The most frightening movie on this year’s Virginia Film Festival schedule doesn’t feature supernatural ghouls, but it had Larry Sabato shaken. Charlottesville is the real-life horror story that took place on UVA’s Grounds and in city streets when white supremacists and neo-Nazis came to town in August 2017.
“We have people and film footage no one else has,” says Sabato, whose Center for Politics produced the documentary. While racism is obviously a theme, “We also focus on the deep-seated anti-Semitism in the white nationalist movement.”
Sabato notes that he didn’t hear any anti-African American chants as the Unite the Righters marched through Grounds.
“It was all about Jews,” he says. The marchers are “obsessed with Nazis. And who would ever believe that in 2018, they would seize on Adolf Hitler as a hero?”
Most shocking for Sabato were the chants: “Jews will not replace us.” “Blood and soil.” And even, “Into the ovens.”
“People were stunned,” says Sabato.
He warns that some of the footage is shocking. And some of it came from Sabato’s cellphone, which he used to film the tiki-torch march through the Lawn, where he lives.
Sabato says he had about 20 minutes notice that the march was not going up University Avenue as Unite the Right organizers had said. August 11 was move-in day on the Lawn. “I was very fearful for the students,” he says—particularly the Jewish and African American students.
He quickly rounded up whomever he could find and hid them in the basement of his Lawn pavilion.
Later that night, he wrote then-president Teresa Sullivan and her husband. “Of my 47 years here,” he recounts, “it was the worst night ever on the Lawn.”
People will find the film disturbing, predicts Sabato. “We didn’t want to put a happy face on it.”
He adds, “You don’t make it go away by ignoring it.”
Charlottesville screens on Saturday, November 3, at 4pm at the Paramount. It was made with the Community Idea Stations and will air on PBS affiliates across the country in early 2019.