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 2022

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 35th annual Virginia Film Festival to be held in October 2022. 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 2020 Festival

The 33rd annual Virginia Film Festival presented over 170 films and events in a hybrid virtual and drive-in format over 5 days from October 21-25, 2020, with more than 11,000 streams, and over 680 vehicles attending ten drive-in screenings held at Dairy Market in Charlottesville and Morven Farm in Albemarle County. The Festival programmed 43 discussions and engaged with over 160 industry artists, community experts, and UVA faculty to participate together in introducing and discussing our films and events.

Still from Nomadland, Audience Award Winner, VAFF 2020

Notable Films

  • The 2020 Festival kicked off with two sold-out Opening Night drive-in screenings of One Night in Miami. The film marks the directorial debut of Regina King, stars Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke, and is based on Kemp Powers’ stage play of the same name. The film was introduced by UVA President Jim Ryan.
  • The Centerpiece Film was the highly anticipated Ammonite, directed by Francis Lee, and starring Kate Winslet as the noted 19th Century British paleontologist Mary Anning and Saoirse Ronan as a woman sent to work and convalesce with Anning by the sea.
  • The Festival closed with a sold-out drive-in screening of critically acclaimed and newly- crowned Virginia Film Festival Audience Award-winner Nomadland, introduced by UVA Executive Vice President and Provost Liz Magill. The film stars Frances McDormand and is directed by Chloé Zhao who also accepted VAFF’s inaugural American Perspectives Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cinema in a message broadcast prior to the film.
  • The Festival presented Spotlight Screenings of impactful documentary films: All In: The Fight for Democracy, a timely investigation on the racist practices of voter suppression; Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Boys State following 1,100 high school civics students for a mock government exercise at the annual Texas Boys State competition; When My Time Comes, an examination on the option of medical aid in dying; and Never Too Late: The Doc Severinsen Story including a discussion with the longtime Tonight Show bandleader.
  • VAFF Audience Award Winners included Nomadland, They Ain’t Ready for Me, We Got This, and The First. The 2020 Programmers Award Winners included Dinner in America; Hamtramck, USA; Moneybag Head; and Call Center Blues. The Reel South SHORT Award winner was Lipstick and Leather.
  • The 2020 VAFF featured screenings of some of the most critically acclaimed films of 2020 including One Night in Miami, Nomadland, Boys State, Gunda, and Ammonite.

Actor Annette Bening, Featured Guest, VAFF 2020

Featured Guests

  • Four-time Academy Award nominee Annette Bening participated in a conversation with author and Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz about some of her many unforgettable performances.
  • Vince Gilligan, the creator of Emmy Award-winning series Breaking Bad and its current sequel Better Call Saul, joined his producing partner on the two series, Mark Johnson to discuss their record-breaking collaboration. It’s a collaboration that began at the inaugural Virginia Film Festival in 1989, where Johnson presented Gilligan with the Governor’s Screenwriting Award for his script for Home Fries, which went on to star Drew Barrymore. The conversation was moderated by UVA English Professor William Little, who teaches an annual course on Breaking Bad.
  • Groundbreaking actress Linda Hamilton, known for portraying one of the most iconic action hero characters, Sarah Connor in The Terminator Franchise, talked about her life and career in a special conversation with UVA President Jim Ryan.
  • Actor, writer, director and four-time Academy Award nominee Ethan Hawke was joined by award-winning author James McBride for a conversation around The Good Lord Bird, the new Showtime and Blumhouse TV series based on McBride’s book, in which Hawke portrays abolitionist John Brown. The conversation included Joshua Caleb Johnson, who co-stars in the series, executive producer and showrunner Mark Richard, and costume designer Amy Andrews Harrell.
  • The multi-talented actor Leslie Odom, Jr. joined the VAFF for a conversation about his role as the legendary Sam Cooke in our Opening Night Film One Night in Miami, the remarkable career launched by his Tony Award-winning performance in Hamilton, and more. The conversation was moderated by Soraya McDonald, culture critic for The Undefeated.
  • The Festival welcomed an array of artists and subjects from the film and television worlds, including award-winning filmmaker and Charlottesville native Nicole Kassell (Watchmen), noted NPR host and Peabody-award winner Diane Rehm (When My Time Comes), prominent film composer Thomas Newman, longtime Tonight Showbandleader Doc Severinsen (Never Too Late: The Doc Severinsen Story), and former Obama and Reagan White House photographer Pete Souza (The Way I See It).

VAFF Drive-In Movies at Morven Farm, VAFF 2020

University & Community Partnerships

The 2020 Festival engaged with 26 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 5 UVA students as filmmakers and arts administration interns. And finally, we collaborated with 16 Departments and Programs to create, host, and promote our programming to the UVA Community.

The Transborder Blackness and Indigeneity film sidebar, curated by UVA Assistant Professor of Studio Art Federico Cuatlacuatl, included three films capturing the rich culture, struggles, and lives of the people of Mexico, all directed by women filmmakers. The films examine and reflect on identity: from multi-generational attitudes; to tackling the “invisibilization” of Mexico’s African heritage; and stories exposing racism, resistance through the processes of self- acceptance, and strategies for transcending stereotypes.

Curated by UVA Assistant Professor of Cinema Samhita Sunya, the Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian film sidebar showcased four films that take place across the Middle East and South Asia, themed around the role of religion in everyday life.

The Festival partnered with UVA Korea Society to present three films from South Korea: Bori, a heartwarming family drama about an 11-year-old girl who lives in a sea village and is the only hearing family member, portraying a message of acceptance while tackling themes of identity and belonging; Lucky Chan-Sil offers the story of a passionate woman and the people around her, all ordinary and struggling with life in their own ways; and Hong Sangsoo’s The Woman Who Ran, which earned him the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 70th Berlinale, finds the celebrated Korean auteur using his characteristic humor and grace in mining universal realities from everyday interactions. The series was supported by the UVA Korea Society and the Korea Cultural Center, Washington, D.C.

In partnership with The Miller Center, the Festival presented Statecraft: The Bush 41 Team, a documentary detailing President George H.W. Bush’s personal relationships with foreign leaders, diplomatic skills, and years of experience in national security affairs. The screening was followed by a discussion with the film’s director Lori Shinseki, former National Security Council staff member Philip Zelikow, and former Governor of New Hampshire John Sununu, moderated by The Miller Center’s Bill Antholis. VAFF and The Miller Center also partnered on a discussion with Former Obama and Reagan White House photographer Pete Souza on the new documentary The Way I See It, in which Souza shares iconic and behind-the-scenes photos, and remembrances from his time seeing, living, and shooting history in the making, in a special conversation with former Deputy Secretary of Labor Chris Lu.

The VAFF continued its longstanding partnership with the UVA Center for Politics with a screening of the documentary All In: The Fight for Democracy an informative and engaging documentary, in which Stacey Abrams is joined by several scholars and legal experts as they trace the history of the right to vote, and investigate racist practices of voter suppression and how these barriers continue to disenfranchise predominantly non-white voters today. UVA Center for Politics’ Larry Sabato moderated a discussion with director Lisa Cortes and VA Congressman Bobby Scott. VAFF also partnered with the Center for Politics to present Boys State a political coming of age style documentary following the escalating tensions that arise within a riveting high school mock gubernatorial race. The presentation included an introduction by U.S. Senator Tim Scott, a discussion with former VA Governor Terry McAuliffe, and a discussion with filmmakers Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine, and subject Steven Garza, also moderated by Sabato.

In a partnership with UVA’s stunning Morven Farm in southeastern Albemarle county, the VAFF brought audiences together for safe and socially-distanced drive-in movies each night of the five day Festival. The films included Opening Night Film One Night in Miami introduced by UVA President Jim Ryan, Ammonite, MLK/FBI, Gunda, and Closing Night Film Nomadland introduced by UVA Vice President and Provost Liz Magill.

The Festival partnered with Light House Studio, a youth filmmaking nonprofit studio in Charlottesville, to present fourteen films by Charlottesville youth filmmakers.

The Festival partnered with VPM – Virginia’s Home for Public Media to present Heard a documentary capturing the inspiring stories of four people who grew up in “the projects,” surviving and thriving in spite of and often because of the challenges they’ve had to overcome. Now they’re giving back to their home communities and trying to make a better life for those who come behind. The screening included an introduction by VPM Executive Producer Mason Mills, and discussion with filmmaker Martin Montgomery; and subjects TJ Thompson, Von Johnson, Cotina Brake, Gwendolyn Harris, and Demonte Cosby; moderated by UVA’s Division for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Communications Director Lorenzo Dickerson.

For the first time this year, the VAFF partnered with Reel South, to present the Reel South SHORT Award. Reel South is a cooperative documentary series between the South’s PBS member stations, including Virginia’s VPM. The award honors outstanding achievement in Southern documentary short-form at film festivals across the South.

A photographic snapshot of our 2020 Program

Select Media Coverage from 2020

In the Car, Under the Stars: See Virginia Film Festival’s First Drive-In Movies” by Caroline Newman. Published October 22, 2020 at UVA Today.

Rewriting the Script: How the Virginia Film Festival Went Virtual” by Caroline Newman. Published October 19, 2020 at UVA Today.

Virginia Film Festival’s Virtual Approach Brings the Power of Cinema Home” by Jane Sathe. Published October 17, 2020 at The Daily Progress.

The 2020 Virginia Film Festival Offers an Abundance of Virtual and Drive-In Programming” by staff writers. Published October 7, 2020 by C-Ville Weekly.

Recent Educational and Public Programming

Ethan Hawke meets with Festival Scholars, VAFF 2019

UVA Student Engagement

Each year, the VAFF offers all full-time UVA students free access to our screenings and events through the University of Virginia’s Arts$ Program.  In 2020, over 470 UVA undergraduate and graduate students received a free Student Passes, giving them unlimited access to the films and discussions included in our 2020 Virtual Program.

The VAFF hosts an annual Festival Scholars Program, giving 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. While our 2020 Festival Scholars program was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 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.

Still from Boys State, School Screening Film, VAFF 2020

School Screening

The Festival shares the power of film annually through school screenings and discussions for local K-12 students and educators. In 2020, five area middle and high schools signed up to participate in a virtual presentation and screening of the film Boys State. The presentation included an introduction by U.S. Senator Tim Scott, a discussion with former VA Governor Terry McAuliffe, and a discussion with filmmakers Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine, and subject Steven Garza, moderated by Sabato. UVA Center for Politics Youth Leadership Initiative Director of Instruction Meg Heubeck introduced the film. The program also included a discussion guide covering themes in the film like democracy; civil engagement; civil discourse; race & politics; and gender, masculinity, and identity.

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).

Director Wanuri Kahiu, featured speaker at the UVA Carter G. Woodson Institute’s African Colloquium Series, VAFF 2019

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.

Actor Leslie Odom, Jr., Featured Guest, VAFF 2020

Free Public Programming

In 2020, the Virginia Film Festival presented three virtual Special Presentation Events as part of its 2020 program. Access to each event was offered for free and open to the public during the 5-day Festival and posted on the VAFF’s YouTube channel after the Festival. The free virtual events included:

  • A Conversation with Leslie Odom, Jr. – The multi-talented actor Leslie Odom, Jr. joined the VAFF for a wide ranging conversation about his role as the legendary Sam Cooke in the VAFF’s Opening Night Film One Night in Miami and his remarkable career launched by his Tony Award-winning performance in Hamilton.
  • A Tribute to Thomas Newman – 15-time Academy Award nominated film composer Thomas Newman discussed his outstanding career with Benjamin Rous, director of the Charlottesville Symphony at the University of Virginia. Newman’s credits include The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, American Beauty, Finding Nemo, the James Bond films Skyfall and Spectre, and 2019’s Golden Globe-winning film for Best Picture, 1917. The tribute included clips from these movies and more and also feature Newman’s frequent collaborator, director John Lee Hancock.
  • Light House Studio Shorts – This locally produced short film package showcased the work of Charlottesville students from Light House Studio.

In a partnership with Common House, the VAFF 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

“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)

Producer Laura Heberton, VAFF 2020

“We found the experience of screening at the Virginia Film Festival to be a superb one from start to finish. Not only was the programming superb and we were honored to be included, but the programming team, led by Chandler Ferrebee, was so professional and so lovely to work with. We felt super special and extremely well taken care of, especially important this year when the festival took a different form. Our Q&A was one of the best we did all festival run! Our interviewer brought her own perspective to the film and it really added so much to our panel. It was a very smart move on the part of the festival.”

~ Laura Heberton, producer (Freeland)

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

VAFF Drive-In Movies at Dairy Market, VAFF 2020

The following quotes were collected from our patrons and supporters through surveys and feedback requests after the 2020 Virginia Film Festival:  

“I was so happy to hear about the successes from the week.  Under what must have been trying times, you have risen to the occasion and created an amazing weekend that celebrates FILM, yet again. Great job, to you all!”

“The festival was a tour de force from every perspective — the technical arrangements were superb and so easy to master; the innovative drive-ins were incredibly well-organized and just plain cool; and the content was really world class.”

“The inventiveness you all displayed in keeping it going during Covid was remarkable.”

“I loved that the drive throughs made the festival still feel like a community event, and like something different from the norm. I’ve been attending other virtual film festivals this year, so if it had been purely virtual there would not have been much to distinguish it. I also love the different series, and I love the strong commitment to increasing the diversity of programming and programmers. It shows in the slate of films, and makes for a great festival.”

2020 Audience Survey Results


  • 20% – 18-34
  • 10% – 35-44
  • 11% – 45-54
  • 26% – 55-64
  • 31% – 65+


  • 67% Residents of Charlottesville/Albemarle 
  • 23% From other Virginia cities/counties
  • 10% Travel From Out of State


  • 57% Have a Masters Degree or Higher


  • 82% Household income $60,000+


  • 60% Have a connection to UVA

View our complete 2020 Audience Survey Summary Report here.