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

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

VFF 9-11 FRI 29Oct2021 JL-074

NEA Grants for Arts Projects: Media Arts 2023

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 36th annual Virginia Film Festival to be held in the fall of 2023. As described in our project narrative, the NEA’s funding would support visiting guest artists’ stipends, travel, and accommodations as well as screening venue rental and associated costs. We describe in our grant application the deep impact this funding will have on guest artists’ involvement in the VAFF and on our engagement with community members. Below you will find a visual compilation of highlights and feedback that we hope will further illuminate what makes our film 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 2021 Festival

The 34th annual Virginia Film Festival presented 76 films and events at 3 in-person theaters and 1 drive-in location over 5 days from October 27-31, 2021. Despite scaling back from previous years, the Festival tracked more than 8,400 attendances and over 270 vehicles attending five drive-in screenings held at Morven Farm in Albemarle County. The Festival welcomed more than 75 industry guests and artists to participate together in introducing and discussing our films and events.

Still from The Power of the Dog, Centerpiece Film, VAFF 2021

Notable Films

  • The 2021 Festival kicked off with two sold-out Opening Night screenings of The French Dispatch at The Paramount Theater and the Drive-In at Morven Farm. The latest film from Wes Anderson stars Frances McDormand, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, and Jeffrey Wright as journalists in the fictional French outpost of an American magazine. The film was introduced by Festival Director Jody Kielbasa and UVA President Jim Ryan.
  • The Centerpiece Film was The Power of the Dog, based on the novel of the same name, directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Jane Campion, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, and introduced by Jody Kielbasa. Set in 1925 Montana, the film is an exploration of the confines of masculinity against the backdrop of the American West.
  • The Festival closed with a screening of the critically-acclaimed C’mon C’mon, introduced by UVA Executive Vice President and Provost Liz Magill and Jody Kielbasa. Directed by Mike Mills, the film stars Joaquin Phoenix, a burnt-out radio journalist suddenly tasked with taking care of his precocious young nephew. The film was preceded by the Apple+ short film Blush.
  • The Festival’s gala screening of The Harder They Fall, an action-packed revisionist Western based on the stories of historical American cowboys featuring Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Regina King, and Jonathan Majors, was preceded by a pre-recorded discussion with director Jeymes Samuel.
  • The Festival presented Spotlight Screenings of the year’s most anticipated films and newly-named Academy Award nominees, including: Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut, The Lost Daughter, based on the novel by Elena Ferrante, examining the difficulties of motherhood and guilt; Norway’s submission to the Academy Awards, The Worst Person in the World, which yielded a Best Actress Award to Renate Reinsve at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival in a modern look at relationships and how they shape us; Toronto International Film Festival’s 2021 Audience Award winner, Spencer, starring Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana, and Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, an ode to family set in Northern Ireland during the late 1960s.
  • The 2021 VAFF Audience Award Winners included Machinery of Dreams, Stay Prayed Up, Calf Rope, and When We Were Bullies. The Programmers Award Winners included The Speech, Socks on Fire, The Acolyte, and In the Shadow of the Pines. The Real South SHORT Award winner was There Was Nobody Here We Knew.

Actress Martha Plimpton, Featured Guest, VAFF 2021

Featured Guests

  • Award-winning actress Martha Plimpton visited the Festival for a tribute event highlighting her remarkable career and for a screening of her latest film Mass, which follows a private talk between two sets of parents as they attempt to move forward from an unspeakable tragedy. A discussion with Plimpton was moderated by film critic Brian Truitt (USA Today).
  • The Festival presented award-winning writer and actor Jeremy O. Harris with the 2021 American Perspectives Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cinema. He joined the Festival in a screening of A24’s 2020 film Zola, which he co-wrote, and for a special conversation moderated by VAFF Program Manager Chandler Ferrebee. Following the conversation, Harris paid a visit to Kevin Everson’s Cinematography class, joining students in a discussion and Q&A about Zola and the film industry. 
  • Prolific writer, director, and actor Danny Strong joined the Festival for a screening of an episode of the Hulu limited series Dopesick, of which he was a writer and executive producer. Based on the book by Virginia journalist Beth Macy, Dopesick examines how one company triggered the worst drug epidemic in American history. A conversation with Strong and Macy was moderated by Ted Johnson (Deadline).
  • Director of 2020 VAFF screening Boys State Jesse Moss returned to the Festival to promote his newest documentary Mayor Pete, which follows South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten, on the campaign trail to become the first openly gay presidential candidate. The screening was followed by a discussion with Moss and moderator Ted Johnson (Deadline).
  • Additionally, the Festival welcomed an array of artists and experts from the film and television worlds, including award-winning filmmaker Bo McGuire (Socks on Fire), director and Charlottesville native Eric Hurt (The Machinery of Dreams), Native American painter and muralist Yatika Fields (Love and Fury), former White House Correspondent for ABC News Ann Compton, and Former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove (9/11: Inside the President’s War Room).

VAFF Drive-In Movies at Morven Farm, VAFF 2021

University & Community Partnerships

The 2021 Festival engaged with 32 UVA faculty and staff and 31 UVA alumni to participate in introductions and discussions in our film program, and as volunteers. In addition, we worked directly with 83 UVA students as arts administration interns, VAFF volunteer ambassadors, and Festival events volunteers. And finally, we collaborated with 16 Departments and Programs to create, host, and promote our programming to the UVA Community. 

The Indigeneity in Mexico series, curated by UVA Assistant Professor of Studio Art Federico Cuatlacuatl and supported by UVA Arts Council, included one feature film preceded by a short, examining the rich culture, struggles, and lives of the people of Mexico. The intimate short documentary La Utopía de la Mariposa (The Butterfly’s Utopia) intertwines art and injustice, followed by the feature film Nudo Mixteco, which compounds upon those themes in the connecting stories of three women women dealing with love, abuse, and the struggle for empowerment in their village.

Curated by UVA Assistant Professor of Cinema Samhita Sunya and supported by the UVA Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures, the UVA Department of Middle Eastern & South Asian Languages & Cultures, and UVA Arts Council, the Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian film sidebar presented two films that take place across the Middle East and South Asia, as well as a showcase of short films. Produced during the 1970s and 80s, the Sudanese Film Group Shorts highlights the work of a group of filmmakers who banded together to make a series of compelling short films shedding light on the civil war in Sudan. The features included a suspenseful and sinister investigation in Tunisia’s first horror film, Dachra, and the heartwarming feature Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, following a young teacher in the Himalayas teaching at one of the most remote schools in the world.  

The Festival partnered with the UVA Korea Society and UVA Arts Council to present four films from South Korea, curated by Lecturer at the School of Continuing and Professional Studies Hyeyon Moon: Aloners, a compelling exploration of a woman’s loneliness after her neighbor dies, speaking to our own isolation and struggle for human connection during the pandemic; Fighter, a raw exploration of the physical and mental battles of a North Korean refugee who discovers her own talent while working as a cleaner in a boxing gym; I Don’t Fire Myself, an exposé of the inequity women face in the workplace; and In Front of Your Face, an introspective film from auteur Hong Sang-soo about an actress re-adjusting to life in Korea after moving back in with her sister and considering a sudden new role. The series was also supported by the Korean Cultural Center, Washington, D.C.

In partnership with UVA Arts Council, the Jewish and Israeli film series showcased three films centered on finding human connection in the midst of cultural and personal conflict and separation. The Raft explores the way personal relationships are formed and tested as four teens construct a raft to sail from Israel to Cyprus for the world cup. Neighbours and Persian Lessons both deal with deconstructing prejudice: the former follows a six-year-old boy weighing the values of his anti-Semetic Arab school against the loving Jewish family who lives next door, and the latter follows a young Belgian Jew pretending to be Persian and his surprising connection with the German chef of a concentration camp kitchen.

Also presented with UVA Arts Council, the Fralin Art Museum’s Curator of Indigenous Art of the Americas Dr. Adriana Greci Green curated five films for the Indegenous Americans in Film series, showcasing the work of Indigenous American filmmakers and providing a platform for discussion around the complex issues facing this population today. Director Tracy Deer’s debut, Beans, recounts the 1990 Oka Crisis through a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story of a young Mohawk girl. Monkey Beach takes a fantastical, supernatural view of the Pacific Northwest as a woman searches for her lost brother at sea. Two documentaries answer questions of identity and activism: End of the Line: The Women of Standing Rock showcases the leadership of four women during the 2015 Standing Rock protests, and Love and Fury dives into Native American artists and their fight for recognition in a post-colonial world. A live virtual screening of Tekahionwake, Pauline, presented by the Fralin Museum of Art, looks at the life of the powerful British/Mohawk wordsmith E. Pauline Johnson’s work to condemn colonization and its effects, followed by a virtual discussion with the filmmaker. The series was supported by the Virginia Commission for the Arts.

In partnership with The Miller Center, the festival presented 9/11: Inside the President’s War Room, exploring the events of that fateful day with never-before-seen footage and interviews with former President George W. Bush and members of his inner circle. Director and CEO of the Miller Center William Antholis moderated a discussion with Former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card and Former Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove (via live video conference) as well as former White House Correspondent for ABC News Ann Compton.

Numerous films were supported by the UVA Division for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, including the documentaries End of the Line: The Women of Standing Rock, How the Monuments Came Down, Mayor Pete, Mending Walls, Stay Prayed Up, Truth Tellers, and Try Harder!

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, The French Dispatch, and Halloween classics Dracula, Scream, Little Shop of Horrors, and The Addams Family. The Drive-In Movie Series was presented by Morven Farm and UVA Arts: Office of the Provost and Vice Provost for the Arts.

For the second time, 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. This year’s Reel South SHORT Award winner at the Virginia Film Festival was There Was Nobody Here We Knew, directed by Khaula Malik and follows a middle-aged Pakistani couple searching for answers during lockdown after they spot what they believe to be a UFO outside their window.

The Festival partnered with VPM – Virginia’s Home for Public Media to screen two timely documentaries. How the Monuments Came Down dives into the history of Richmond, Virginia and the confederate monuments that served as a constant reminder of the white supremacy and Black resistance that shaped the city. The screening at Culbreth Theater included an introduction by President and CEO of VPM Jayme Swain, and a conversation with filmmakers Hannah Ayers and Lance Warren and story advisor and descendant Joseph Rogers, moderated by Dr. Andrea Douglas, Executive Director of the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center. 

The second screening was of Mending Walls, a film documenting the Mending Walls project, a collaborative public art project from artist Hamilton Glass that developed in the waves of social unrest following George Floyd’s death. In Richmond, Virginia, the Mending Walls project pairs up 30 artists from different walks of life to create, connect, heal, and incite discussion. The screening at Culbreth Theater included an introduction by President and CEO of VPM Jayme Swain, and a conversation with producer Pam Hervey, co-producer Hamilton Glass, and subject Matt Lively, moderated by Marc Cheatham, founder of The Cheats Movement.

Screening of 
How the Monuments Came Down at Culbreth Theatre, VAFF 2021

Select Media Coverage from 2021

Jeremy O. Harris Comes Home: Groundbreaking Playwright Ponders the Influence of His Virginia Roots” by Desiré Moses. Published October 27, 2021 at C-Ville Weekly.

Picture This: Our Critic’s Picks for the 2021 Virginia Film Festival” by Deirdre Crimmins. Published October 27, 2021 at C-Ville Weekly.

Virginia Film Festival Offering Notes of Joy” by Jane Sathe. Published October 23, 2021 at The Daily Progress.

A Much Bigger Screen: Film Festival Welcomes Cinephiles – In Person” by Caroline Challe. Published October 28, 2021 at UVA Today.

Recent Educational and Public Programming

Writer and Actor Jeremy O. Harris, recipient of the American Perspectives Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cinema, VAFF 2021

Accessibility & Outreach

VAFF’s commitment to accessibility included seven screenings and discussions presented with open captions and ASL interpretation for the deaf and hard of hearing community. These films included The Lost Daughter; How the Monuments Came Down, including discussion with filmmakers Hannah Ayers and Lance Warren and story advisor and descendant Joseph Rogers, moderated by Dr. Andrea Douglas (Jefferson School African American Heritage Center); The Harder They Fall; Passing with introduction by Sandhya Shukla (UVA); The Power of the Dog with introduction by Jody Kielbasa (VAFF); Truth Tellers with discussion with filmmaker Richard Kane and subjects Robert Shetterly, moderated by Andrea Douglas; and Zola, including discussion with and presentation of the American Perspectives Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cinema to writer Jeremy O. Harris, moderated by Chandler Ferrebee (VAFF).

The Festival created a land acknowledgement to run prior to all Festival screenings. The slide publicly acknowledged the Monacan Nation, the traditional owners of the land and waters upon where the Festival takes place, as well as their elders, past, present, and emerging. We worked with guidance from guest curator Adriana Greci Green as well as staff at the UVA Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection to draft and vet the language. The slide featured a photograph taken by Monacan photographer Carrie Pruitt, behind the text.

The Festival also partnered with Fralin Museum of Art for a free virtual screening of Tekahionwake, Pauline, looking at the life of the powerful British/Mohawk wordsmith E. Pauline Johnson’s work to condemn colonization and its effects, including a virtual discussion with the filmmaker. 

The VAFF presented a Critical Eye Panel of nationally recognized journalists and film critics for a discussion on the current state of film criticism. Panelists included leading critics Carlos Aguilar (LA Film Critics Association), Robert Daniels (812filmreviews.com), Roxana Hadadi (pajiba.com), and Brian Truitt (USA Today), moderated by Jack Hamilton (UVA).

Film Critics Carlos Aguilar, Roxana Hadadi, and Robert Daniels at A Critical Eye panel, VAFF 2021

UVA Student Engagement & Classroom Visits

Each year, the VAFF offers all full-time, degree-seeking UVA students free access to our screenings and events through the University of Virginia’s Arts$ Program. In 2021, the Festival issued 2,880 free Art$ tickets to UVA students, giving them full access to films and discussions of their choice.

We regularly and thoughtfully connect our visiting guest artists directly with UVA and local students to share their expertise in intimate discussion and master class settings. This year, writer and actor Jeremy O. Harris visited University professor and internationally-renowned filmmaker Kevin Everson’s Cinematography class to speak with students about his craft and career. He joined in on an in-class discussion about Zola and fielded student questions about the film industry in general.

The VAFF organizes seasonal internship opportunities for UVA undergraduate students to work closely with staff and gain industry experience. In 2021, the Festival organized a 8-week long Patron Engagement Internship during the summer season, giving the intern direct experience in social media marketing, development and fundraising, and research. During the fall season, the Festival hired two interns to join the Festival’s Marketing & Publicity and Production teams, giving the interns direct opportunities in these areas during the planning and execution phases of the Festival.

The VAFF also mounts a Festival Ambassadors Program each Fall Semester, giving a cohort of UVA undergraduate students the opportunity to participate in a month-long opportunity to work alongside Festival staff and gain hands-on experience in the entertainment industry in areas such as event coordination, publicity, and marketing. In 2021, 15 students were accepted into our 2021 Festival Ambassadors Program, and worked closely with our Marketing and Publicity seasonal staff to promote the Festival among the UVA student body and wider community.

Finally, 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 2021 and 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 VAFF 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.

Guest Artist Feedback

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

~Werner Herzog, director

Director Matt Durning, VAFF 2021

“Our team had an amazing time in Charlottesville — both at the screening and the worship service at Mt. Zion. Each was an incredibly satisfying and energizing experience for Mother Perry and our entire Stay Prayed Up family. We are deeply grateful for the confidence you showed in our film early on, when we really needed a boost, and for the way you and your team went above and beyond to ensure we had a positive and memorable VAFF experience.”

~ Matt Durning, director (Stay Prayed Up)

“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

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)

“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)

“Being a part of the Virginia Film Festival was a highlight in the fall. I found it a real joy to present to people who knew E. Pauline Johnson and her work.”

~ Shelley Niro, director (Tekahionwake, Pauline)

“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 Audience Members at The Paramount Theater, VAFF 2021

The following quotes were collected from our patrons and supporters through surveys and feedback requests after the 2021 Virginia Film Festival:  

“I saw more diversity (especially race) in the audience this year perhaps thanks to the diversity in the films, ie The Harder They Fall. The volunteers were AMAZING!”

“I love being able to see the movies I’ve heard so much about through other film festivals and reviews.”

“The quality and diversity of movies was amazing, I could see the new wes Anderson movie and watch a 2018 Tunisian horror movie.”

“The screening locations were unique, and the collective viewing experience was a welcome return to a semblance of normalcy.”

“I loved the opportunity to attend as a UVA student. Moreover, the film festival let me see films I wouldn’t ordinarily see or be able to see!”

2021 Audience Survey Results

Late Night Wrap Party at CODE (outdoors), VAFF 2021

Please view a PDF our 2021 Audience Survey Visualization report here and scroll down for a summary of our results.


  • 0.5% – 18 and under
  • 46% – 18-34
  • 14% – 35-54
  • 33% – 55-74
  • 6.5% – 75+


  • 78% Residents of Charlottesville/Albemarle 
  • 23% From other Virginia cities/counties or Out of State


  • 39% Have a Masters Degree or Higher


  • 46% Household income $100,000+


  • 33% Identify as a member of a historically disenfranchised and/or under-represented group (e.g., based on gender identification, race/ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, etc.)