The Virginia Film Festival has announced the lineup for its 36th year, which will take place in Charlottesville from Oct. 25-29. Netflix’s Maestro — written, produced and directed by and starring Bradley Cooper as legendary composer Leonard Bernstein — will be the festival’s opening night film. Makeup effects artist Kazu Hiro, a two-time Academy Award winner for Bombshell and Darkest Hour, will receive the VAFF Craft Award at the screening.
The festival’s centerpiece film will be Focus Features’ The Holdovers, directed by Alexander Payne and starring Paul Giamatti, Da’Vine Joy Randolph and newcomer Dominic Sessa. Giamatti stars as a curmudgeonly teacher at a New England prep school who forms an unexpected bond with one of his unruly students (Sessa) during Christmas break. The film’s Academy Award-winning producer Mark Johnson (Rain Man), also the VAFF’s advisory board chair, will appear for a post-screening discussion.
Netflix’s American Symphony, directed by Oscar nominee and six-time Emmy winner Matthew Heineman, will close out the festival. Centered on five-time Grammy-winning composer and Late Show with Stephen Colbert bandleader Jon Batiste, the film depicts Batiste as he experiences the greatest success of his career all while he and his partner, journalist Suleika Jaouad, learn that her rare form of leukemia has returned after 10 years of remission. Heineman will receive the VAFF Directorial Achievement Award at the screening, while Batiste will perform following the screening and a post-film discussion.
The festival’s gala screenings include Neon’s Origin, with Oscar-nominated writer-producer-director Ava DuVernay in attendance; and MGM/Orion’s American Fiction, winner of the 2023 TIFF Audience Award, with Emmy-winning writer-producer-director Cord Jefferson on hand to receive the VAFF Breakthrough Director Award.
Emmy nominee Riley Keough will also appear at the festival to support War Pony, her directorial debut; co-director Giana Gammell and writer Franklin Sioux Bob will also attend the gala screening. Acclaimed poet Nikki Giovanni will receive the VAFF Changemaker Award following the gala screening of the documentary Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project.
Other gala screenings include Kristoffer Borgli’s Dream Scenario, starring Nicolas Cage; Todd Haynes’ May December, starring Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore; and George C. Wolfe’s Rustin, starring Colman Domingo. Spotlight screenings include Andrew Haigh’s All of Us Strangers, starring Paul Mescal and Andrew Scott; TK’s Fingernails, starring Riz Ahmed and Jesse Buckley; and Sundance Audience Award winner The Persian Version, written and directed by Maryam Keshavarz. Oscar nominee Nicole Newnham (Crip Camp) will receive the VAFF Chronicler Award for her latest feature The Disappearance of Shere Hite, also a spotlight screening.
The festival’s lineup also includes eight 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.