Pioneer Preview: The Virginia Film Festival

There are over 150 films screening in Charlottesville this weekend. What should you see that you don’t already know about?

The Virginia Film Festival is one of those parts of Charlottesville that students tend to take for granted. This year, it’s VAFF’s thirtieth anniversary– otherwise known as the thirtieth year a world-class film festival has been held by a small university town in the mid-South. It’s also the eighth year the film festival has been run by Jody Kielbasa, U.Va.’s Vice Provost for the Arts, who has expanded the selection of films to include more experimental and international works while continuing to break records for attendance.

There are over one hundred and fifty films this year. Now, in the real world, film festivals of this quality are very expensive and very far away. But it’s Charlottesville. So you could say this weekend is gonna be pretty awesome.

Disclaimer: I’m biased. I’ve volunteered for the Virginia Film Festival since I was in tenth grade. Two years ago I got to meet Katie Couric. So, yeah, pretty awesome.

This year’s festival is based around a discussion of race in America, and features special guests including Spike Lee and Ezra Edelman, as well as William Macy, your favorite and least favorite character from the hit T.V. show Shameless. There’s movies you have seen, like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, movies you should have seen, like Harold and Maude, and short films made by and about Charlottesvillians, like The Ruination of Lovell Coleman. And coming new this year is a screening from the Afrikana Film Festival, a showcase of the best films from the second year of a festival that got its start in Richmond.

On Saturday, Lee will present his film 4 Little Girls, which focuses on the 1963 Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, and I Can’t Breathe, a short film about the police brutality that caused the death of Eric Garner in 2014. Shameless’s William Macy will present his new film Krystal, a comedy about a sheltered man developing a crush on a stripper. Margot Lee Shutterly, U.V.a. alumna author of Hidden Figures, will lead a discussion of the Oscar-nominated film on Sunday. And O.J.: Made in America director Ezra Edelman will also lead an audience conversation after the screening of the final part on Saturday.

With an ever expanding diversity of films and filmmakers, there’s always too much to see. Here’s a short list of the best films you’ve never heard of. If you’re looking to leave behind dreary November for a few hours, consider escaping at the VAFF.

Pro tip: the films are often free or discounted for students if you reserve your ticket ahead of time at the U.V.a. Box Office.



Tonsler Park

1 pm at Violet Crown A

U.V.a.’s very own cinematography professor Kevin Everson documents November 8th, 2016, for the working-class African Americans in Charlottesville as they head to the polls. We all know the rest of this story.


3 pm at PVCC Dickinson Center

Watch hours of unseen National Geographic footage of chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall in the 1960s, who became  a leader of conservation and animal protection issues.


6 pm at St. Anne’s-Belfield

Breath is the story of a friendship between Australian pro-surfer, Sando, and two teenage boys, who are introduced to the thrill of waves and living in the moment in this coming of age film.

Rebels on Pointe 

9 pm at Violet Crown A

This is the story of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, an all-male drag ballet troupe that has been performing since the 1970’s. It needs no more introduction.



1:30 pm at Violet Crown A

The Ruination of Lovell Coleman

Lovell Coleman is a Charlottesville-based 93-year-old fiddle player. This documentary uses footage from his performances and animation to follow Coleman’s remarkable life.


8:45 pm at Violet Crown A

Haven’t had enough Halloween? Good, me neither. This film just won a cinematography award at the Tribeca Film Festival. It also, in the words of VAFF’s website, is “the story of pagan villagers raging against bitter winter, werewolves, the plague, and evil spirits.”

A Fantastic Woman

9:30 pm at Culbreth Theater

This Chilean drama is the story of an aspiring singer facing the tragic death of the man she loved while discovering how to be herself as a trans woman.  

The Road Movie

10 pm at Vinegar Hill

An unsettling, funny, and incredibly unique film about daily life in Russia– a story told only through compiled footage of dash cams.


Tom of Finland

2:30 pm at Newcomb Hall

This film tells the true story of a WWII solider who returns home to Finland only to be disillusioned with the postwar climate of oppressive homophobia. He finds a new passion in art and today is lauded as an early gay rights activist.

Call Me by Your Name (2017)

 7:30 pm at The Paramount Theater

Escape the dreary November weather and travel to the Italian coast during a 1980s Summer in this romantic coming of age story. Following Elio, a 17-year old boy and his father’s spontaneous American intern, Call Me by Your Name is the story of an unlikely friendship that turns into first love.


8:30 pm at St. Anne’s-Belfield School

Enter the intimate relationships between two families on a rural Mississippi cotton farm plagued by the effects of World War II in the Jim Crow South. Challenging social hierarchies and relationships, this drama is a must-see that will leave you contemplating  issues still present today.

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