Every November, the small college town of Charlottesville welcomes a wide array of talented actors, producers, writers, and directors at the Virginia Film Festival. During this wonderful event, there are about 120 films to check out. 2014 has been a particularly great year for the festival, which wraps up tonight. Headliners included Barry Levinson, the cast of “Big Stone Gap,” Frank Langella (“Frost/Nixon”), Katie Couric, writer and director Victor Levin and more. There are some milestones worth noting, such as the 75th anniversary of “The Wizard of Oz,” the 25th for “Dead Poets Society,” and the 100th anniversary of Charlie Chaplin to name a few.
Advantages of a Smaller Film Festival
Sadly, the small time frame of the festival means you can’t be in two places at once and you probably can’t hit up every event that you want to attend. Nonetheless, you’re always in for a fantastic experience, given the advantages that a smaller festival offers in contrast to the crush of something as large as say, Tribeca. You can line up right when the doors open for a show and still make the front row, which furnishes you with the perfect vantage point for photo taking during the panel discussions. Kudos to Charlottesville for generally having orderly attendees!
The panel discussions this year have been top notch, with NYU film critic and professor Harry Chotiner at the helm of the larger screenings such as “Big Stone Gap” and “5 to 7.” Questions have been insightful and probing, but also generated a lot of laughs, as in the cases of Jasmine Guy, Adriana Trigiani, and Frank Langella. Harry Chotiner balanced the sessions well with his questions, but he left plenty of time for audience members to chime in with their own inquiries. On top of that, these screenings are reasonably priced, with “5 to 7” at about $9.00 and “Big Stone Gap” at the upper end of $25.00. “Big Stone Gap” sold out in five minutes during the online ticket sale, but luckily a limited number of tickets were released days before for last minute hopefuls (myself included).
The Future of the VFF?
The Virginia Film Festival seems to be getting bigger with every passing year, an achievement largely due to the hard work of the festival’s director, Jody Kielbasa. Kielbasa is also the Vice Provost for the Arts at the University of Virginia, which has devoted a lot of energy and funds to promoting the arts in the community. In saying that the VFF is “bigger,” I don’t mean strictly that the elite of Hollywood are gracing Downtown Charlottesville with their presence. Certainly, we attract big names in the industry like Patrick Wilson, Frank Langella, and Barry Levinson. Rather, we see top quality independent productions which happen to have those types of actors and directors. Such independent films are smart, heartwarming, and insightful: endeavors that deserve to reach the heights of the box office through small town initiatives and word-of-mouth in social media.
I believe the VFF has set a great course for future years, as it promotes current and future talent. Governor Terry McAuliffe emphasized on opening night that Virginia is a power player in relation to L.A. and N.Y., which is increasingly seeing film productions being created in other parts of the country. Because of that, I think that the VFF can bring in more overseas projects. For instance, Robert Carlyle’s directorial debut, “The Legend of Barney Thomson,” is slated to come out next year through Myriad Pictures and would be a stellar addition to the lineup.
The Best Part?
You may have guessed the best part of the Virginia Film Festival from the visual hints I’ve dropped throughout this post. If you know where to look, it’s rather easy to run across an actor, writer, or a director at the festival and speak to him/her in person, without too much interference from an entourage. Of course, being a volunteer at the events can be helpful (to yourself and the community), but isn’t always the key to getting “an in.” Actually, in most cases, there is no entourage to contend with. It’s a relaxed, fun, and safe environment for everyone.
At the “Frost/Nixon” screening, I managed to get the last front row seat prior to Langella’s discussion panel with Watergate researcher Ken Hughes. I’d asked a gentleman if the seat next to him was taken and it was not. After the talk, I got up for a few words with Mr. Langella. Unbeknownst to me, that entire session I had been sitting next to the former co-executive producer of “Man Men,” Victor Levin. It made for an interesting conversation after the “5 to 7” screening later that evening, where I also ran into Frank Langella again.
2014 has been an amazing year for the Virginia Film Festival. Watch out for 2015 and be sure to come out for the excitement!