In Charlottesville, the arrival of fall means growing excitement for the Virginia Film Festival, one the finest annual events our city has to offer (full disclosure: this writer was once an employee of the Virginia Film Festival.) This November marks the Festival’s 25th year, and as in past years, four of Charlottesville’s theaters, and many satellite locations, will dedicate four days to round-the-clock screenings and events.
The Virginia Film Festival is relatively unique; unlike many other film festivals, it’s not competitive. No prizes are awarded, and no filmmakers come here looking for a distribution deal. Instead, it’s a celebration of film and video, geared toward serious film lovers and casual moviegoers rather than critics or industry insiders.
Since 2009, the Festival has been under the leadership of director Jody Kielbasa, who has gradually moved the focus away from repertory screenings, archival classics, and underground figureheads, and towards indie buzz hopefuls and soon-to-be-released features, including a significant number of documentaries and local productions. The strategy has been a successful one, and each of the past three years has broken records for attendance and ticket sales. Older films are still part of the festival roster, and with over 100 films screening, there is something of interest for almost everyone.
The opening night film this year is the highly anticipated Not Fade Away, the feature film debut of The Sopranos creator David Chase. Not Fade Away is a coming-of-age story about a teenage rock band in 1960s New Jersey, and features former Chase collaborator James Gandolfini. For Saturday evening’s centerpiece, the Festival will screen Silver Linings Playbook, the new film from The Fighter and I Heart Huckabees director David O. Russell, which stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. The festival has also announced The Sessions, a drama starring John Hawkes and Helen Hunt, which deals with the difficult subject of an aging paralytic desperate to lose his virginity. The Sessions won several awards at Sundance earlier this year, will close the Virgina Film Festival on Sunday night.
The biggest event to date may be the appearance of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the legendary Washington Post journalists who originally broke news of President Nixon’s connection to the Watergate scandal in 1972. Woodward and Bernstein will present and discuss All the President’s Men, Alan J. Pakula’s excellent 1972 film in which they were portrayed by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, respectively.
Several classic older films are included in the program as well—although longtime festival attendees may remember many of them from past years. It’s the third showing of James Cameron’s Aliens (special effects master Stan Winston is a UVA alumnus), and also the third appearance of The Manchurian Candidate, John Frankenheimer’s 1962 cold-war thriller, which screened here twice in the ’90s. Both are fine films, but as the number of repertory screenings grows fewer every year, it seems mildly ridiculous to continue revisiting such widely-seen films.
Many other promising events dot the schedule. The Adrenaline Film Festival, the four-day filmmaking boot-camp, will return for its ninth year. Keith Carradine will be here to discuss The Duellists, Ridley Scott’s 1977 directorial debut. Charlottesville audiences will get their first chance to see Leviathan, an experimental French documentary about fishing vessels that has been getting attention at recent festivals, as well as Hyde Park on Hudson, in which Bill Murray plays Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in a clear bid for an Oscar.
Underrated actor Matthew Lillard will present his first feature as a director, Fat Kid Rules the World. Local filmmaker Marc Adams will present Something in the Water, his documentary on Charlottesville music. And speaking of Charlottesville music, Faces in the Mirror—the long-gestating pet project of DMB’s Boyd Tinsley—will finally have its premiere.
In addition to the many films and speakers, the festival is marking 25 years by presenting a Founders Award to Patricia Kluge and former Virginia Governor Gerald L. Baliles, who were instrumental in getting the festival off the ground in the late ’80s. Current Governor Bob McDonnell is also issuing a special proclamation honoring Mark Johnson, the film festival advisory board chair and producer of films such as Diner, Rain Man, the recent Narnia series, as well as television’s “Breaking Bad.” Johnson has often been instrumental in securing high-profile guests and films for the festival in past years.
The Virginia Film Festival runs from November 1-4. Though some details have yet to be announced, the current schedule is available online at virginiafilmfestival.org, and tickets are now on sale.
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The online version of this article has been changed since the print edition, it has been updated to incorporate new announcements made by the Virginia Film Festival since the article went to press.