A program of

Themes & Topics

See below for a snapshot of thematic groups and topical highlights featured in our 2018 Virginia Film Festival Program.

Race in America

The Virginia Film Festival is proud to once again collaborate with James Madison’s Montpelier on Race in America, a multi-faceted series of films and discussions inspired by and built around Montpelier’s ongoing commitment to exploring its own legacy of slavery, including the re-creation of slave dwellings on its historic property. The series will include Green Book, our opening night film that follows Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali as an Italian-American bouncer and a genius pianist as they navigate the 1960s American South; 16 Bars, a look at a prison rehabilitation program where inmates write their own music; Circles, a documentary following a man who has dedicated his life to helping at-risk youth and chronicling how he reevaluates his methods when his own son finds himself in trouble; Black in Blue, the powerful story of an African-American college athlete crossing the color line to play football for the University of Kentucky in 1967; Another Slave Narrative, in which racially diverse actors give life to the stories told by former slaves; and Charlottesville, an account of the events of August 11 and 12, 2017, in Charlottesville with interviews from experts and residents.

The Festival will also screen two works from director Allen Hughes. Part 1 and Part 3 of The Defiant Ones, the HBO miniseries chronicling the relationship between producer Jimmy Iovine and rapper and mogul Dr. Dre; and Menace II Society, Hughes and his brother Albert’s acclaimed debut film. A discussion with Allen Hughes will take place after the screenings.

Race in America is presented by James Madison’s Montpelier and supported by Virginia Commission for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Peter Bogdanovich & A Tribute to Orson Welles

The Festival will share a rare insider’s look at one of the most fascinating movie projects in Hollywood history, through the eyes of a legendary Hollywood director, producer, and actor who was in the middle of it all. Peter Bogdanovich returns to the Virginia Film Festival to lead a multi-pronged examination of Orson Welles’ quasi-autobiographical film, The Other Side of the Wind. Bogdanovich not only starred in the film, he was instrumental in its completion, based on a promise he had made to his good friend Welles shortly before the legendary filmmaker’s death in 1985. At that point, the film, which started production in 1971, was still unfinished, and Bogdanovich would go on to play a key role in its difficult-but-fascinating road to completion. It was a road fraught with countless obstacles ranging from rights battles to the complex and painstaking process of recreating the director’s vision from the hundreds of hours of footage he left behind. The film-within-a-film tells the story of filmmaker Jake Hannaford, who, like Welles, was embarking on The Other Side of the Wind, a film that would constitute his own Hollywood comeback. Bogdanovich worked over the course of decades with a team of dedicated filmmakers and film industry technicians to recreate Welles’ vision before Netflix finally came on board to push the project across the finish line. Festival audiences will also be afforded a 360-degree look at the product and the process of making The Other Side of the Wind that will include a screening of the newly-released film itself followed by a conversation with Bogdanovich, in addition to the new Netflix documentary They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead from Academy Award-winning director Morgan Neville (Won’t You Be My Neighbor, 20 Feet from Stardom). The Festival will also present the documentary The Eyes of Orson Welles in addition to Welles’ 1973 docudrama F For Fake, known for being his last completed during his lifetime. Bogdanovich will also present a screening of his critically-acclaimed documentary The Great Buster, about silent film star Buster Keaton.

VAFF @ Common House

The VAFF will host a series of free panel discussions this year at Common House that will feature industry experts on the following topics: Producers Forum: including a panel of leading Hollywood producers and members of the Virginia Film Festival Advisory Board; Women in Film: A discussion of the opportunities and continuing challenges for women in the industry today hosted by Life Out Loud Films; VR Filmmaking: Mona Kasra, assistant professor of Digital Media Design in the UVA Department of Drama, will host a conversation about the present and future of the rapidly-evolving world of VR filmmaking with leaders in the field, including Malvina Martin, executive producer of the award-winning Black Dot Films. Black Dot Films recently earned multiple Webby Awards for its work on the acclaimed Nat Geo miniseries, The Long Road Home. Martin also developed, produced, and directed the highly-successful launch of Facebook’s 360 LIVE platform – the first ever live VR broadcast which featured Neil deGrasse Tyson and streamed to millions of viewers.

Common House will also be home to our Virtual Reality Lab. The Lab will feature a selection of 360 films from international VR creators on the latest head-mounted displays. The Lab will also host several interactive VR experiences, including I Am A Man, an interactive virtual reality experience set to the historic events of the African American Civil Rights movement and Fire Escape, a visually stunning world that throws viewers onto a fire escape in Brooklyn to spy on their neighbors in this Neo-Hitchcock thriller.

The Virtual Reality Lab is supported by Jefferson Technology.

Middle Eastern and South Asian Sidebar

Curated by UVA assistant professor of cinema Samhita Sunya, this sidebar of films is divided into two distinct series. The Letters of Love (LOL) Series marks the official US premieres of three films from the Middle East and South Asia and showcases witty and playful films from a region that is all-too-often associated with footage of war, authoritarianism, crises, and patriarchal/sexual violence. Each film pays homage to global genres (stoner comedy, road movie, gangster comedy) as well as the longstanding presence and popularity of Bollywood films. Films in the LOL Series are Road to Kabul, in which a group of friends must go on a search for one of their own after a trip to Amsterdam doesn’t go as planned; An Indian Father, centered around a stressed-out gangster who falls in love with his yoga instructor; and Hell in India, a musical comedy in which an Egyptian military band is sent to secure the release of the kidnapped Egyptian ambassador to India. The Rites of Remembrance Series is a poetic mediation on experiences of displacement. The films in this series are Day Shall Dawn, a 1958 documentary showing the everyday life of the Bengali people and their isolated village; In The Last Days of the City, a filmmaker struggles with inspiration for his next film until he is sent footage from friends from around the world; Looking for Oum Kulthum, an Iranian woman living in exile embarks on a journey to capture the life of the legendary Arab singer Oum Kulthum; and Oblivion Verses, an elderly caretaker of a remote morgue discovers the body of an unknown woman killed in a protest.

The Middle Eastern and South Asian Sidebar is supported by the Institute for Humanities and Global Cultures and the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies.

Spotlight on International Films

This year, the VAFF continues its tradition of showcasing some of the finest films from around the world by presenting a record fourteen films that have been nominated by their respective countries for consideration in the “Best Foreign Language Film” category at the 2019 Academy Awards. These films include Birds of Passage (Colombia), a look at the rise of the Colombian drug trade as seen through the involvement of an indigenous family over two decades; Never Look Away (Germany), a film that tracks a man’s relationship with art during the rise and fall of Nazi Germany; Woman at War (Iceland), in which an environmental activist plans her final act of sabotage when she finds out she will soon become a mother; Shoplifters (Japan), about a family that does everything in their power to survive and stay together while taking in an abandoned child (winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival); Capernaum (Lebanon), which begins with a runaway child suing his parents for giving him life; Roma (Mexico), director Alfonso Cuarón’s deeply personal film about a young woman’s life based on the nanny who raised him; Sunset (Hungary), from the director of Son of Saul, a film that follows a woman searching for her family’s lost past in Budapest in 1913; Dogman (Italy), a tale of a meek dog groomer and occasional cocaine dealer on a quest for revenge; I Am Not a Witch (United Kingdom), in which a young Zambian girl, sent to witch camp and told that she will turn into a goat if she leaves, must decide if freedom is worth the risk; Border (Sweden), from the writer of Let the Right One In, a film with elements of realism and folklore in which two people with animal-like traits begin a romance; and El Angel (Argentina), based on the true story of Argentina’s most infamous serial killer, a handsome 17-year-old; The Heiresses (Paraguay), two friends from wealthy families are tested by financial difficulties. One begins a car service business that takes her out of her comfort zone and on a journey of independence; and No Date, No Signature (Iran), The story of a forensic pathologist who hits a motorcycle carrying a family in an accident, hurting their young son. When the boy arrives deceased at the doctor’s hospital and the cause of death ruled as food poisoning, he goes on a hunt for the truth.

We will also be screening Rafiki (Kenya). Two women fall in love despite their father’s political rivalry and the Kenyan laws against homosexuality. The film was banned in its home country by Kenya’s Film and Classification Board for “promoting lesbianism” in the country. A Kenyan high court temporarily lifted the ban for seven days in order to meet the Academy’s qualifications for Best Foreign Language Film submissions which state that a film must be shown in its home country for at least seven days.

American Folklife Music

This year the Virginia Film Festival is partnering with the Virginia Folklife Program, the Virginia Humanities, and The Front Porch to celebrate the vibrant traditions and unmistakable sounds of bluegrass and traditional American music with a pair of screenings that will be accompanied by live musical performances.

Fiddlin, from director Julie Simone, is a celebration of the culture, the people, and the music of the annual Old Time Fiddlers Convention, held in Galax, Virginia. The film showcases true Americana and artistic expression in the face of adversity, the undying spirit of the artists who travel to Galax from throughout the world, and the healing power of a music that has sustained and lifted communities for generations. The screening will be followed by a jam session featuring some of the film’s central figures, including world-renowned luthier and master storyteller Wayne Henderson, known as the “Guitar God.”

Fiddlin’ is supported by Charlottesville Radio Group, The Front Porch, and Virginia Folklife Program, a program of Virginia Humanities.

The Ballad of Shirley Collins is the fascinating and moving story of the famed English folk singer who dramatically lost her voice to vocal dystonia while on stage in the late 1970s, and released a comeback album, Lodestar, in 2016 at the age of 82. Using archival footage, never-before-heard audio tracks, yellowing photos, old home movies and more, filmmakers Rob Curry and Tim Plester lovingly recreate a story that deserves to be told and an authentic, plainspoken, feisty, and important artist who deserves to be celebrated. The screening will be followed by a musical performance by Charlottesville-based alt-country/folk artists Ned Oldham and Jordan Perry.

 The Ballad of Shirley Collins is supported by WTJU 91.1 FM.

National Geographic Partnership

The Virginia Film Festival is proud to partner with National Geographic on a three-film series this year.

Free Solo is the stunning story of free soloist climber Alex Honnold as he prepares to tackle the seemingly impossible by climbing the face of the world’s most famous rock, the 3,000-foot-tall El Capitan in Yosemite National Park…without a rope. Award-winning filmmaker Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and world-renowned photographer and mountaineer Jimmy Chin deliver an intimate and unflinching portrait of a journey that showcases the triumph of the human spirit against unthinkable odds.

Into the Okavango takes audiences on a remarkable, and often treacherous journey into Botswana’s Okavango Delta, one of the last untouched wildlife refuges on Earth. Conservation biologist Steve Boyes leads an expedition that offers a window into what the world looked like before we arrived in it, and what we can do to ensure the survival of an ecosystem decimated by the ravages of nature and the hand of man.

Science Fair, from the Emmy-nominated filmmaking team of Cristina Constantini and Darren Foster, won the first-ever Audience Favorite Award at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, and the Film Festival Audience Award at SXSW. The International Science and Engineering Fair provides a stage for 1,700 smart and quirky teens from 78 countries, all vying for the coveted title of “Best in Fair” while looking to make their mark on the world through science.

Beyond the VAFF film series, the University of Virginia is pleased to announce a new partnership with the National Geographic Society. Called On Campus, this three day event is an extraordinary opportunity to connect current faculty, emerging researchers, and UVA students with National Geographic’s global community of scientists, storytellers, educators, photographers, and explorers. The present and future of environmental resilience—a UVA area of expertise—will resurface throughout the event as the critical focus. Events will include high-profile lectures and screenings, public conversations on current issues and future strategies amongst leading scholars and researchers, and numerous small workshops—collectively called the Science and Storytelling Symposium—designed to introduce UVA students at every level to the rich assets and resources of National Geographic, including sessions on documentary photography, investigative journalism, or map-making as evidence. On Campus will run from Feb. 28 through March 2, 2019.


The Festival will once again present a special series that focuses on LGBTQIA+ films.

Jason and Shirley, a fictional retelling of the landmark documentary Portrait of Jason from the perspective of its subject; Good Manners, a Brazilian fairytale that finds two women from different classes coming together over the impending birth of a supernatural child; Sauvage, the story of 22-year-old Leo who works in Strasbourg as a prostitute and belongs to a group of men that service the motorist clientele. When Leo develops feelings for another prostitute he must decide between his freedom or love; in Sorry Angel, Arthur, an eager 22-year-old student, meets 35-year-old Jacques, a writer living in Paris with his young son. Embracing his sexual awakening, Arthur wishes to throw himself into their relationship without reservations. Jacques is hesitant to invest himself, as he struggles to come to terms with an AIDS diagnosis.

We will also be presenting documentaries focusing on LGBTQIA+ subjects. Spider Mites of Jesus: The Dirtwoman Documentary, about Richmond, Virginia, native Donnie “Dirtwoman” Corker, a drag queen and figure of the counterculture who did everything from starring in music videos to running for mayor;

Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion and Disco, Antonio Lopez gained international recognition as one of the most influential fashion illustrators of his time whose natural charisma allowed him to help launch the careers of icons like Grace Jones, Jessica Lange, and Jerry Hall; Narcissister Organ PlayerThrough her unabashedly erotic and often humorous performances, Narcissister showcases her approach to explorations of race, gender, and sexuality; Coby, a 23-year-old transgender Ohio woman whose physical and spiritual transformation affects the lives of all who love him, and inspires them to change their perspectives. Other LGBTQIA+ Focus films include El Angel, The Heiresses, and Rafiki.

Spotlight on VA Filmmaking

The Festival will shine a spotlight on an impressive collection of films that were made in Virginia, including American Dreamer, directed by Virginia native Derrick Borte and starring comedian Jim Gaffigan in a darkly dramatic role as a down-on-his-luck ride-share driver who enters the world of crime out of desperation to provide for his family; 16 Bars, a documentary following three incarcerated men in Richmond, Virginia, and how a music based rehabilitation program changes their lives; West Main Street, a look back at the life of residents on West Main Street in Charlottesville; Seats at the Table, a documentary that follows a Russian literature class for college students and inmates at a juvenile correctional center; Know Your Neighbor, celebrates the life of members of the Charlottesville refugee community; Orwell’s Revolution, is an experimental essay film exploring the experiences in the Spanish Civil war that inspired Orwell to write his classic novel 1984; Gift, follows a famous pianist whose life was forever changed by her discovery of a mystical piano in her backyardp; Black in Blue, from local director and Academy Award winner Paul Wagner, is a documentary about Nate Northington, a college athlete who broke the Southeastern Conference color barrier at the University of Kentucky in 1967; short film showcases of work by acclaimed filmmakers and University of Virginia professors Kevin Everson and Lydia Moyer; Charlottesville, a documentary chronicling the events of August 11 and 12, 2017; The University of Virginia Bicentennial Celebration: An Evening of Performing Arts, a look at the star-studded celebration for the University’s 200-year anniversary; and Spider Mites of Jesus: The Dirtwoman Documentary, about a pillar of the Richmond counterculture, Donnie “Dirtwoman” Corker; and Drewary J. Brown: Working For a Better Day, which follows the extraordinary life of a Charlottesville activist.

We will also be screening Best of Film at Mason, a selection of notable films from students in the Film and Video Studies Program at George Mason University; and Best of the VCU Arts Cinema Program, an all-female-directed collection of films from VCU’s Summer Intensive program.

The Spotlight on Virginia Filmmaking series is presented by the Virginia Film Office.

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