Viewing Virginia through the Virginia Film Festival

The Virginia Film Festival is upon us again, back with a vengeance (and an iphone app). Over the past few weeks, enough ink has been spilled about the festival’s headliners and heavy-hitters, and if last year was any indication, it might be too late to score tickets to many of them (Melancholia, The Descendants and JFK were sold out weeks ago). But as with any year at the VFF, you can have an equally good time sticking with lesser-known films, and this year, the local emphasis is such that you could fill an entire weekend with silver screen depictions of the Old Dominion.

The first locally-focused documentary on the schedule, We Are Astronomers, screens at 4:30pm today. The film follows fourteen months in the life of local rock group Astronomers, culminating in their May CD release show at the Southern, and should pair well with Alchemy of an American Artist, a guerrilla-style doc about the "fantastical, sometimes brutal mind" of local musician Christian Breedan.

For a local doc that’s already generated a bit of national buzzPreacher will definitely be worth checking out. The film, which grew out of a 2007 C-VILLE story by Jayson Whitehead, tells the story of Bishop William Nowell, who preaches at New Covenant Church, on the corner of Grady and Preston. Also noteworthy among locally-focused docs is Growing Up Cason, which traces the four brothers who founded the City Market back to their family’s depression-era roots. Trolley, a short film by Jülide Etem, contemplates—you guessed it—the free trolley, suggesting that the transit service "lays bare the segregation and alienation that is inherent to any modern urban area." 

A scene from Preacher.

For stories about other Virginia communities, the Documentary Shorts Program—which screens today, at 3pm—has short pieces on Richmond’s first Tea Party convention, the declining oyster population of the Chesapeake, the life of a Virginia death row executioner and Worthington Hardware in Staunton. The Loving Story delves into Virginia history with the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple who were arrested for their union in 1958. With a mixture of found footage and interviews, the film follows the couple through the 1967 Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court case that would lead to the legalization of interracial marriage throughout the U.S.

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