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

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

Beyond the Screen: A Conversation on “GIVING VOICE”


Giving Voice. Young actors attending the August Wilson Monologue Competition in New York, NY. c. Jonathon Narducci

Join the Virginia Film Festival for a virtual conversation on the new Netflix documentary Giving Voice, featuring the film’s director/producers Fernando Villena and James D. Stern, moderated by Artistic Director of Heritage Theatre Festival and Associate Professor in the UVA Department of Drama, Jenny Wales. The conversation is free, open to the public, and will be hosted on the VAFF’s YouTube channel beginning at 10:00 AM on Friday, December 11. 

This event is part of the Virginia Film Festival’s Beyond the Screen: A Virtual Conversation Series. All discussions in the series are free, open to the public, and available on the VAFF’s YouTube channel. Pre-registration is required to attend any livestreamed Zoom conversations. Related films are available to rent or purchase through various streaming platforms prior to the scheduled discussion. For more information on how to pre-register for each virtual conversation and where to stream each filmvisit virginiafilmfestival.org/year-round-events.

More about the film: 

A new generation of performers is discovered in Giving Voice, which follows the emotional journey of six students as they advance through the high-stakes August Wilson Monologue Competition, an event which celebrates one of America’s preeminent playwrights. Every year, thousands of students from twelve cities across the United States perform the Pulitzer Prize winner’s work (Fences, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) for a shot to perform on Broadway. Directors Jim Stern and Fernando Villena capture students discovering themselves and the world around them through Wilson’s Century Cycle, a canon of ten plays portraying the 20th century African American experience. Executive producer Viola Davis, along with Fences co-star Denzel Washington, share the impact that Wilson’s timeless artistry and legacy has had on their careers and their hopes for the young people carrying it forward. Giving Voice is an Endgame Entertainment and Pilgrim Media Group Production in association with Endeavor Content, Impact Partners, Get Lifted Film Co and JuVee Productions.

Available to stream on Netflix beginning Friday, December 11.

More about the participants:

FERNANDO VILLENA, DIRECTOR/PRODUCER: Giving Voice is Fernando Villena’s second feature as a director. A native of Miami, Villena likes to say that his editing career began when he was fifteen, as he and his friends were watching his Scarface VHS every day after school. One day, using two VCR decks, he took out all the “boring” parts and re-edited Scarface into 45 minutes of violence and awesomeness. It was love at first sight. After graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Florida State University, Villena moved to New York and began “cutting everything he could get his hands on”, from commercials and music videos to documentaries and feature films, eventually relocating to Los Angeles. Along the way, Villena worked with a wide range of notable directors including Francis Lawrence, Michel Gondry, Marc Webb, Davis Guggenheim, and Chai Vasarhelyi. His editing credits include The Darkest Hour (2011), Gamer (2009) and Crank: High Voltage (2009). After 18 years working as an editor, Villena made his directorial debut with the 2019 film, Any One of Us.

JAMES D. STERN, DIRECTOR/PRODUCER: Giving Voice is James Stern’s seventh documentary that he has directed. He directed The Oscar shortlisted doc, Every Little Step for Sony Classics, as well as his most recent film America Chaos. Additionally, Stern directed Sport in America: Our Defining Stories for HBO, the IMAX film, MJ to the Max, The Year of the Yao for New Line and …So Goes the Nation for IFC. Stern founded Endgame Entertainment as an independent film company specializing in development and production and has produced more than 35 films, over 20 Broadway shows, and various other entertainment properties. Among the many films Stern has produced, are Rian Johnson’s international hit LOOPER starring Bruce Willis and Joe Gordon-Levitt, Lone Scherfig’s An Education, which earned three Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Best Actress (Carey Mulligan), Steven Soderbergh’s acclaimed Side Effects, and Todd Haynes’ I’m Not Here for which Cate Blanchett won a Golden Globe Award and was an Academy Award nominee; and Oliver Stone’s SnowdenStern is currently producing Mike Cahill’s new film, Bliss starring Owen Wilson and Salma Hayek for Amazon Studios. He also produced Fox Searchlight’s The Old Man and the Gun directed by David Lowery starring Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek and Casey Affleck, as well as the Netflix hit, Murder Mystery starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. Other notable Endgame movies of Stern’s include Charlie McDowell’s The Discovery starring Robert Redford, Jason Segel and Rooney Mara and Come Sunday, directed by Joshua Marston and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rian Johnson’s The Brothers Bloom; Hotel Rowanda, nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Actor (Don Cheadle). Additionally, Stern is a two-time Tony Award-winning producer (The Producers, Hairspray).

JENNY WALES, MODERATOR: Jenny Wales is in her third season as the Artistic Director of the Heritage Theatre Festival and serves as Associate Professor of the Practice in the Department of Drama, a University appointment reserved for distinguished professionals who have been recognized for contributions to their field. Prior to returning to Charlottesville and her alma mater, Wales served as the Associate Producer and Director of Education and Outreach at PlayMakers Repertory Company, the professional theatre in residence at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.  Wales’ wide range of roles included producing six mainstage and three second stage productions each year, acting as the company’s casting director, leader successful major grant applications, participating in creative marketing efforts, and continuing to develop and expand PlayMakers’ award-winning education programs.  Wales taught undergraduate and graduate workshops and seminars in the Department of Drama while at the University of North Carolina, in addition to guest lecturing in departments including Political Science, African, African American and Diaspora Studies, Communication Studies, Geology, and Psychology and Neuroscience.  Wales has also performed as an actor in New York City and across the country.  She is the recipient of the Lincoln City Fellowship from the Speranza Foundation and she served the Public Arts Commission for the Town of Chapel Hill.  Wales received an M.F.A. in Acting from the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and he BA in Drama from the University of Virginia. 



Friday, December 11


10:00 AM


Virtual Discussion