VIRGINIA FILM FESTIVAL | Dates to be Announced in Feb 2024

37th Annual | VIRGINIA FILM FESTIVAL | Dates to be Announced in Feb 2024

Special Guests

A selection of filmmakers, artists, and special guests coming in-person for Q&As, panels, and conversations.

Jonathan Majors

Jonathan Majors

Emmy, Critics’ Choice, Independent Spirit and Gotham award nominee Jonathan Majors is one of the fastest-rising actors in Hollywood. Since his 2017 debut in the ABC miniseries When We Rise, Majors has been knocking on the door of major stardom thanks to standout performances including opposite Idris Elba in The Harder They Fall; the HBO series Lovecraft Country; Spike Lee’s Da Five Bloods; The Last Black Man in San Francisco; Max Waters’ Jungleland, and White Boy Rick, opposite Matthew McConaughey; and the 2017 western Hostiles. Majors is poised to make a major splash in the Marvel universe next year. Following his surprise appearance in the penultimate episode of the hit Marvel series Loki, Majors will soon be seen as Kang the Conqueror in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which will open in theaters on February 17, 2023. Marvel also announced that Avengers: Secret Wars will hit theaters on November 7, 2025, which further suggests that Majors’ Kang, or rather, one of the seemingly infinite time travel variants of Kang, will be a key player in the multiverse. Majors is also set to star in Creed III, slated for theatrical release in March of 2023 as a mysterious villain set to face off against Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Creed. 

2022 VAFF Breakthrough Star Award recipient

Film: Devotion

Chrissy Metz

Chrissy Metz

Emmy and two-time Golden Globe nominee Chrissy Metz starred in the award-winning NBC series This Is Us, winner of the 2018 and 2019 SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series. Chrissy also starred in the box office hit  Breakthrough, as well as performed the Oscar-nominated title song “I’m Standing With You,” written by Diane Warren. Following her performance at the 2020 Oscars, Metz signed a record deal with Universal Music Group Nashville. Other credits include Superstore, The Last OG, American Horror Story: Freak Show, My Name is Earl, Entourage, and the Netflix film Sierra Burgess is a Loser. Chrissy Metz is from Homestead, Florida. Her memoir, “This Is Me,” debuted at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list. People Magazine has named her to its Ones to Watch and 50 Most Beautiful lists. 

Film: Stay Awake

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Dustin Lance Black

A native Texan raised in a devout LDS home, Dustin Lance Black is an Academy Award®-winning filmmaker, writer, LGBTQIA+ activist, husband, and father. He won the Academy Award and two WGA Awards for his screenplay for Milk, which starred Sean Penn as the late San Francisco mayor and activist Harvey Milk; J. Edgar, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Clint Eastwood. Earlier this year, Black created, executive produced and wrote, and directed the Emmy nominated HULU limited series Under the Banner of Heaven, starring Andrew Garfield and based on the bestselling book by Jon Krakauer. In 2017, Black created, produced, and directed the ABC miniseries When We Rise, chronicling the true stories of the personal and political struggles, setbacks and triumphs of a handful of activists who pioneered the modern LGBTQ+ movement, which won the Audience Award at the 2017 Palm Springs Film Festival a 2018 GLAAD Award for Outstanding TV Movie or Limited Series. . In 2012, Black merged his creative and civil rights work with 8, a play based on the Federal Proposition 8 trial. The play’s casts have included George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Jane Lynch, Martin Sheen, and John Lithgow. The play broke viewership records when it was first broadcast online live from the Wilshire Ebell Theatre and has now been staged in eight countries. 

2022 VAFF Changemaker Award recipient

Film: Mama’s Boy
Panel: From Page to Screen – Screenwriter’s Panel

Sam Pollard headshot

Sam Pollard

Sam Pollard is an Oscar-nominated and Emmy Award-winning documentary producer/director and feature film and television widely recognized as one of the foremost chroniclers of the Black experience in America. His films include Two Trains Runnin’; Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me (for PBS American Masters); plus MLK/FBI and Citizen Ashe, which both screened at the Virginia Film Festival. Pollard worked with Spike Lee as an editor on films including Mo’ Better BluesJungle FeverGirl 6Clockers, and Bamboozled. He co-produced several documentary productions for television and film, receiving an Academy Award nomination for Four Little Girls, the feature-length documentary about the 1963 Birmingham church bombings that Spike Lee presented at the 2017 Virginia Film Festival. Pollard also co-produced the 1998 multiple Emmy Award-winning four-part documentary When the Levees Broke. He co-directed the acclaimed six-part series Why We Hate for the Discovery Channel.  In 2021 Pollard was honored with the Peabody Career Achievement Award.

2022 VAFF Chronicler recipient

Film: Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power

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Eugenio Caballero

Academy Award winning Production Designer Eugenio Caballero is one of the foremost film artists working in the industry today. His Oscar-winning work on Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labrynth tops a credit list that includes more than 30 films (20 as a designer) and collaborations with directors including Jim Jarmusch (The Limit of Control), Baz Luhrmann (Romeo and Juliet), Alfonso Cuarón (ROMA), Sebastian Cordero (Crónicas, Rabia and Europa Report), Floria Sigismondi (The Runaways), Claudia Llosa (Aloft), Fernando Eimbcke (Club Sandwich) Carlos Cuarón (Rudo y Cursi), Russel Mulcahy (Resident Evil Extinction), and. J.A. Bayona (The Impossible and A Monster Calls), among others. His collaboration with Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu on Bardo makes him the first Production Designer to work with Mexico’s “Big Three,” of Iñárritu, Cuarón, and del Toro. Mr. Caballero’s has been nominated 7 times for the Ariel award -Mexico’s main film award – from which he has won 3. He has served as a Jury member on numerous international festivals and he is a member of the AMPAS (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences), the Mexican and Spanish Film Academies.

2022 VAFF Craft Award recipient

Film: Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths

Jamie Sisley HS

Jamie Sisley

Jamie Sisley is an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker who recently wrote and directed  Stay Awake, a narrative feature film that premiered at the 2022 Berlin Film Festival, where it won the AG Kino Gilde Auteur Award and was Honorable Mention for the Crystal Bear. In addition, Jamie received an Emmy Nomination for his feature documentary,  Farewell Ferris Wheel. The film won the Creative Promise Award from the Tribeca Film Institute, received an Imagen nomination for the positive portrayal of Latinos in entertainment, and was nationally broadcast on PBS and Netflix.  Jamieearned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia, and an M.F.A. in Film from Columbia University. He currently lives just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. 

2022 VAFF Governor Gerald L. Baliles Founder’s Award recipient

Film: Stay Awake
Panel: Making It – Film Industry Career Panel

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Meg LeFauve

Meg LeFauve is the Oscar®-Nominated writer of Pixar’s Inside Out, and Golden-Globe nominated writer of Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur. She was a mentor at Meryl Streep’s writer’s lab, and has written for live-action and animated features for TV and Film.

2022 VAFF Screenwriting Achievement Award recipient

Film: My Father’s Dragon
Panel: From Page to Screen- Screenwriter’s Panel

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Erin Bernhardt

Emmy and Peabody-award-winning filmmaker and UVA graduate Erin Bernhardt returns to the VAFF for the first time since showing her independent feature documentary Imba Means Sing, here in 2015worldwide on Netflix, Delta Studio, and all major VOD platforms. Prior to independent filmmaking, Erin served in the Peace Corps in Madagascar, worked as a Writer/Producer at CNN, and as the Director of Engagement for Points of Light, President George. H. W. Bush’s foundation. She loves volunteering, traveling, teaching yoga, and making her 3-year-old son giggle. 

Film: Refuge
Panel: Making It – Film Industry Career Panel

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Justin Black

Justin Black is a photographer and musician based in Richmond, Virginia. Justin grew up frequenting the James River, whether it was kayaking at summer camps or fishing in his hometown of Powhatan. As a musician and songwriter, Justin has released numerous LPs, singles and an EP under the pseudonym and band name “Saw Black.” When the pandemic curtailed his touring and live shows, Justin expanded his musical focus to include photography and filmmaking. He created the soundtrack for Headwaters Down and was also one of the film’s cameramen and paddlers. 

Film: Headwaters Down

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Din Blankenship

Din Blankenship is an architectural designer turned filmmaker.  Her first documentary, Refuge premiered at DOC NYC in 2021 and has won numerous film festival awards. After earning a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from the University of Virginia and a Masters in Architecture with High Distinction from the University of Michigan, Din worked in architecture for more than a decade. She has designed transitional shelters for refugees and was invited to present her work at the Symposium for the Architecture of Disaster Relief. She founded her production company Late Bloomer Films in 2021. 

Film: Refuge

Raúl Castillo by Stephanie Diana HS

Raúl Castillo

Raúl Castillo is an actor with notable performances across film, television, and theater. He is perhaps best known for his portrayal of Paps in the critically acclaimed independent feature We the Animals, based on the Justin Torres novel of the same name and directed by Jeremiah Zagar, which brought him an Independent Spirit Award nomination; and for his starring role as Richie on the Michael Lannan-created groundbreaking HBO series  Looking, which earned him the Lupe Award from the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP). He can currently be seen in Cooper Raiff’s Cha Cha Real Smooth; Jeremiah Zagar’s Netflix feature,  Hustle and Mattson Tomlin’s feature film debut, Mother/Androidon Hulu. Upcoming projects include Peter Hedges’ The Same Storm, Hulu’s Miguel Wants to Fight, directed by Oz Rodriguez, Academy Award® winner, Roger Ross Williams’  Cassandro  for Prime Video, and the upcoming FX limited series, Class of ’09.   

Film: The Inspection

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Joyce Chopra

Joyce Chopra is an award-winning director and writer for feature films and television. She is perhaps best known for her 1985 film Smooth Talk, the Grand Jury Prize winner for Best Dramatic Feature at the Sundance Film Festival and one of the first films to feature Academy Award, Emmy and Golden Globe-winning actress Laura Dern. Other career highlights include the thriller The Lady in Question, with Gene Wilder; An American Girl on the Home Front; and Blonde (2001. She has received American Film Festival Blue Ribbon and Cine Golden Eagle Awards for her numerous documentaries, including That Our Children Will Not Die, about primary health care in Nigeria, and the autobiographical Joyce at 34, which is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

Film: Smooth Talk

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Katie Couric

Katie Couric (@katiecouric) is an award-winning journalist and #1 New York Times best-selling author of her memoir, Going There, which was published in October 2021. She is also a co-founder of Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) which has raised more than $700 million for cancer research.

Couric was the first woman to solo anchor a network evening newscast, serving as anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News from 2006 to 2011 following 15-years as co-anchor of NBC’s Today show.

In 2017, she founded Katie Couric Media (KCM), which has developed a number of media projects,  including a daily newsletter, “Wake-Up Call”, a podcast, “Next Question”, digital video series and several documentaries. You can find it all at katiecouric.com.

Film: Refuge

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Clarissa Doutherd

Clarissa Doutherd is the Executive Director of Parent Voices Oakland, an East Bay chapter of Parent Voices California. Clarissa has been a strong advocate for mothers like herself who were caught in the crosshairs of ineffective public policy. As a collaborative movement builder, Clarissa has forged deep partnerships with large local government agencies including the Alameda County Social Services Agency, Public Health, and Behavioral Health Services. After stepping into leadership as the Co-Chair on the Alameda County Early Childhood Policy Committee with First 5 of Alameda County, Clarissa led efforts to refocus the group to become a cross-sector collaborative that brings together community-based organizations, parents, and service providers to advance innovative strategies for county-wide systems change. She continues to work to elevate parent leadership in public policy. Her remarkable work has earned her several local, regional, and national honors, including the Gloria Steinem “Woman of Vision” award.

Film: Clarissa’s Battle

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Sasson Gabay

One of the most accomplished actors on today’s international scene, Israeli actor Sasson Gabay is perhaps best known to American audiences from his role in the award-winning film and Broadway hit The Band’s Visit and his the Netflix series Shtisel. He has appeared in countless Israeli and international films including: The Band’s Visit, Time for CherriesRambo, Aviva, My Love, Hunting Elephants, Restoration, Gett-The Trial of Vivian Amsalem the television series Polishuk Virgins and Stockholm. Sasson Gabay is the winner of 4 Ohir Israli Academy Awards, (including a 2022 Best Actor win for his role in Karaoke).

Film: Karaoke

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Will Gemma

Will Gemma has been a writer and lover of nature since his childhood growing up in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Formally trained as a poet at the University of Virginia, where he met his fellow co-creators of Headwater Down, Will followed his wanderlust across the country and spent six years in the west before the old magic of the Appalachians called him home. Stepping behind the lens for the very first time in this debut, Will also acts as the narrator of Headwaters Down, deftly balancing the informative with the profound. 

Film: Headwaters Down

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Angie Gentile

Angie comes to the documentary film world after more than 20 years at the crossroads of international development and communications. Most recently, Angie was the global advocacy and campaigns lead for the World Bank, where  she specialized in multimedia, multi-channel engagement. During this time, she oversaw communications strategy and implementation — print, online, social, marketing, multimedia, and media — for a wide range of business lines, including World Bank’s IDA fund, spearheading communications campaigns that helped raise more than $125 billion for projects in the world’s poorest countries. Angie has worked in more than 3 dozen countries and  currently lives in the metro-DC area. 

Film: Dani’s Twins

Byron Hurt HS

Byron Hurt

Byron Hurt is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and noted activist and expert in the field of gender violence prevention. His highly acclaimed documentary Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and aired, as did his film Soul Food Junkies, on PBS’ Emmy award-winning series, Independent Lens. Hazing aired on Independent Lens in September 2022. His next film, Looking for Lee and Liza will air on PBS NOVA in 2023. 

Film: Hazing

Judith Ivey

Judith Ivey

Veteran stage actress Judith Ivey is a two-time Tony Award winner for Steaming and Hurlyburly, and was also nominated for Park Your Car in Harvard Yard and a revival of The Heiress. Ivey’s film and TV work extends over four decades; she is best known for her performance in Designing Women, The Devil’s Advocate, What the Deaf Man Heard, Will & Grace, Nurse Jackie, and Grey’s Anatomy.

Film: Women Talking

Eduardo Montes-Bradley HS

Eduardo Montes-Bradley

Montes-Bradley is a documentary filmmaker currently living in Charlottesville, Virginia. He’s best known for the biographical, yet poetic portrayals of writers, painters, sculptors, and composers. His films have been honored at The British Academy, Harvard University, Universidad de Salamanca, and the University of Virginia. Black Fiddlers,Rita Dove: An American Poet; Daniel Chester French, Julian Bond, and Alice Parkerare amongst his most recent works. Montes-Bradley is a published author with Random House, and  Sperling & Kupfer, and he was most recently recognized as Regent’s Lecturer by the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. 

Film: Black Fiddlers

Wyatt Oleff HS

Wyatt Oleff

Wyatt Oleff has become one to watch among young Hollywood from his memorable roles in the blockbuster films Guardians Of The Galaxy and Guardians Of The Galaxy: Vol. 2, playing the young Peter Quill (Chris Pratt’s beloved Marvel personality). Wyatt starred as ‘Stanley Uris’ in the 2017 blockbuster remake of Stephen King’s IT as well as in IT: Chapter Two. In 2020, Wyatt starred as ‘Stanley Barber,’ the male lead in Netflix’s I Am Not Okay With This opposite his IT costar Sophia Lillis. Earlier this year, Wyatt starred in the Tribeca film The Year Between, selected in the US Narrative Competition category. Wyatt can next be seen in the lead role of the Apple+ drama series City on Fire from Gossip Girl show runners Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage.  

Film: Stay Awake

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Juan Javier Pérez

Juan Javier Pérez was born in 1989 in Chiapas, Mexico, in the Tsotsil Mayan town of Zinacantán. Since he was a child he has participated in ceremonies in his community as a companion to his father, a renowned traditional musician in Zinacantán. Over time and together with his cousins and friends, he began an exploration of the typical sounds of Zinacanteco culture. He studied a degree in Intercultural Communication at the Intercultural University of Chiapas and studied Documentary Film at the San Cristóbal de las Casas Documentary Film School where he directed the documentary short film Nichimal Son – Música que Florencia in 2018. Vaychiletik is his first documentary feature film. 

Film: Vaychiletik

Tamara Perkins HS

Tamara Perkins

Tamara Perkins is an award-winning filmmaker and changemaker focused on films that empower and uplift voices from vulnerable communities while inspiring important dialogue. Her film Life After Life (2018) began in her yoga class inside San Quentin State Prison when the men asked her to tell their story, and continues to be a catalyst for learning and advocacy nationally. Perkins’ upcoming films, Clarissa’s Battle and Rebound, were each similarly inspired by a personal connection to the subject matter. As a national speaker, Tamara’s repertoire spans from filmmaking to prison issues and human rights. Notable partners include ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, Stanford Law and the Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law. She founded Apple of Discord Productions in 2006, connecting media, activism, and healing through programs such as the Wisdom Project and San Quentin Media Project which trained at-risk youth and incarcerated men in filmmaking as a tool for transformation.  

Film: Clarissa’s Battle

5 December 2019, Public program, Reconsidering the Catholic Church and the Holocaust, Special Film Screening and Discussion with Peter Eisner, Steven Pressman, and Dr. Suzanne Brown-Fleming.

Steven Pressman

Steven Pressman was born and raised in Los Angeles and received an undergraduate degree in political science at the University of California, Berkeley. As a journalist, he worked as a reporter and editor at a variety of publications in Los Angeles, Washington DC and San Francisco. His filmmaking work includes 50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus, which premiered on HBO in 2013 and received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Historical Programming. Steven’s film Holy Silence had its broadcast premiere on PBS in 2020 and has also been seen at numerous film festivals and other venues throughout the United States.

Film: The Levys of Monticello

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Ricardo Preve

Ricardo Preve is an Argentine-born and Charlottesville-based award-winning filmmaker whose relationship with the Virginia Film Festival goes back to 2005 with his directorial debut, Chagas: A Hidden Affliction. He has since worked on more than 30 films and television projects as a director, producer or scriptwriter, including The Patagonian Bones and Coming Home, both of which won awards and recognition at international festivals.

Film: From Sudan to Argentina

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Moshe Rosenthal

Moshe Rosenthal is an Israeli filmmaker who is known for writing and directing films, commercials, for television and web series. His highly acclaimed feature film Karaoke recently premiered at Tribeca Film Festival and won the Debut Film Award and Audience Award at the Jerusalem Film Festival. His films include  Shabbaton (2016), and his short On Our Way Back, which screened at the London Film Festival and nominated for the Israeli Academy Award in 2018. Recently, his series Confess was sold for an American TV adaptation by AMC network.

Film: Karaoke

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Dietrich Teschner

Dietrich Teschner is a former engineer, turned actor, turned filmmaker. Dietrich grew up on the tidewater rivers of Gloucester, Virginia. Dietrich studied engineering at the University of Virginia before heading to Brooklyn, NY, to pursue a career in acting. He has traveled around the country camping, climbing, and mountaineering, and wanted to bring his passion for the outdoors to the big screen. Dietrich returned to Virginia in 2020, finding new inspiration in the world of narrative and documentary filmmaking with Headwaters Down.

Film: Headwaters Down

IVEY CAMILLE MANYBEADS TSO HS

Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso

Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso is an award-winning queer Navajo filmmaker, and a recent fellow with the Firelight Media Documentary Filmmaker Lab. She started making films at the age of 9, through the Native youth media project Outta Your Backpack Media. At the age of 13 she made the award-winning fiction film In the Footsteps of Yellow Woman, based in the true story of her great-great-great grandmother Yellow Woman, who lived through the Navajo Long Walk of 1864-1868. The film was screened in over 90 film festivals internationally and won 11 awards. Ivey Camille continued to refine her filmmaking craft with a full scholarship to Idyllwild Arts Academy in California. She later returned home to work on films in her community of Navajo Nation, and at the age of 19 began work on Powerlands, her first feature.

Film: Powerlands

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Nora Twomey

Nora Twomey is an Academy Award®, BAFTA & Golden Globe nominated director, and Partner & Creative Director at Ireland’s award-winning Cartoon Saloon. She was co-director to Tomm Moore’s Academy Award® nominated The Secret of Kells while also guiding the development processes on a number of series including Emmy nominated Puffin Rock and Dorg Van Dango. Nora was Head of Story on the Academy Award-nominated Song of the Sea and producer on Wolfwalkers. She also directed the Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated The Breadwinner, and won several international awards including multiple Annies and the Audience & Jury Awards at Annecy. My Father’s Dragon is Nora’s third feature and second solo-directed film. She lives in Kilkenny with her husband, children, two cats and one fish.

Film: My Father’s Dragon

Sherrie Westin HS

Sherrie Rollins Westin

Sherrie Westin is President of Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street.  Westin leads the organization’s efforts to serve vulnerable children through mass media and targeted initiatives in the United States and around the world. She was named a “Leading Global Thinker” by Foreign Policy Magazine, one of Fast Company’s “100 Most Creative People in Business”, and was  recognized with the Smithsonian’s “American Ingenuity Award”, and the Thomas Jefferson Medal for Citizen Leadership. Westin is Chair of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, serves on the boards of directors of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, Communities in Schools, Vital Voices Global Partnership, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Panel: The Power of the Media, Storytelling, and the Muppets of Sesame Street

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Dani Izzie

Dani, the subject of the film Dani’s Twins, is a new mom, wife, communications professional and disability influencer. When Dani became a quadriplegic as a young adult in 2009, she didn’t have any insight into the lives of upwards of 20% of the US population living with a disability. Dani’s recovery entailed more than just medical journey—it involved a profound reset of her own disability biases. As she adapted to her situation and as her understanding of disability evolved, she came to embrace her new identity. Today she’s a disability culture advocate, who is informed, confident and proactive. Her chair and lifestyle are an extension of who she is: A badass, smart, creative person. Dani is sharing her personal journey to help others with disabilities who are considering or experiencing parenthood. As her platform grows, it will inspire people to rethink their preconceptions and gain a new understanding of what ability means.

Film: Dani’s Twins

Rudy Izzie HS

Rudy Izzie

Rudy Izzie, raised in Madison County, VA, is father to two beautiful twin babies and husband to a beautiful wife—Dani Izzie. Rudy is not only a subject of the film Dani’s Twins; he also received cinematography credits for Dani’s Twins for his work capturing his and Dani’s journey while the film crew was quarantined during Covid. Rudy works in digital sales. He has a passion for banjo picking and trail running, and a penchant for mint chocolate chip ice cream.

Film: Dani’s Twins