enjoy a surge in business each year throughout the weekend.

“We love the festival,” said local restaurant owner Will Richey, “not only for what they do, but for the vibe they bring to town every year. The amount of people who come downtown and fill the shops and restaurants is immediately perceptible. The downtown really lights up with film festival attendees, and I know every merchant and restaurant owner feels the same way.”

VAFF Director and UVA Vice Provost for the Arts Jody Kielbasa, who marked his 10th Virginia Film Festival this year, called this year’s festival among the best of his tenure.

“We are extremely proud of the program that we put together and the kinds of experiences it created for our audiences and guests. There was a sense of excitement in the air everywhere I went, starting with our sold-out opening night screening of Peter Farrelly’s Green Book, an important, personal and highly-entertaining film about Civil Rights that was presented in an authentic Green Book venue, and featured an introduction by new UVA President Jim Ryan. We were also absolutely thrilled to have Christoph Waltz with us, who in my opinion, may be the finest actor working today. We were so honored, just hours later, to welcome Martin Luther King III to The Paramount Theater to accompany the screening of Charlottesville, the new documentary produced by the UVA Center for Politics and Community Idea Stations, as well as to Old Cabell Hall, where his father spoke in 1963, for a Center for Politics’ hosted press conference.”

Another highlight, Kielbasa said, came with the screening of the National Geographic documentary Into the Okavango, which was followed by a discussion with the film’s subject, conservation biologist Steve Boyes, appearing live via video from the endangered Okavango Delta. “It was truly amazing to be transported by the film to into this extraordinary region and story, and then to go to the exact location for a live interaction with Dr. Boyes. It was an unforgettable experience for all who were there.”

Kielbasa said another unforgettable experience came on Sunday afternoon at the Dickinson Center at Piedmont Virginia Community College, where a screening and discussion of the documentary Fiddlin’, about the annual Old Fiddlers Convention in Galax, Virginia was followed by a live performance that included old-time music legend Wayne Henderson and some young winners of the 2018 competition there.

“The musicians were just incredible,” Kielbasa said, “and it was a great example of the ways we are able to combine a film with a world-class arts presentation that brings it all to life.”

An additional example, Kielbasa said, came thanks to a master class presented for UVA Drama students by two-time Tony Award-winner Kelli O’Hara, who along with her husband Greg Naughton was a producer for the VAFF screening film The Independents. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these students to be mentored by one of Broadway’s biggest stars, and she could not have been more generous with her time and knowledge.”

One of this year’s most popular guests delighted his audiences from 3,000 miles away, said VAFF Programmer Wesley Harris. “We learned just before the festival that legendary filmmaker, actor, and author Peter Bogdanovich had suffered a broken leg and would be unable to join us in Charlottesville. Unfazed and determined, Peter still participated in conversations with Ben Mankiewicz via Skype, including an unforgettable talk surrounding the Netflix release The Other Side of the Wind, the Orson Welles film in which Peter starred and which he was instrumental in pulling together some 40 years after Welles’ death. The film was part of an overall celebration of Welles’ work that also included his final film, F for Fake in addition to the documentaries They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead and The Eyes of Orson Welles.

“It was powerful to be able to take our festival audiences deep inside the remarkable story of this film and inside the mind and work of one of the most fascinating talents in film history,” Harris said, “and to be able to do it through the insight and memories of his good friend Peter Bogdanovich made it even more special.”

In a bit of synergy that in many ways captured the particular magic of this year’s festival, Harris shared that when he reached out to Allen Hughes with an offer to guest program a slot, the filmmaker’s immediate choice was F for Fake, without him even knowing about the program’s Welles focus.

While the VAFF’s lineup of high-profile films like Green Book, Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk, The Favourite from filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, Jason Reitman’s The Front Runner, and Steve McQueen’s Widows draws deserved attention and large crowds, Kielbasa said some of the festival’s most memorable experiences came out of some of its lesser-known films.

“One of the things I love most about the film festival world is that we have the opportunity to introduce audiences to filmmakers who they may not know, but who are doing truly extraordinary work. One of those filmmakers this year was Michelle Jackson, whose Another Slave Narrative uses actors to retell some of the 2,300 interviews collected in the Slave Narrative Collection of 1936-38. She is a truly special talent, and I look forward to continuing to showcase and share her work in years to come.”

VAFF audiences also played a key role this year by casting ballots for their favorite films. Officials announced today that the winners of this year’s VAFF Audience Awards are:

  • Narrative Feature: Green Book
  • Documentary Feature: Free Solo
  • Narrative Short: Are You Volleyball?!
  • Documentary Short: Unstuck: An OCD Kids Movie

Also announced were the winners of the 2018 Programmer’s Awards:

  • Narrative Feature: Relaxer
  • Documentary Feature: América
  • Narrative Short: Lamb
  • Documentary Short: Like Dolls, I'll Rise

The Virginia Film Festival also presented its first-ever Commonwealth Awards to honor their achievements of Virginia filmmakers. The inaugural Commonwealth Award winners were Fiddlin’, for Best Virginia Feature Film, and Werowocomoco, for Best Virginia Short Film.

The VAFF extended its reach deep into the community with a series of free programs and events highlighted by its annual Family Day on the Betsy and John Casteen Arts Grounds, which featured screenings, an outdoor arts fair, a series of interactive arts workshops, and more.

Once again, hundreds of area elementary students got their red carpet-moments through the VAFF Young Filmmakers Academy. Students from schools around the region were treated to a screening of the National Geographic documentary Science Fair at The Paramount Theater for VAFF’s annual School Screening.

The festival hosted a variety of events at Common House, including a Friday series of panel discussions including a Producer’s Panel, a panel on Women in Film, and a panel on Virtual Reality filmmaking. The VR world was also highlighted on Saturday and Sunday at Common House in the VR Lab, a special installation featuring some of the industry’s leading artists showcasing their interactive experiences for the public.

The 2018 Virginia Film Festival is presented by The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation (Richard M. Adler and Joseph Erdman, Trustees). The 2018 Virginia Film Festival is generously supported by the following Premiere Sponsors: The AV Company, Bank of America, CFA Institute, Community Idea Stations, Harvest Moon Catering, James Madison’s Montpelier, Violet Crown, and the Virginia Film Office.

For more information on the Virginia Film Festival, visit www.virginiafilmfestival.org.