Six films that break through at the Virginia Film Festival

"The Love Witch" Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories “The Love Witch” Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

Always Shine

Writer-director Sophia Takal’s psychological thriller Always Shine is a thoughtful exploration of the performative nature of all social interactions, whether between actor and director, business and customer, individual and society and even between supposed best friends. Beth (Caitlin FitzGerald) and Anna (Mackenzie Davis) are both actresses living in Los Angeles who have had very different levels of success, a fact that has never interfered with their friendship until the two escape for what was supposed to be a peaceful weekend getaway. Unspoken yet palpable tension between the two leads to hostility, the fear of impending violence and even rifts in the fabric of their individual identities. Surreal, stylish and utterly brilliant narratively and thematically, Always Shine is not to be missed.


After a spectacular reception at Cannes, Paul Verhoeven’s psychological thriller Elle looks to be the triumphant return of the controversial artist. His first film since 2006’s The Black Book, Elle promises to be a thoughtful examination of the long-term effects of rape and subsequent revenge, a subject that Verhoeven had perhaps been too callous about in his Hollywood days. With a critically acclaimed leading performance by French actress Isabelle Huppert, Elle looks to bridge the gap between Verhoeven’s American and European careers and is a return to form for one of the film world’s most unique artistic voices.

“I Am Not Your Negro” Courtesy of Velvet Film

I Am Not Your Negro

Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro explores the subject of race in America from the writings of author and social critic James Baldwin and his views following the assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. While the documentary remains planted in Baldwin’s own era, connections to the modern day are unavoidable for the timelessness of his observations, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. Baldwin’s examinations remain troublingly relevant as he dives deep into the ways in which race and racism are tightly woven into the fabric of our nation at all levels.

Into the Inferno

Roger Ebert once said Werner Herzog “has never created a single film that is compromised, shameful, made for pragmatic reasons or uninteresting. Even his failures are spectacular.” There certainly is no compromise in his latest documentary, Into the Inferno, the legendary filmmaker’s look at active volcanoes in Indonesia, Iceland, North Korea and Ethiopia, with all of the dispassion and poetry that is his wont. The filmmaker comes frighteningly close to his subject-—literally, at the edge of the volcanoes, peering down on real pools of lava just waiting to burst.


Akira Kurosawa helped to revolutionize world cinema with the intellect of a scholar, the inquisitive mind of a philosopher and the steady hand of a master craftsman. Though he would certainly be hugely influential even if he were only a master of style and pacing, the philosophical, and often political, undertones of his films are universal enough to be understood by any audience in any context. He both influenced and was influenced by the West, an interchange seen beautifully in his 1985 epic, Ran, which drew on both the legend of Mori Motonari as well as Shakespeare’s King Lear. If you have yet to experience Kurosawa, Ran is an excellent place to start.

The Love Witch

Anna Biller is exactly the visionary that edgy and exploitation cinema needs right now. With a joyful, sardonic yet sincere tone, her bright Technicolor sexpot extravaganzas combine the pulpy silliness of Doris Wishman with the visual intrigue of Alfred Hitchcock. Her latest film, The Love Witch—shot, lit and acted exactly in the style of a 1960s melodrama—is a throwback with a modern understanding of sexual politics. The film is deeply feminist and embraces camp as a means to carry deeper theoretical messages, and uses sexual magic as a metaphor for male anxiety and female empowerment.

Contact Kristofer Jenson at

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