37th Annual VIRGINIA FILM FESTIVAL Oct 30-Nov 3, 2024

37th Annual VIRGINIA FILM FESTIVAL October 30-November 3, 2024


NEA Grants for Arts Projects: Media Arts 2021

Kielbasa 2

Welcome NEA Panelists

It is our pleasure to submit a grant application to the NEA Grants for Arts Projects: Media Arts track in support of the 34th annual Virginia Film Festival to be held in October 2021. As described in our project narrative, the NEA’s funding would specifically support visiting guest artists’ stipends, travel, and accommodations as well as screening venue rental and associated costs. We describe the impact this funding will have on visiting guest artists’ involvement in the Festival and engagement with community members in our grant application. And below you will find a visual compilation of highlights and feedback that we hope will illuminate what makes our Festival and our guests’ experience so unique.

Thank you for your consideration,
Jody Kielbasa
Festival Director and Vice Provost for the Arts at UVA

Highlights from the 2019 Festival

The 32nd annual Virginia Film Festival presented over 140 screenings and events and screened over 200 films over 5 days from October 23-27, 2019, with 27,188 attendances tracked and 27 sold-out screenings. We welcomed over 150 industry guests from across the Commonwealth, country, and world and hosted over 60 community experts and faculty to participate together in introducing and discussing our films and events.

Still from Just Mercy, VAFF 2019 Audience Award Winner

Notable Films

  • The 2019 Festival kicked off with a sold-out Opening Night screening of Just Mercy, starring 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, introduced by UVA President Jim Ryan. The film was awarded the VAFF 2019 Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature, based on patron voting during the Festival. 
  • The Centerpiece Film was the highly anticipated Harriet, with actor Vanessa Bell Calloway and producer Daniela Taplin Lundberg on hand for a post screening discussion, moderated by Jamelle Bouie from The New York Times. The film stars Cynthia Erivo as the powerful Harriet Tubman and was shot entirely in Virginia.
  • Dismantling Democracy, a new PBS documentary made in collaboration with the UVA Center for Politics, premiered at the Festival. The screening was followed by a discussion moderated by UVA Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato and with subject Ann Dowd (Emmy Award-winning actor of The Handmaid’s Tale). 
  • The Festival closed with critically-acclaimed The Two Popes at the Paramount Theatre, directed by Academy Award-winning director Fernando Meirelles. 
  • VAFF Audience Award Winners included Just Mercy, Sing You a Brand New Song: The Words and Music of Coleman Mellett, Esta Es Tu Cuba, and Lost and Found. The 2019 Programmers Award Winners included Postal, Always in Season, The Elephant’s Song, and Take Me to Prom. 
  • The 2019 VAFF featured screenings of eight soon-to-be Academy Award nominees and winners, including Parasite, Jojo RabbitMarriage Story, The Two PopesPain and Glory, The Cave, St. Louis Superman, I Lost My Body, and Harriet. 

Guest Artist Wanuri Kahiu as the featured speaker at The Carter G. Woodson Institute’s African Colloquium Series, VAFF 2019

Featured Guests

  • Four time-Academy Award-nominated actor and writer Ethan Hawke (Before Sunset, Boyhood) was honored during the Festival with a screening of Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead at The Paramount Theater. The screening was followed with a discussion with Hawke, moderated by Elizabeth Flock (PBS NewsHour). Following the screening, Hawke met with UVA students participating in the Festival Scholars program. 
  • Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu participated in a 5-day guest artist residency during the Festival that included a discussion following her 2018 film Rafiki as well as conversations with students in classes on grounds and with the Festival Scholars as part of her residency at the Festival and University.  
  • The Festival also welcomed an array of accomplished actors, producers, and directors from the film and television worlds, including renowned documentarian Ric Burns (Oliver Sacks: His Own Life), actor Dennis Christopher (Breaking Away), international bestselling author John Grisham (The Client), writer Steven J. Kung (Dear White People), and Chef Patrick O’Connell (The Inn at Little Washington: A Delicious New Documentary). 
  • 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.

UVA Center for Politics Larry Sabato and actor Ann Dowd, VAFF 2019

University & Community Partnerships

The 2019 Festival engaged with 57 UVA faculty and staff and 10 UVA alumni to participate as industry guests, filmmakers, discussants, and moderators in our film program. In addition, we worked directly with 98 UVA students as filmmakers, discussants, arts administration interns, volunteers, and Scholars enrolled Festival Scholars program.  And finally, we collaborated with 21 Departments and Programs to create, host, and promote our programming to the UVA Community. 

Curated by UVA Assistant Professor of Cinema Samhita Sunya, the Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian film sidebar showcased six films from a region that is all-too-often conflated with footage of war, authoritarianism, crises, and patriarchal/sexual violence. Each film’s action takes place across the Middle East and South Asia, as they self-reflexively – and lovingly – pay homage to global genres, as well as the longstanding presence and popularity of Bollywood films in the Middle East.

The Indigeneity in Mexico film sidebar, curated by UVA Assistant Professor of Studio Art Frederico Cautlacuatl, included four films, capturing the rich culture, struggles and lives of the people of Mexico. The films reflect the pressing realities for those in Mexico as well as those immigrants who face a myriad of struggles in the United States. Stories ranged from a school teacher in rural Bartoloé to immigrant’s memories of home and a young boy attempting to feel at home in Mexico. 

In partnership with The Miller Center, the Festival presented Western Stars, the documentary co-directed by Bruce Springsteen featuring performances of songs from the album of the same name and vignettes where Springsteen reflects on American culture. The screening of Western Stars was followed by a discussion with co-director Thom Zimny, moderated by The Miller Center’s Bill Antholis. VAFF and The Miller Center also partnered on a screening of Port of Destiny: Peace, featuring a discussion with producer and UVA alumnus, Pattie Sellers

The VAFF continued its longstanding partnership with the UVA Center for Politics with a screening of the documentary Dismantling Democracy, featuring actor and the film’s narrator Ann Dowd alongside Center for Politics director Larry Sabato for a post-screening discussion. 

Fishing with Dynamite screened at the Festival this year with support from UVA Darden School of Business and the CFA institute. The film, directed by Academy-Award winner and UVA professor Paul Wagner and produced by Darden Professor Bobby Parmar and Darden Senior Researcher Jenny Mead, explores the many aspects of modern capitalism and the greed and corruption of many corporations large and small. 

The Festival continued its unique partnership with the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation in Culpeper, Virginia to present a series of films that celebrate the National Film Registry and the Campus’ dedication to film preservation. This year’s selections included Field of Dreams, The Muppet Movie, and Primary.

PBS NewsHour’s Elizabeth Flock and actor Ethan Hawke, VAFF 2019

Select Media Coverage from 2019

Curtain Call for Another Successful Virginia Film Festival” by Caroline Newman. Published October 28, 2019 at UVA Today.

Ethan Hawke Doesn’t Want to Make Movies That Waste Your Time” by Elizabeth Flock, based on her onstage interview with Ethan Hawke at the Virginia Film Festival. Published November 6, 2019 by PBS NewsHour.

Fest Bets: Making the Most of Your Virginia Film Festival Schedule” by Kristofer Jenson. Published October 23, 2019 by C-Ville Weekly.

Recent Educational and Public Programming

Ethan Hawke meets with Festival Scholars, VAFF 2019

Festival Scholars

The Festival Scholars Program gives 12 UVA undergraduate students the opportunity to participate in a six-day immersive, educational, and networking experience thematically centered on filmmaking, the film industry, and film criticism led by NYU professor of film Harry Chotiner. In 2019, the Festival Scholars cohort attended nine films and met with Festival Programmers Iana Dontcheva, Chandler Ferrebee, and Jody Kielbasa; guest artists Shelly Chopra Dhar, Wanuri Kahiu, Thom Zimny, and Ethan Hawke; and VAFF Advisory Board members Scot Safon and Ron Hohauser during the program.

Local middle and high school students attending the VAFF’s 2019 School Screening

School Screening

The Festival shares the power of film annually through a school screening and discussion for local students and educators. In 2019, 400 middle and high school students from throughout the region attended 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. And in 2018, approximately 300 students attended VAFF’s School Screening of Science Fair, a documentary that follows the journey of nine high school students as they compete in the International Science and Engineering Fair. The screening was followed by a discussion moderated by Charlottesville High School teacher Matt Shields, founder of the internationally renowned science club Best All-Around Club of Nerds (BACON).

Actor Kelli O’Hara leading a master class with UVA Drama students, VAFF 2018

Classroom Visits & Student Engagement

We regularly and thoughtfully connected our visiting guest artists directly with UVA and local students to share their expertise in intimate discussion and master class settings.

A few recent examples of our classroom engagement efforts include:

  • Actor Michael Shenefelt discussing his craft with Drama students
  • Two-time Tony Award winner Kelli O’Hara teaching a master class with undergraduate and graduate acting students
  • Cinematography students meeting with filmmakers Jacqueline Olive, Allen Hughes, and Marion Mauran
  • Media studies students meeting with filmmaker Michelle Jackson

Examples of our longer and more in-depth guest artist residencies include:

  • Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu‘s participation in a 5-day guest artist residency during the Festival that included a public screening and discussion of her 2018 film Rafiki as well as classroom conversations with cinematography and french students and a featured speaker role at The Carter G. Woodson Institute’s African Colloquium Series
  • Filmmaker and artist Werner Herzog‘s cross-disciplinary residency which included two public film screenings, an on-stage conversation about his career, and classroom discussions with studio art and film faculty and students.

Women and Work panel discussion, VAFF 2019 

Free Public Programming

In a partnership with Common House, the VAFF has hosted a series of free panel discussions open to our visiting guest artists and local community members on Friday of the Festival and an interactive Virtual Reality Lab on Saturday and Sunday of the Festival, all free and open to the public for the past two years.

Recent Friday panels including a Virtual Reality Filmmaking about the present and future of the rapidly-evolving world of VR filmmaking with leaders in the field; Women and Work addressing the question of how work, or the lack thereof, defines the female identity and impacts the female experience and featuring Shelly Chopra Dhar (How I Felt When I Saw that Girl), Marty Elcan (Ladies Most Deject) and Amy R. Letourneau (PBS), moderated by Claire Kaplan (UVA); and A Critical Eye on the current state of the film criticism industry and featuring Alonso Duralde (The Wrap), Soraya McDonald (The Undefeated), Brian Truitt (USA Today), and Alissa Wilkinson (Vox), moderated by VAFF Advisory Board member Scot Safon.

Our VR Lab exhibited numerous projects offering visitors a glimpse into what is rapidly becoming possible with VR and immersive film technologies, curated by UVA Assistant Professor of Digital Media Mona Kasra

Guest Artist Feedback

Filmmaker Werner Herzog, VAFF 2016

“This was one of the best public events I ever had. It was just all joy”

~Werner Herzog, director

“Our filmmakers like to screen here because the intellectual conversations around what they are trying to do is at a level you just don’t get at other festivals.”

~ Janet Graham Borba, senior vice president of production, HBO

“I’ve been to hundreds of festivals over the years and without question, you all have provided the most warm and welcoming environment for filmmakers anywhere.”

~Don Hahn, producer (Beauty and the Beast)

Writer Steven J. Kung, VAFF 2019

“VAFF provides an invaluable way for me to stay connected with my alma mater and the UVA filmmaking community. Now I meet with UVA students when they come to LA for the UVA in LA entertainment program. VAFF screenings are special because they reach a college audience that wouldn’t normally see the film. At my screening, one of the audience members told me that he was heartened to see himself represented in my film about LGBTQ love and that it really touched him. Moving someone on that deep level through the power of cinema alone makes the trip to VAFF worth it.”

~ Steven J. Kung, writer (Dear White People)

“Out of all of the film festivals I’ve screened, Virginia is by far my favorite. The audience was the most engaged and the staff and volunteers were the most organized. It was a pleasure to screen there.”

~ Josh Davidsburg, director (Queen of the Capital)

“For the 16 Bars team, the experience being a part of the Virginia Film Festival was extraordinary. Being a part of the Race in America series was extremely powerful, constructive, instructive, and unforgettable. Our film was presented in a state-of-the-art theater, to a large and highly engaged audience. The talk-back and dialogue with the VAFF audience after our screening was nuanced and deeply thoughtful. The connections we made with attending media members were extremely valuable. Attending other films, most notably the Charlottesville screening and talkback with Dr. Martin Luther King III, provided a textbook example of why filmmaking, and documentary filmmaking in particular, is an essential art form in 2018. Charlottesville, Virginia is a place that ought to be leading the nation in an examination and discussion of Race in America, and VAFF is doing more than its share to contribute to that vital effort.”

~ Sam Bathrick, director and Adam Barton, producer (16 Bars)

Guest Programmer and Filmmaker Michelle Jackson, VAFF 2019

“The Virginia Film Festival has been instrumental in Another Slave Narrative‘s success because it gave me and the film an opportunity to connect with UVA students and faculty and to help enhance academic conversations related to representations of race and slavery in film and TV. Given Charlottesville’s own experience of recent trauma related to the dialogue of race and the history of slavery within Virginia, the VAFF gave me an opportunity to help the community of Charlottesville talk about that trauma and that history openly at the sold-out screening. After the Q/A, audience members expressed a desire to keep the conversation about the history of race and slavery in the US going. It also gave me an opportunity to connect with like-minded filmmakers and actors who expressed a desire to collaborate on subsequent installments of the Another Slave Narrative film series.”

~ Michelle Jackson, director (Another Slave Narrative)

“There’s “getting in” to a Festival, and then there’s “being embraced” by a Festival. We were invited to have Circles included in a series of films that specifically tackle the theme of Race in America. It felt like a perfect fit. Ultimately we were able to connect with local activists and organizations on the ground in the Charlottesville area who are fighting for restorative justice and racial equity every day in Virginia. These partnerships and alliances we formed helped give our screening, Q&A, and panel greater local relevance and added a sense of moral urgency for the filled theater. We left Virginia feeling very confident that we had made an impact, and that our film contributed to the restorative justice movement there. It seemed everywhere we went after our screening, we were stopped on the road by people who had seen our film and wanted to buy us beers or take us out to dinner and pepper us with questions. We will absolutely submit our next film to this Festival. And we hope that VAFF continues to foster dialogue about race and equity in America.”

~ Cassidy Friedman, director and Eric Butler, subject (Circles)

Community Feedback

The following quotes were collected anonymously through our post-Festival patron, outreach, educator, volunteers, and donor surveys in late 2019.

“Thrilled you’re here and put on such a great festival. Don’t miss NYC at all!”

“Kudos for achievements in recent years in outreach and programs towards diversity!!!”

“Thanks for putting on such an outstanding weekend long event – Charlottesville is so lucky!”

“Thank you for having a number of titles that featured black actors and themes, and for spreading them out across the schedule.”

“I just love that there are movies that I wouldn’t see except for in this format. I love looking at the guide and making selections. It pushes me out of my movie comfort zone and I like that. I always learn something.”

“Appreciate your intentionality in trying to expand the VAFF audience.”


2019 Audience Survey Results


  • 34% – 65+
  • 21% – 55-64
  • 18% – 35-54
  • 26% – 18-34


  • 75% Residents of Charlottesville/Albemarle 
  • 20% From other Virginia cities/counties
  • 5% Travel From Out of State


  • 85% Post-Secondary Degree 


  • 52% Household income $100,000+


  • 60% Have a connection to UVA

View our complete 2019 Audience Survey Summary Report here.