CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA – November 5, 2019 – The Virginia Film Festival made another serious Autumn splash in Central Virginia last weekend, entertaining, challenging, and delighting enthusiastic audiences in Charlottesville with a deep and diverse program that combined projected award season favorites with new discoveries with features, documentaries, and shorts from around the world – and welcoming more than 100 filmmakers to share their work, their stories, and their inspiration
The Virginia Film Festival is a program of the University of Virginia and the Office of the Provost and Vice Provost for the Arts.
Festival officials announced today that the Opening Night Film Just Mercy, with Michael B. Jordan as social justice warrior Brian Stevenson and Jamie Foxx as one of the first wrongly-convicted death row inmates he fought for, earned the VAFF Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature. Earning the audience award for Best Documentary Feature was Sing You a Brand New Song, a story about how the power of love and music can transcend even tragedy.
The 2019 Festival featured more than 150 films plus a guest list that included Academy Award-nominated actor, writer, director, and producer Ethan Hawke; Emmy Award-winning actor Ann Dowd of The Handmaid’s Tale; noted Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu; international bestselling author John Grisham; Breaking Away star Dennis Christopher; The Inn at Little Washington: A Delicious New Documentary director Mira Chang; and more.
The 2019 Virginia Film Festival recorded 27,022 attendances, including paid and free events.
VAFF Director and UVA Vice Provost for the Arts Jody Kielbasa called this year’s Festival particularly memorable for the range of experiences it provided and the topics it tackled. “We are really proud to have had the chance not only to bring our community an extraordinary collection of films, but to play an important role in facilitating conversations that are critically important here in Charlottesville and around our world.” Kielbasa pointed to the VAFF’s Race in America series as a prime example. “From our Opening Night screening of Just Mercy, the story of social justice hero Bryan Stevenson and his incredible work freeing wrongly-convicted, condemned prisoners on death row; to our Saturday night Centerpiece screening of Harriet, which of course tells the story of American hero Harriet Tubman and was filmed right here in the Commonwealth; to powerful films like Burning Cane and Pahokee, we are so proud to have provided a forum for this community and for our visitors that allows us to continue this dialogue.”
Another highlight, Kielbasa said, came when Ethan Hawke took The Paramount Theater stage following a screening of the Sidney Lumet film Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, in which he starred with the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hawke sat down for a fascinating and wide-ranging conversation with PBS NewsHour journalist Elizabeth Flock. “Ethan Hawke was one of the most thoughtful, entertaining, and engaging guests we’ve had in my time at the VAFF,” Kielbasa said. “He shared wonderful stories of what has been a truly remarkable career, and he could not have been more gracious.”
Filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu earned the honor of guest with the longest journey to Charlottesville, arriving from her native Kenya to show her award-winning film Rafiki, a love story between two women that was banned in her homeland before she prevailed in a fight for her constitutional rights there. “We were so proud to host Wanuri Kahiu, who not only delighted the attendees at her film, but also made the most of her time in Charlottesville by sharing her time and her expertise with students at the University of Virginia. It’s safe to say that Charlottesville, the University and the VAFF made a very strong impression on Wanuri, and we hope to have her back soon.”
The Festival action took a delicious turn on Sunday, October 27 with the world premiere of The Inn at Little Washington: A Delicious New Documentary. The film, which earned a raucous standing ovation from The Paramount Theater crowd, follows the story of the internationally-renowned restaurant and inn and Chef Patrick O’Connell, the man behind the culinary and hospitality magic that draws foodies from far and wide. The screening was presented in conjunction with VPM PBS, Virginia’s home for Public Media, who co-produced the documentary, which is slated to air in Virginia later this year.
Actor Liana Liberato, who is earning raves for her starring turn in the film To the Stars, was on hand at the screening of the film to receive the “Rising Star Award” from the Festival. “Liana is a rare talent, largely known to the younger generation for her role in the Hulu series Light as a Feather, and through her work in films including If I Stay. “I really loved To the Stars when I was able to see it earlier this year,” said VAFF Assistant Programmer Chandler Ferrebee, “and her performance really stood out to me. There is so much extraordinary young talent working in film and television today, and it was really important to us to recognize that and to share Liana’s work with our audience.”
The Festival welcomed another star who needed no introduction when “Walkaround Elmo” made a visit to the VAFF Family Day festivities as part of a salute to the 50th Anniversary of Sesame Street. The multigenerational fun also included an interactive arts fair and live performances from a variety of community and University-based arts groups. “This year’s Family Day was one of the best we’ve ever had in terms of attending families’ engagement with the activities and performers,” Kielbasa said.
The Festival once again shared the power of film with 400 middle and high school students from throughout the region with a special opening day school screening of True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality at The Paramount Theater. The screening was followed by a panel discussion moderated by UVA Vice Provost for Academic Outreach Louis Nelson, and featuring the film’s editor, Maya Mumma; social activist and organizer and UVA student Zyahna Bryant; and Legal Aid Justice Center Community Organizer Harold Folley.
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: Just Mercy
Documentary Feature: Sing You a Brand New Song
Narrative Short: Esta Es Tu Cuba
Documentary Short: Lost & Found
Also announced were the winners of the 2019 Programmers’ Awards:
Narrative Feature: Postal
Documentary Feature: Always in Season
Narrative Short: The Elephant’s Song
Documentary Short: Take Me to Prom
The 2019 Virginia Film Festival was presented by The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation. The 2019 Virginia Film Festival is generously supported by the following Premiere Sponsors: The AV Company, Bank of America, CFA Institute, Harvest Moon Catering, James Madison’s Montpelier, Violet Crown Cinema, Virginia Film Office, and VPM: Virginia’s home for Public Media.
For more information on the Virginia Film Festival, visit www.virginiafilmfestival.org.