Themes & Topics

Spike Lee

The Virginia Film Festival is delighted to welcome director, writer, actor, producer, author, and educator Spike Lee to present his Academy Award-nominated documentary 4 Little Girls. The film is about the horrific 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Church in Birmingham, Alabama, that took the lives of four young African American girls (Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robinson, and Cynthia Wesley), and served as a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement. Mr. Lee will also present I Can’t Breathe, a short video piece that combines footage of the chokehold death of Eric Garner at the hands of the New York City Police Department with footage of the similar death of the Radio Raheem character in Lee’s iconic 1989 film Do The Right Thing.

Race in America

The Virginia Film Festival is proud to collaborate with James Madison’s Montpelier this year on Race in America, a multi-faceted series of films and discussions inspired by and built around Montpelier’s acclaimed Mere Distinction of Colour exhibition and its ongoing commitment to exploring its own legacy of slavery, including the re-creation of slave dwellings on its historic property. In addition to Spike Lee’s 4 Little Girls, the series will include An Outrage, a documentary about the unthinkable history of lynching in the American South, featuring the voices of descendants, community activists, and scholars; Birth of a Movement, the powerful story surrounding William Monroe Trotter’s 1915 campaign to ban D.W. Griffith’s deeply divisive Birth of a Nation—highlighting the early stages of still-raging battles over media representation, freedom of speech, and the influence of Hollywood; Hidden Figures, noted author and UVA alumna Margot Lee Shetterly’s story about the three brilliant African American women at NASA who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history—the launch of astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) into orbit; and Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities, award-winning documentarians Stanley Nelson and Marco Williams’ examination of the impact Historically Black Colleges and Universities have had on American history, culture, and national identity.

The Festival will also screen the “8th and H” episode from Netflix’s true-crime documentary series The Confession Tapes, about a notorious 1984 murder case in Washington, D.C., in which a group of eight teens were unjustly convicted due to a fabricated connection to a “gang” that never actually existed. Six of whom remain in prison to this day. Additionally, the Festival will show all five parts of Ezra Edelman’s Emmy- and Academy Award-winning documentary O.J.: Made in America, which chronicles the rise and fall of O.J. Simpson, whose high-profile murder trial exposed the extent of American racial tensions, revealing a fractured and divided nation. A discussion with Ezra Edelman will take place following the screening of the final episode.

Race in America is presented by James Madison’s Montpelier.

Celebrating 30 Years

The VFF is celebrating its milestone anniversary by revisiting a pair of its most cherished traditions.

Shot-by-Shot Workshop by Nick Dawson and Chuck Mulvehill

The Shot-by-Shot Workshop, started and presented by the legendary Roger Ebert from 1992 to 2002, remains an all-time favorite festival memory for so many VFF fans, offering a priceless behind-the-scenes look at some of the biggest films of all time through live commentary. This year the Festival is honoring that legacy by giving the Shot-by-Shot treatment to the Hal Ashby classic Harold and Maude, presented by Ashby’s biographer Nick Dawson and the film’s producer Chuck Mulvehill. This year’s Shot-by-Shot Workshop will be presented in two parts, and audiences will also have the chance to enjoy an additional free screening of the film in case they want to re-familiarize themselves with it before attending.

The Silent Treatment

In another nod to history, the VFF will give audiences multiple opportunities to enjoy screenings of classic silent films presented with live musical accompaniment by Matthew Marshall and the Reel Music Trio. This year’s films will include Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger and a 100th Anniversary screening of Charlie Chaplin’s The Immigrant, a tale of a stranger in a strange land who is scorned for being different—a scenario that is all too relevant in our current world. The program, which will be introduced by acclaimed Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz, will also feature two more of Chaplin’s most famed two-reelers also celebrating their 100th years, Easy Street and The Adventurer.

Spotlight on International Films

This year, the VFF will continue its tradition of showcasing some of the finest films from around the world by presenting a record ten films that have been nominated by their respective countries for consideration in the “Best Foreign Language Film” category at the 2018 Academy Awards. These films will include A Fantastic Woman (Chile), a devastating portrait of grief about a transgender waitress facing the sudden death of her older boyfriend; Happy End (Australia), award-winner Michael Haneke’s latest film about the callous disregard and self-focus of a European family surrounded by the tragedy of the migrant crisis; Loveless (Russia), about a couple in the midst of a vicious divorce who must come together to try and find their missing child; Thelma (Norway), Joachim Trier’s drama/fantasy follows a college student falling in love while wrestling seizures as a result of newly obtained supernatural abilities; November (Estonia), a mixture of black magic, black humor, and romantic love as pagan villagers rage against bitter winter, werewolves, the plague, and evil spirits; Song of Granite (Ireland), a biopic about Irish folksinger Joe Heaney; Summer 1993 (Spain), about a six-year-old whose life is uprooted after losing both of her parents; Tom of Finland (Finland), director Dome Karukosi’s tale of a decorated WWII officer who returns home to rampant homophobia; White Sun (Nepal) a gripping portrait of a man in post-Civil War Nepal who faces major obstacles in planning his father’s funeral; and Woodpeckers (Dominican Republic), about two inmates in the Dominican Republic’s Najayo Prison who develop a passionate and secretive love by “pecking” messages back and forth to each other.

Emerging Artist Series

The VFF has earned a strong reputation as a platform and springboard for new or emerging filmmakers thanks to its nurturing environment and its dynamic and responsive audiences. This year, we are once again delighted to welcome some of the industry’s most exciting new voices, including Charlottesville’s own Ross McDermott with The Ruination of Lovell Coleman, about a 93-year-old violinist with a long history of playing in senior centers. Additional films in the series include Atsuko Hirayanagi’s Oh Lucy!, about a shy, young Japanese woman emboldened by an English teacher’s unconventional approach of having students adapt new personas in their new language (produced by Adrenaline Film Project mentor and former VFF intern Han West); an episode from creator/director Kelly Loundenberg’s The Confession Tapes, a Netflix series profiling cases involving coerced confessions; Kevin Elliott’s Magnum Opus, which looks at the well-traveled nexus between right and wrong through four interwoven stories of patriotic service and personal responsibility; and John McAllister’s Double Dummy, an ode to the cherished history and bright future of the game of bridge and its recent surging cross-generational appeal.

The Emerging Artist Series is supported by the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Charlottesville: Our Streets

In the lingering aftermath of the tragic events of August 11 and 12, the very word “Charlottesville” took on a whole new meaning around the country. It was only days before the beloved city and cherished home had become a hashtag—a symbol of the deep racial divides it had exposed in our nation. The story of those days raced around the world largely through the cameras and voices of major news outlets and reporters, who were here only as long as the story would continue to pull in ratings. Charlottesville: Our Streets is the work of a group of Charlottesville filmmakers and citizens who sought to reclaim the narrative by telling the story as it happened from the perspective of those to whom it happened. Combining footage from dozens of cameras on the front lines of the rally with interviews from key players in the events, this film from director Brian Wimer and writer Jackson Landers closely follows the events of early August, introducing never-before-seen footage and brand new information that will shed light on a story that continues to resonate around the country, and right here at home.

Spotlight on Virginia Filmmaking

The Festival will shine a spotlight on an impressive collection of films that were made in Virginia or have roots in the Commonwealth, including The Ruination of Lovell Coleman, a short documentary from Ross McDermott that tells the story of a Charlottesville-based 93-year-old fiddle player; Scenes with Ivan, local filmmakers Doug and Judy Bari’s raw story about their son Ivan’s life from his birth in 1985 to the present, using hundreds of hours of footage they had shot to discover the small fragmented moments in life; Double Dummy, a behind-the-scenes look at the competitive world of bridge, and the incredible relationships forged by the game around the globe; Afrikana Film Festival Showcase, the Richmond-based film festival that showcases cinematic works from people of color from around the world with a special focus on the global Black narrative; and Best of Film at Mason and Best of the VCUarts Cinema Program.

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

William H. Macy

William H. Macy is an Oscar and Golden Globe nominee, an Emmy- and SAG Award-winning actor, and a writer in theater, film, and television. He currently stars in the Showtime series Shameless, for which he has been nominated four times for a Best Actor Emmy Award. Macy’s film credits include Seabiscuit, The Cooler, Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Jurassic Park III, Fargo, TNT’s Door to Door, Wild Hogs, and Room. William H. Macy made his feature directorial debut with Rudderless, the closing film at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. The Layover, his second film, was just released in August 2017, followed by his third film, Krystal, which will play at this year’s Virginia Film Festival. In addition, Macy is a founding member of the Atlantic Theater Company.

TV Series

This year the VFF salutes the ongoing renaissance of television by highlighting a selection of high-profile productions.

Homeland, an edge-of-your-seat sensation now entering its seventh season on Showtime, serves up its unique recipe of smart, adrenaline-infused, and emotion-inducing drama as it showcases the latest seemingly ripped-from-the-headlines spy game exploits of CIA agent Carrie Matheson. Expertly played by Emmy-winning actor Claire Danes, Carrie is at the top of her field despite being bipolar. With the help of her long-time mentor Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), Carrie fearlessly risks everything, including her personal well-being and even her sanity, as she battles nefarious forces aiming to bring America down. There will be a post-screening discussion with director Lesli Linka Glatter.

The Long Road Home, the new National Geographic TV series based on the New York Times bestseller of the same name by internationally-acclaimed journalist Martha Raddatz, is the story of April 4, 2004. That was “Black Sunday,” a day when a unit of freshly-deployed soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas, were brutally ambushed in the early days of what was billed as a peacekeeping mission in the teeming Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City. Over the course of eight gripping hours, the critically-acclaimed series takes viewers back and forth between the front lines, where soldiers faced impossible odds and constant danger, to the home front, where families faced crippling fear and uncertainty. It was a day that would end eight lives and change countless others while also altering the course of the Iraq War. Actor Noel Fisher will join showrunner Mikko Alanne for a post-screening discussion of the episode.

The TV Series also includes the “8th and H” episode of Netflix’s true crime documentary series The Confession Tapes, a portion of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s ten-part documentary film series The Vietnam War, and Ezra Edelman’s landmark five-part documentary O.J.: Made in America.

LGBTQIA+ Focus

The Festival will present a special series that focuses on LGBTQIA+ films. They will include the Festival’s Closing Night Film Call Me by Your Name, a transcendent love story about two young men that takes place against the backdrop of northern Italy in the summer of 1983; Freak Show, which is about a gay and eccentric teenage boy who reacts to an incident of insidious bullying by deciding to run for homecoming queen; The Lavender Scare, the first documentary to tell the little-known story of “the longest witch hunt in American history” —an unrelenting campaign launched by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953 to identify and fire all federal employees suspected of being homosexual because they were deemed to be a threat to national security; Rebels on Pointe, award-winning filmmaker Bobbi Jo Hart’s documentary about Les Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the all-male drag ballet company founded 40 years after the Stonewall riots; The Wound, following a young man’s defiant venture into the mountains of the South Africa’s Eastern Cape to participate in an ancient ritual bringing him into adulthood; and two of the international films up for consideration in the “Best Foreign Language Film” category at the 2018 Academy Awards: A Fantastic Woman (from Chile) and Tom of Finland (from Finland).

The LGBTQIA+ films are supported by Cville Pride.

Jewish and Israeli Series

The Virginia Film Festival will once again partner with Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville to present a series of acclaimed Jewish and Israeli films. This year’s selections include Shelter, a suspense-laden psychological thriller about a Mossad agent and a Lebanese collaborator who find themselves in a compromised safehouse in Hamburg, and Surviving Skokie, an intensely personal documentary that explores the effects of a late 1970s threatened neo-Nazi march in Skokie, Illinois, on its large Holocaust survivor population. Also noteworthy are 1945, which tells the story of a rural town in Hungary preparing for the wedding of the town clerk’s son when two Orthodox Jewish men arrive at the railway station with mysterious wooden boxes, and In Between, which follows three Palestinian women who attempt to balance faith and tradition with their modern lives in the heart of Tel Aviv.

The Jewish and Israeli series is supported by Congregation Beth Israel.

The Miller Center

This year the Virginia Film Festival is again partnering with The Miller Center, a nonpartisan affiliate of the University of Virginia that specializes in presidential scholarship, public policy, and political history, and strives to apply the lessons of history and civil discourse to the nation’s most pressing contemporary governance challenges. The series will include a 30th anniversary screening of Broadcast News, the 1987 romantic comedy that took a clear-eyed, satirical look at the concept of “fake news” long before the phrase vaulted into the American lexicon in the 2016 election. The screening will be followed by a conversation with legendary news reporter and anchor Jim Lehrer and longtime CBS News correspondent and UVA Media Studies professor Wyatt Andrews about the concepts of truth and veracity in our rapidly-changing news landscape. The Miller Center series will also feature a screening of an episode from The Vietnam War, the highly-acclaimed 18-part PBS documentary series from Ken Burns and Lynn Novick that tells the epic story of one of the most consequential, divisive, and controversial events in American history as it has never before been told on film. The VFF is proud to welcome Lynn Novick to the Festival for a special post-screening discussion with Marc Selverstone, associate professor and chair of The Miller Center’s Presidential Recordings Program.

Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at UVA

The VFF and the University of Virginia’s Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership are launching a new partnership this year with a special screening of the 1972 Michael Ritchie film The Candidate, starring Robert Redford. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion that will include political consultant and longtime CNN contributor Paul Begala, who returns to the VFF after his 2016 post-screening discussion of the D.A. Pennebaker classic documentary The War Room.