37th Annual VIRGINIA FILM FESTIVAL | October 30-November 3

37th Annual VIRGINIA FILM FESTIVAL | October 30-November 3

News & Press

36th Annual VAFF – Now That’s a Wrap!

by John Kelly on November 2, 2023

36th ANNUAL VIRGINIA FILM FESTIVAL: 
FULL OF HIGH NOTES AND UNFORGETTABLE MOMENTS 

MAESTRO AND AMERICAN SYMPHONY BOOKEND PROGRAM OF  
MORE THAN 120 FILMS AND EVENTS PLUS  
SPECIAL GUESTS AVA DUVERNAY, CORD JEFFERSON, NIKKI GIOVANNI,  
RILEY KEOUGH, GINA GAMMELL, MATTHEW HEINEMAN, AND JON BATISTE 

ORIGIN WINS AUDIENCE AWARD FOR BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE 
AMERICAN SYMPHONY WINS BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE 

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VANovember 2, 2023 – The final credits have rolled on an unforgettable 36th Annual Virginia Film Festival that combined a remarkable program with fascinating guests and packed houses over five days in what was a rousing testament to the power of the communal experience of cinema.  

The Festival featured more than 120 films and events, including the U.S. Premiere of Academy Award-nominated Ava DuVernay’s powerful new film Origin at The Paramount Theater, where DuVernay accepted the VAFF Visionary Award and participated in a post-screening discussion. High notes abounded in a program that began with Bradley Cooper’s Maestro, featuring Academy Award-winning makeup artist Kazu Hiro (Bombshell, The Darkest Hour), who accepted the VAFF Craft Award, and ended with director Matthew Heineman accepting the VAFF’s Directorial Achievement Award for American Symphony, a documentary about the iconic recording artist Jon Batiste, followed by a Q&A and an electrifying performance from Batiste himself.  

In between, audiences were treated to a deep and rich program that delivered memorable moments throughout the five days of the Festival. These included: Emmy-winning director, producer, and writer Cord Jefferson presenting his directorial debut and early awards-season frontrunner American Fiction as well as receiving the VAFF Breakthrough Director Award; internationally celebrated poet Nikki Giovanni, who was given the VAFF Changemaker Award and discussed the documentary Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project; Academy Award- and Emmy Award-winning producer and VAFF Advisory Board Chair Mark Johnson presenting director Alexander Payne’s latest film The Holdovers; and nine films submitted by their countries for consideration in Best International Feature Film for the 2024 Academy Awards.  

The 36th Annual Virginia Film Festival saw 19,698 attendances, including both paid and free events. There were 40 sold-out screenings. 

“This was truly an extraordinary festival,” said VAFF Director and UVA Vice Provost for the Arts Jody Kielbasa, “not only because of the deep and rich program of films, but also because of the unique moments that the Festival’s guests brought to our audiences. Kazu Hiro shared the magic behind his makeup artistry after the screening of Maestro, Ava DuVernay offered an insightful discussion after her screening of Origin, Nikki Giovanni displayed grace and power, and Jon Batiste closed the Festival by bringing over 1,000 patrons to their feet at the Paramount as they sang ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.’ It was a remarkable celebration of film and community.” 

“The 2023 Virginia Film Festival left an indelible impression on our whole community,” said VAFF Senior Programmer Ilya Tovbis. “Most of our screenings were packed to the brim with eager audiences—for world premieres of Virginia-based projects like Dylan Narang’s Tapawingo, Danny Wagner’s  For the Taking, and Ricardo Preve’s Sometime, Somewhere, and an astoundingly deep and diverse range international cinema, with 9 official international Oscar selections leading the charge.” 

In addition to spending time on VAFF stages, several guests spent important time with community members. “The caliber, intellect, creativity and spirit of generosity demonstrated by our filmmaker guests was inspiring,” Tovbis said. “Director Cord Jefferson stayed up deep into the night to connect with University of Virginia students after his American Fiction screening; Riley Keough and Gina Gammell visited with a special presentation of War Pony, but also made time for a private session with UVA students and to meet with Monacan Nation leaders.” 

The VAFF also honored noted filmmaker and former VAFF Advisory Board Member Ricardo Preve with the Gerald L. Baliles Founders Award, named for the late Virginia Governor and co-founder of the Festival. Preve presented his latest film, Sometime, Somewhere, an exploration of the unique journeys and shared struggles or Latino immigrants in Charlottesville.  

Once again this year, Virginia Film Festival audience members played a key role in the proceedings by casting ballots for their favorite films.  

The winners of the 2023 VAFF Audience Awards, supported by Ting, are: 
Narrative Feature:  Origin 
Documentary Feature: American Symphony 
Narrative Short: Dreams of Home
Documentary Short: Black Godfather of Scuba 

Also announced were the winners of the 2023 Programmers’ Awards:
Narrative:American Fiction
Documentary:No Ordinary Campaign
Narrative Short:For the Moon
Documentary Short: 1-15-41

Seven individual honors were awarded to: 
Visionary Award:Ava DuVernay (Origin) 
Directorial Achievement Award:Matthew Heineman (American Symphony) 
Breakthrough Director Award:Cord Jefferson (American Fiction) 
Changemaker Award:Nikki Giovanni (Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project) 
Chronicler Award:Nicole Newnham (The Disappearance of Shere Hite) 
Craft Award:Kazu Hiro (Maestro) 
Governor Gerald L. Baliles Founder’s Award:Ricardo Preve (Sometime, Somewhere)  

More information: virginiafilmfestival.org/award-winners  

The Virginia Film Festival is a program of the University of Virginia and the Office of the Provost and Vice Provost for the Arts. 

The 2023 Virginia Film Festival is presented by The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation. The 2023 Virginia Film Festival is also generously supported by the following Premiere Sponsors: AV Company, Bank of America, Harvest Moon Catering, Quirk Hotel Charlottesville, Southern Environmental Law Center, UVA Arts, Violet Crown Cinema, and Virginia Film Office (VFO).  

The Virginia Film Festival is also supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. 

Press materials and images are available at virginiafilmfestival.org/news-press

For more information on the Virginia Film Festival, visit virginiafilmfestival.org