Who We Are

The Virginia Film Festival at the University of Virginia has been celebrating the magic of the movies and inspiring audiences for over 25 years. Every autumn, the Festival showcases celebrated new features and documentaries, fresh perspectives on timeless classics, and local filmmakers from right here in Virginia. The Festival brings in a fascinating selection of guests, from internationally acclaimed directors and actors to professors and leading cultural experts who lead discussions that stimulate, educate, and engage. Today, the Festival stands as one of Virginia’s most important cultural landmarks, and one of the most respected regional destination film festivals in the United States.

Photo: Academy Award® winner and diplomat Sidney Poitier & Gov. Doug Wilder, 1992

Our Mission

  • To educate and engage audiences of all ages in an open dialogue on the art of film through a four-day festival and year-round screenings and events
  • To promote discussions between artists, students, academics, and audiences about the films and how they relate to the world in which we live
  • To support the films and filmmakers of the Commonwealth of Virginia

Photo: Academy Award® nominated actress Sigourney Weaver with Academy Award winning producer (Rain Man) and VFF Advisory Board chair Mark Johnson, 1999

Special Guests

Each year the Festival brings in a fascinating selection of guests, from internationally acclaimed directors and actors to professors and leading cultural experts who lead discussions that stimulate, educate, and engage. Past guests include Jimmy Stewart, Morgan Freeman, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Hopkins, Sandra Bullock, Nicolas Cage, Gena Rowlands, Sigourney Weaver, William Styron, Tippi Hedren, Ross McElwee, Matthew Broderick, Stanley Nelson, January Jones, Cherry Jones, Oliver Stone, Will Forte, Mia Wasikowska, Jorma Taccone, Ashley Judd, Jenna Elfman, and Patrick Wilson.

Photo: Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson, Jenna Elfman, and author Adriana Trigiani at the Big Stone Gap premiere, 2014

Our Program

From 1990 to 2009, the Festival chose a different theme each year to inform programming. Themes such as “Animal Attractions,” “Funny Business,” and “The Reel South and Other Worlds” inspired innovative programming for years. As the Festival grew, the team decided to leave the themed approach in order to allow for more flexible programming. The Festival’s Opening Night Film sets the tone for the weekend by showcasing one of the most hotly anticipated films of the year. Recent sold-out Opening Night Films have included Academy Award® nominees Nebraska, Black Swan, and The Descendants. The Festival’s Saturday night Centerpiece Film regularly fills the renowned Paramount Theater with another of the year’s most buzz worthy features and often includes some of the industry’s top filmmakers and actors. The Closing Night Film screening wraps up the Festival with an exclamation point, bringing in exciting new works from some of the film industry’s brightest stars. Special programming each year incorporates fascinating guests, exciting new film, and old classics. Landmark events throughout the years include Distinguished Filmmaker presentations to Robert Altman, John Sayles, Emile de Antonio, and Arthur Penn; a 25th Anniversary tribute to In the Heat of the Night and Sidney Poitier; Roger Ebert’s “shot by shot” workshops on classics such as Vertigo, Sunset Boulevard, and The Third Man; the inaugural “Presidency in Film” series featuring a special screening of All the President’s Men with former Virginia Governor Gerald Baliles moderating a post-film discussion with journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein; and the 2014 world premiere of Big Stone Gap.

Photo: Will Forte at the screening of Nebraska, 2013

Our Partnerships

Collaborations with professors and experts in various departments at the University of Virginia and surrounding organizations contribute to the rich discussion surrounding the films. The U.Va. Center for Politics Film Series features screenings and discussions with leading experts from the University and beyond that mark major anniversaries of significant political events. The Presidency in Film series is presented in partnership with the Miller Center, featuring screenings followed by discussions featuring notable historians, political figures, and journalists. The Library of Congress partnership allows the Festival to present archival screenings of classic films from the LOC’s National Film Registry.

Photo: Academy Award® winner Sandra Bullock and Virginia Tourism Corporation President and CEO and Festival Advisory Board member Rita McClenny, 2004

Beyond the Films

During the Festival, celebrations and special events provide a fun opportunity to mingle with other film lovers and filmmakers. The Opening Night Gala on the first night of the Festival is a great way to enjoy the company in a comfortably elegant atmosphere that brings classic Hollywood to life. Throughout the Festival, the Filmmakers and Sponsors Lounge provides an exclusive place for donors, sponsors, actors, and filmmakers to meet, interact, and refuel between screenings. It is also the venue for a panel discussion hosted by the Virginia Film Office. The Late Night Wrap Party following Saturday’s Centerpiece Film is a high-energy event that provides the perfect exclamation point for the weekend, complete with tasty late-night snacks, music, dancing, and a chance to celebrate the weekend with VFF guests and fans.

Photo: Richard Roundtree at the Opening Night Gala, 2014

Outreach and Education

The Festival has expanded its Outreach and Education offerings to help foster a love of film in the central Virginia community. During the Festival, free school screenings of a socially relevant film for middle and high school students and their teachers, and an accompanying discussion led by an expert panel, help bring subject material alive for students. High school students across Virginia interested in filmmaking can participate in the ACTION! High School Directors Competition for a chance to see their short films shown at the Festival. Younger students can participate in the Young Filmmakers Academy, an in-school filmmaking initiative that engages elementary and middle school students in authentic film production. YFA culminates in a screening during Family Day, a celebration on the Saturday of the Festival. Family Day offers children and families a variety of events including free screenings, interactive presentations, and hands-on workshops. For other members of the community, the Adrenaline Film Project offers a chance to hone their filmmaking skills with advice from industry professionals. Adrenaline is a 72-hour filmmaking competition during which teams of student filmmakers must pitch, write, cast, shoot, and edit their films – culminating in a high energy screening that features audience, mentor, and jury awards. The Digital Media Gallery, a partnership with Second Street Gallery, showcases the works of U.Va. intermediate and advanced cinematography students and local youth filmmakers from Light House Studio. The Gallery also occasionally showcases work by celebrated cinematographer and U.Va. Professor Kevin Everson.

Photo: A member of the group Virginia Acrobatics on the U.Va. Betsy and John Casteen Arts Grounds, 2014