A program of

Themes & Topics

Special Guest: Ethan Hawke

Four-time Academy Award® nominee Ethan Hawke will participate in a conversation with PBS Newshour’s Elizabeth Flock about his remarkable career, following a screening of the acclaimed Sidney Lumet film Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. Hawke has emerged as an acclaimed novelist, screenwriter, and director. Hawke’s longtime successful collaboration with Richard Linklater has included Boyhood, which earned Hawke Academy Award®, Golden Globe®, Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and BAFTA nominations as Best Supporting Actor. Their projects have also included Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight with Julie Delpy, the latter two scripts earning Hawke Academy Award® nominations for screenwriting. Hawke has starred in more than 60 films, including White Fang, Hamlet, Juliet Naked, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, and Training Day, which earned him another Academy Award® nod. Hawke’s directing credits also include his 2001 debut Chelsea Walls, Blaze, which premiered in 2018 at the Sundance Film Festival, and the documentary Seymour: An Introduction.

Supported by Quirk Hotel

Guest Artist Residency: Wanuri Kahiu

Acclaimed director Wanuri Kahiu will join the VAFF for a screening of her film Rafiki followed by a conversation on her career and creation of the Afrobubblegum Movement. In 2010, her science fiction short film Pumzi premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and went on to win best short film at Cannes Independent Film Festival and the silver at Carthage Film Festival (Tunisia). After the release and subsequent ban in 2018 in Kenya of her film Rafiki, a love story between two women, Kahiu took the Kenya Film Classification Board to court for violating her constitutional rights to Freedom of Expression as enshrined in the 2010 National Kenyan constitution. Rafiki meets the criteria of her Afrobubblegum Movement, which pledges to create films that feature at least two healthy Africans who are financially stable having fun and enjoying life. One of her upcoming films is Universal’s The Thing About Jellyfish, starring Millie Bobby Brown.

Race in America

The VAFF is proud to once again partner with James Madison’s Montpelier to present our Race in America series, featuring films dealing with a wide spectrum of issues that dominate, and in many ways define, our nation today. This year’s strong lineup includes our Opening Night Film, Just Mercy, and one of our Spotlight Films, Clemency, as well as: Always in Season – Jacqueline Olive’s documentary explores the lingering impact of more than a century of lynching on African Americans and connects this form of historic racial terrorism to racial violence today; Burning Cane – the extraordinary feature debut from 19-year-old director Phillip Youmans that focuses on faith, family, and violence among the cane fields of small-town Louisiana as an aging mother struggles between her religious convictions and the love of her son; Pahokee – in a small agricultural town in the Florida Everglades where hopes for the future are concentrated on the youth, the film follows four teens as they face heartbreak and celebrate the rituals of an extraordinary senior year; and We are the Radical Monarchs – the story of the founding and growth of the Radical Monarchs, an Oakland-based alternative to the Girl Scouts for young women of color (ages 8-13) at the front lines of social justice and allyship.

The Race in America series is presented by James Madison’s Montpelier and supported by Bama Works Fund at the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation, the UVA Office for Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights, and the UVA Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.


The festival will once again present a special series that focuses on LGBTQIA+ films. Changing the Game follows three high-school transgender athletes and the obstacles they face in trying to compete with their own gender; Gay Chorus Deep South documents the San Francisco Gay Men’s Choir’s tour through the South; To the Stars, a black and white film set in 1960’s Oklahoma about two young women and the friendship that they forge that changes both of their lives; Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts showcases Rupaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season Three winner Trixie Mattel, her rise to fame, and the loneliness that can accompany it; Queen of the Capital follows Muffy Blake Stephyns, goverment worker by day, activist drag queen by night; Portrait of a Lady on Fire, a French 18th-century story about a painter, the woman she is supposed to paint a portrait of, and the romance that blossoms between them; and Queer Love on Screen, a showcase of two episodes of television, both written by UVA alum Steven J. Kung, Dear White People and Falling for Angels, that focus on queer romance between people of color.

The LGBTQIA+ Focus series is presented by the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts  and supported by the UVA Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the UVA Office for Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights, and UVA Arts: supported by the Office of the Provost & the Vice Provost for the Arts.

UVA Center for Politics

The VAFF continues its longstanding partnership with the UVA Center for Politics with a screening of the documentary Dismantling Democracy, featuring special guest and Emmy®-winning actor Ann Dowd. The documentary examines what many see as the retreat of the democratic form of government over the past two decades, and the perplexing set of challenges faced by the United States and other democracies around the world. The Festival will also partner with the Center for Politics to show the landmark documentary Primary from Robert Drew that chronicled the 1960 Wisconsin primary between Democratic front runners John F. Kennedy and Hubert H. Humphrey and introduced groundbreaking hand-held camera work to the documentary form. The film will be followed by a conversation with ABC Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl, moderated by Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato. Finally, Kyle Kondik, the Center’s Director of Communications and the Managing Editor for Sabato’s Crystal Ball, will moderate a conversation following a screening of Barak Goodman and Chris Durrance’s gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon.

The Inn at Little Washington: A Delicious New Documentary

The Virginia Film Festival is proud to partner with VPM: Virginia’s home for Public Media to present The Inn at Little Washington: A Delicious New Documentary, a film by Emmy® and Peabody-winning production company Show of Force in association with VPM PBS and Washington, DC-based chef and Executive Producer Spike Mendelsohn. The film takes viewers inside what has long been considered one of the greatest dining experiences in America, with the quirkiest cast of characters imaginable. Audiences see both the front and back of house as “chef’s chef” Patrick O’Connell and his team celebrate 40 years in business while chasing the ultimate accolade…a third Michelin star. The Inn at Little Washington is slated to have its broadcast premiere in early 2020 on PBS. The screening will be followed by a discussion with Chef Patrick and director Mira Chang, moderated by PBS NewsHour correspondent Roben Farzad.

The Inn at Little Washington: A Delicious New Documentary is presented by VPM PBS

VAFF @ Common House

The VAFF will host a series of free panel discussions on Friday, October 25, at Common House that will feature industry experts on the following topics: Women and Work: A panel featuring women from the film industry on the question of how work, or the lack thereof, defines the female identity and impacts the female experience, and the noticeable prevalence of this theme in contemporary film narratives coming from women-filmmakers around the world; and VR Filmmaking: Mona Kasra, assistant professor of Digital Media Design in the UVA Department of Drama, will host a conversation about the present and future of the rapidly-evolving world of VR filmmaking with leaders in the field; A Critical Eye composed of leading journalists and film critics on the current state of the industry; Common House will also be home to our Virtual Reality Lab, open noon to 4:00 PM on Saturday, October 26, and Sunday, October 27. The Lab will feature a selection of 360 films from international VR creators on the latest head-mounted displays. The Lab will also host several interactive VR experiences, including Home with América, an interactive VR documentary that takes viewers through the story of an undocumented woman from Peru who has been in Los Angeles for 22 years, and Future Dreaming, in which viewers step into a time-warping dream bubble as four young Aboriginal Australians guide you through their futures.

The Virtual Reality Lab is presented by Capitol Interactive and Jefferson Technology

Middle Eastern & South Asian Film Series

Curated by UVA assistant professor of cinema Samhita Sunya, this sidebar of films is divided into two distinct series. Love Stories: Of Cities, Of Cinema features three films that explore love in all of its different forms. Films in this series are Tehran: City of Love, a tale of three downhearted individuals longing for love in Tehran, Iran; Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga/How I Felt When I Saw that Girl, a Bollywood first as a young Punjabi woman confronts the conundrum of her secret love for another woman in a place where both her family and culture call for a traditional marriage; and Parwareshgah / The Orphanage, in which 15-year-old Qodrat encounters  a hierarchy of bullies when he is sent to a Soviet orphanage, yet he and his friends there are able to find refuge in their shared love for Bollywood. The Family Trees: Roots and Routes series focuses on tradition and families of all kinds. The films in this series are Kelebekler/Butterflies, which follows siblings Cemal, Kenan, and Suzan as they discover their father has passed away and learn of his final wish—to be buried on the day of the year when the butterflies come to the village to die; Jaddoland, in which director Nadia Shihab returns to her home in Lubbock, Texas, to visit her mother, an artist from Iraq whose works focus on themes of familial history, longing, and displacement; and The Golden Harvest, director Alia Yunis’ “6,000-year-old love story” about the complicated relationship between the people of the Mediterranean and their olive trees.

The Middle Eastern and South Asian Film series is supported by the UVA Institute of the Humanities & Global Cultures and the UVA Department of Middle Eastern & South Asian Languages & Cultures.

Spotlight on Virginia Filmmaking

The Festival will once again shine a spotlight on an impressive collection of films that were made in Virginia or have roots in the Commonwealth, including: Afrikana Film Festival, a special program of films dedicated to showcasing cinematic works by people of color from around the world, with a special focus on the global Black narrative, presented by the Richmond-based festival; Fishing with Dynamite, director Paul Wagner’s documentary on how corporations, Wall Street, and their obsession with short term profits are negatively impacting the foundations of American capitalism; Best of Film at UVA, VCUarts Cinema | The Real and the Unreal, and Best of Film at Mason, each featuring a collection of short films made by the finest young filmmakers from the University of Virginia, George Mason University, and Virginia Commonwealth University; and Southern Journey (Revisited), a documentary that follows the route Alan Lomax traversed in 1959 to collect traditional American roots music and takes the pulse of a nation, surveying what has and has not changed since Lomax first made his trip. Other Virginia films include our Centerpiece Film Harriet; The Inn at Little Washington: A Delicious New Documentary; Queen of the Capital; and a short film showcase of work by UVA professor Kevin Everson.

The Spotlight on Virginia Filmmaking is presented by Virginia Film Office

International Films

This year, the VAFF continues its tradition of showcasing some of the finest films from around the world. These films include Atlantics (France), a supernatural tale set in Senegal where the mysterious disappearance of workers emigrating in search of a better life is followed by a strange fever beginning to spread (winner of the Grand Prix at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival); Parasite (Korea), mixes the street-smart Kim family with the wealthy Park family, as a symbiosis forms between the families in this 2019 Cannes Palme d’Or winner; Bacurau (Brazil), where a backcountry village in dire condition finds its very existence is being denied by the government, but the villagers stand their ground as sinister forces threaten ; Frankie (France), the story of a well-known movie star struggling with terminal illness and her own mortality who invites her extended family on a vacation to a picturesque village in Portugal; I Lost My Body (France), the animated journey of an amputated hand across Paris in a desperate attempt to reunite with its body; Pain and Glory (Spain), the latest film from legendary filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar portrays a director (Antonio Banderas) facing the decline of his career; The Song of Names (Hungary), centers on a young violin prodigy at the start of World War II who mysteriously vanishes without a trace before his debut performance; Synonyms (Israel), about an Israeli twenty-something who moves to Paris intending to rid himself of his nationality; and The Traitor (Italy), set in the early 1980s as a war rages between Sicilian mafia bosses over the heroin trade, gangster Tommaso Buscetta decides to betray the eternal vow he made to the Cosa Nostra. Other international films include Beanpole (Russia), Default (Korea), The Father (Bulgaria), Ghost Town Anthology (Canada), Grass (Korea), Oh Mercy! (France), Song Without a Name (Peru), The Wild Goose Lake (China).

This year’s Festival coincides with Global Week at UVA, which goes from October 19th to the 26th. Global Week is a pan-University celebration of international activities at UVA. Students, faculty, and staff engage in a variety of education abroad programs, research, collaboration, and service across the globe. All of these activities result in a knowledge exchange that enriches the community on Grounds and around the world. The week, which kicks off with CultureFest on Saturday, October 19th, features workshops, panels, and fairs about various global opportunities.

Global Week is supported by the Vice Provost of Global Affairs and is a part of International Education Week, an initiative by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education.

The Witching Hour

This year the Virginia Film Festival will present a series of three genre and horror films at Newcomb Hall Theatre. The series will feature Swallow, in which an upper-class woman discovers she’s pregnant and develops pica, a compulsion to consume foreign and dangerous objects; In Fabric, about a dress that aims to kill its wearers; and Deerskin, about a man so obsessed with his deerskin fringed jacket that they begin to communicate, and together form a plan to eliminate all other jackets by any means necessary.

Israeli and Jewish Film Series

The VAFF will present a Jewish and Israeli film sidebar programmed by Washington Jewish Film Festival director Ilya Tovbis. The series will include Dolce Fine Giornata, the story of a Jewish Polish Nobel Prize winner living with her family in Tuscany who, in the wake of a terrorist attack in Rome, refuses to succumb to the hysterical fear and anti-immigrant furor that follows, setting herself up for public and personal scorn; Fiddler: Miracle of Miracles, a documentary about the creation of the 1964 classic musical Fiddler on the Roof featuring interviews with Jerry Bock, Sheldon Marnick, Joseph Stein, the late Harold Prince, and musical theatre figures such as Stephen Sondheim and Lin-Manuel Miranda; The Humorist, a tale about a week in the life of a fictional Soviet stand-up comedian who is tormented by external oppression and censorship as well as by his own insecurities; The Song of Names, an emotional detective story spread over two continents and fifty years, starring Clive Owen and Tim Roth; The Spy Behind Home Plate, award-winning filmmaker Aviva Kempner’s true story about major league baseball player-turned-spy Moe Berg; and Synonyms, Nadiv Lapid’s story of a young Israeli man who absconds to Paris to flee his nationality, with the help of his trusty Franco-Hebrew dictionary.

Indigeneity in Mexico

Curated by indigenous filmmaker, UVA Assistant Professor of Studio Art, and VAFF Guest Programmer Federico Cuatlacuatl, this sidebar of documentaries features The Sower, set amongst the mountains of Chiapas in Mexico, the story of a rural multi-grade school teacher, Bartolomé, who dedicates himself to sowing the seeds of learning; the short Nichimal Son: Musica Que Florece, in which Evlia relocates to Zinacantán out of love for her husband and must adapt to the life of the Zinacantec women; Artemio, about a young boy born in America who struggles to make Mexico his home; and the experimental film Coapan En Espera, which documents immigrants’ memories of home.

The Indigeneity in Mexico series is supported by UVA Arts: supported by The Office of the Provost and the Vice Provost for the Arts