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

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

News & Press

Virginia Film Festival Announces 2023 Lineup

by JennyM on September 27, 2023

Highlights include American Fiction, American Symphony, Dream ScenarioThe Holdovers, Maestro, May December, Originand Rustin

Ava DuVernay, Jon Batiste, Matthew Heineman, Cord Jefferson, Riley Keough,
Acclaimed Poet Nikki Giovanni to Appear at the Festival

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA – September 26, 2023 – T​he Virginia Film Festival announces its lineup for its upcoming 36th year, set for October 25-29. The Festival’s Opening Night Film is Maestro. Written, produced, and directed by Bradley Cooper, the film focuses on the relationship between Leonard Bernstein (Cooper) and his wife Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan). The VAFF will welcome makeup effects artist Kazu Hiro (Academy Award winner for Bombshell and The Darkest Hour) to receive the VAFF Craft Award alongside the screening.

The Festival’s Centerpiece Film is The Holdovers, directed by Alexander Payne, and featuring Paul Giamatti as a curmudgeonly New England prep schoolteacher who forms an unexpected bond with a wayward student. Academy Award-winning filmmaker Mark Johnson (Rain Man, Breaking Bad), the film’s producer and VAFF Advisory Board Chair, will be on hand for a post-film discussion and Q&A.  

The Festival’s Closing Night Film is American Symphony, with Academy Award®-nominated, and six- Emmy Award-winning-filmmaker Matthew Heineman and recording artist Jon Batiste presenting in person. Grammy and Academy Award-winning composer, bandleader, and television personality Jon Batiste is tirelessly preparing his “American Symphony” when he and his longtime partner, Emmy award-winning journalist and NYT bestselling author Suleika Jaouad learn that her rare form of leukemia has returned after ten years in remission. Heineman will receive the VAFF Directorial Achievement Award, and Batiste will briefly perform, following a post-screening discussion. 

2023 Gala Screenings 
Origin, with director, producer, and writer Ava DuVernay. By the Academy Award-nominated DuVernay (When They See Us13thSelma), Origin explores the life and work of the author Isabelle Wilkerson and the events that inspired her to write the groundbreaking and bestselling book Caste. DuVernay will receive the VAFF Visionary Award

American Fiction, with Emmy-winning director, producer, and writer Cord Jefferson (SuccessionWatchmen). The film, starring Jeffrey Wright and fresh off winning the coveted People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, is an equally provocative and hilarious satire that skewers literary and Hollywood portrayals of Black culture. Jefferson will receive the VAFF Breakthrough Director Award.

Rustin, with Academy Award-winning producer Bruce Cohen (Silver Linings Playbook)Rustin stars Colman Domingo as Bayard Rustin, a key organizer of the historic 1963 March on Washington, whose progressive politics and homosexuality forced him into the background of the movement and its history.

Dream Scenario. Hapless family man Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage) finds his life turned upside down when millions of strangers suddenly start seeing him in their dreams. But when his nighttime appearances take a nightmarish turn, Paul is forced to navigate his newfound stardom, in this wickedly entertaining comedy from writer-director Kristoffer Borgli (Sick of Myself) and producer Ari Aster.

Other VAFF Gala Screenings include Todd Haynes’ May December, starring Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore; a special presentation of War Pony with writer Franklin Sioux Bob and directors and writers Gina Gammell and Riley Keough (Emmy-nominated actor, Daisy Jones and the Six); and Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project featuring a post-screening conversation with Nikki Giovanni, who will receive the VAFF Changemaker Award

VAFF Spotlight Screenings include All of Us Strangers starring Paul Mescal and Andrew Scott; Eileen featuring Anne Hathaway; Fingernails with Riz Ahmed and Jessie Buckley, and two Sundance heavyweights: Audience Award winner The Persian Version, and The Disappearance of Shere Hite, with Academy Award-nominated director Nicole Newnham on hand to receive the VAFF Chronicler Award.

The Virginia Film Festival continues its tradition of presenting some of the most acclaimed international films on the festival circuit. Toplining this lineup are eight official International Oscar Selections: 20 Days in Mariupol (Ukraine); About Dry Grasses (Turkey); Fallen Leaves (Finland); Four Daughters (Tunisia); Perfect Days (Japan); The Settlers (Chile); The Taste of Things (France); The Teachers’ Lounge (Germany); and Tótem (Mexico)

The full 2023 VAFF program will be available on Thursday, September 28. Tickets will go on sale at noon on Friday, October 6 at virginiafilmfestival.org

“I am very excited to share one of the strongest and deepest programs in our history with our audiences this year,” said VAFF Director and UVA Vice Provost for the Arts Jody Kielbasa. “I think the VAFF is a bellwether for the arts here in Charlottesville, and we look forward to continuing on the success of last year, when we saw a greater-than-expected return to theatres, and for even more people to share the communal experience of film and the stories that are told from our stages.”

“2023 has turned out to be a banner year for independent, international, and studio film,” said VAFF Senior Programmer Ilya Tovbis. “The exceptional lineup of films and guests that define the Virginia Film Festival this year are a testament to the vibrant state of the artform today. Audiences in Charlottesville and across Virginia truly have an embarrassment of riches to choose from when setting their personal schedules.”

Additional program highlights include 

  • Café Daughter: Inspired by actual events, Café Daughter tells the story of a nine-year-old, half-Chinese, half-Cree girl as she struggles to find her place in a small Saskatchewan community in the 1960s. Discussion with director and producer Shelley Niro.
  • The Gilded Age: Season 2 Sneak Preview: A sneak peek of the first episode of season 2 of HBO’s hit historical drama. From the creators of Downton Abbey, The Gilded Age follows a wide-eyed young scion of a conservative family as she embarks on a mission to infiltrate the wealthy neighboring clan.Discussion with director and executive producer Michael Engler and production designer Bob Shaw.
  • The Mission: Directors Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine’s documentary chronicles the life of John Chau, an evangelist who repeatedly attempted to contact an isolated tribal nation, only to be killed by the tribe’s members.
  • No Ordinary Campaign: ALS patient Brian Wallach and his wife Sandra Abrevaya build a wildly successful national movement to push through healthcare reform in Washington DC. Followed by a panel discussion and Q&A. 
  • OnBoard: Director Deborah Riley Draper’s documentary offers an insightful narrative about the ascent of Black women on American corporate boards, showcasing the determination and actions of a group of courageous women who united in 2020 to drive progress in board diversity. Discussion with executive producer Shannon Nash.
  • The Space Race: Directors Lisa Cortés and Diego Hurtado de Mendoza’s documentary dives into the untold experiences of the inaugural Black pilots, scientists, and engineers of NASA, utilizing decades’ worth of archived film footage and interviews to provide a reflective take on the challenges associated with the process of breaking social and scientific barriers. Discussion with executive producer and film subject Leland Melvin.
  • Sometime, Somewhere (World Premiere): Ricardo Preve’s black-and-white documentary explores the unique journeys and shared struggles of Latino immigrants in Charlottesville, Virginia against the backdrop of changing perceptions due to 9/11 and the 2021 Capitol assault. Discussion with director and producer Ricardo Preve, who will receive the VAFF’s Gerald L. Baliles Founder’s Award.

Black Excellence – Presented by United Way of Greater Charlottesville.
This series grew out of VAFF’s commitment to both expand and be more inclusive in its efforts to not only tell stories about challenges along racial boundaries, but also to celebrate, investigate, and deepen our understanding of how integral African-American culture and history has been, and continues to be, to American history. 

From Page to Screen

This series highlights films based on novels, bringing words to life on the big screen. 

Indigenous Cinema of the Americas 
This series spotlights the work of Indigenous American filmmakers and provides a platform for discussion around the complex issues facing this population today. The series is curated by VAFF guest programmer Adriana Greci Green

Jewish and Israeli 

Cinema exploring Jewish culture and Israeli lives, culture, and history.

Korean Cinema – Supported by UVA Korea Society and Korean Cultural Institute – Washington, D.C.
This series is curated by VAFF guest programmer Hyeyon Moon


Referring to a diversity of experiences of “Latino-ness,” this series spotlights documentary and drama films directed by, and or featuring Latinx/a/o/e community members.

The VAFF is proud to once again feature a slate of films that represent the LGBTQIA+ experience from a variety of perspectives.

Middle Eastern and South Asian Cinema – Presented by Virginia Commission for the Arts, which receives support from the Virginia General Assembly and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.  This selection of films features stories that take place in Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, and Iran. This series is curated by VAFF guest programmer Samhita Sunya

Music on Film

The VAFF presents a selection of films prominently featuring music, bands, and musicians.

Nature & Environment – Presented by Southern Environmental Law Center. 
This series features a wide-ranging selection of films focused on critical and timely environmental issues. 

Shorts Programs
The 2023 VAFF program includes 7 curated short-form film programs. 

Virginia Filmmaking – Presented by Virginia Film Office.
This series shines a spotlight on films that were made in Virginia or have roots in the Commonwealth. 

Women in Film 

A series of exceptional films by and about women.  

Panels at The CODE Building – Presented by Violet Crown Cinema

The VAFF will host a trio of panel discussions on Saturday, October 28 at the Irving Theatre in the CODE Building on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall. The panels are free and open to the public and will include:

The Last of Us – Production Masterclass

VAFF Board Member Janet Graham Borba—Executive Vice President of Production at HBO and MAX—leads a Master Class in physical production, using the first season of The Last of Us as a case study. The conversation touches on preparing, shooting, and finishing the hit show, with clips and behind the scenes information adding critical context and insider insights. 

Beyond the Headlines: The WGA

Interested in getting a deeper understanding of the Writer’s Guild of America? Learn about the WGA’s origins, its central role in Hollywood film production, and the core issues that motivated the strike from WGA and VAFF Board members John Lee Hancock (The Blind SideMidnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), Jai Jamison (Superman & Lois), and Steven J. Kung (Dear White PeopleFresh off the Boat, A Leading Man).

Making It – Film Industry Career Panel

Three early mid-career filmmakers with very different paths to success in the film industry share their personal journeys, along the way giving insight into what a modern career in the entertainment business looks like. Panelists include writer Nayna Agrawal (Disney’s Encanto), Julia Pontecorvo (Going Varsity in Mariachi), development associate Rebe Malaret (Boardwalk Pictures, previously ARRAY), and Scot Safon (VAFF Board).


Tickets will go on sale to the public at Noon on Friday, October 6 online at virginiafilmfestival.org; in-person at the UVA Arts Box Office; and by phone at 434-924-3376. Beginning October 23, tickets will also be available at VAFF’s Downtown Box Office in the lobby of Violet Crown. For complete information regarding the 2023 Festival, visit virginiafilmfestival.org.

Festival Sponsors
The 2023 Virginia Film Festival is presented by The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation. The 2023 Virginia Film Festival is also generously supported by the following Premiere Sponsors: AV Company, Bank of America, Harvest Moon Catering, Quirk Hotel Charlottesville, Southern Environmental Law Center, UVA Arts, Violet Crown Cinema, and Virginia Film Office (VFO). 

The VAFF’s 2023 Opening Night Film is presented by Bank of America. 

The Virginia Film Festival is also supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Press materials and images are available at virginiafilmfestival.org/news-press.