Virginia Film Festival brings Oscar contenders to Charlottesville

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Virginia Film Festival (Part 1)

Don’t worry if you missed the Middleburg Film Festival and Washington West Film Festival.

The Virginia Film Festival returns to Charlottesville this Wednesday through Sunday.

“We’ll be screening over 85 films in that five-day period on the downtown mall in Charlottesville and on the grounds of the University of Virginia,” Festival Director Jody Kielbasa told WTOP. “We have an incredible lineup of some very well-known, hotly-anticipated titles that are coming out for the fall season and are likely to be talked about for the Academy Awards.”

The lineup kicks off opening night with Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch.”

“I love this movie and I love Wes Anderson as a filmmaker,” Kielbasa said. “He always assembles some of the most extraordinary casts. You’re look at people like Bill Murray, Timothée Chalamet, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson and Benicio Del Toro. Just an extraordinary lineup of some of the very finest actors in Hollywood and a true joy to watch.”

You can also see Kenneth Branagh’s coming-of-age film “Belfast.”

“This film won the Toronto International Film Festival Audience Favorite … so it’s got the seal of approval,” Kielbasa said. “It’s a really great film and this will be a real crowd pleaser.”

You also don’t want to miss Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog.”

“This is a really powerful and compelling western that takes place in the 1920s,” Kielbasa said. “It stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst. I don’t want to give away the plot, but it’s not what you think when you sit down to see it. Jane Campion is a powerful filmmaker and it’s a really powerful and very compelling film.”

Speaking of westerns, you can see “The Harder They Fall.”

“A revisionist western and really cool to chronicle the Black experience in the west, which is not often seen, with an incredible cast of Idris Elba, Regina King and Jonathan Majors,” Kielbasa said. “This is two rival gangs pitted against each other. A very fun and different look at a western.”

You can also see Kristen Stewart in the Princess Diana biopic “Spencer.”

“A look at Princess Diana and the weekend she spent coming to the decision about the divorce,” Kielbasa said. “A lot of Oscar buzz for Kristen Stewart for her remarkable portrayal as Diana.”

You’ll also see Martha Plimpton to screen “Mass.”

“Martha Plimpton is coming in; we’re doing a Martha Plimpton tribute,” Kielbasa said. “This is a very difficult and powerful subject: two families that get together. One, their child is unfortunately the victim of a school shooting, and the mother [and father] of the perpetrator comes together for a talk. You can imagine how challenging and difficult that subject matter is.”

You’ll also have TV creator Danny Strong of “Dopesick.”

“A good deal of ‘Dopesick’ was shot on location in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Kielbasa said. “We have the showrunner and creator Danny Strong on hand, along with the author of ‘Dopesick,’ Beth Macy, for a discussion after we screen an episode of it. We’re thrilled to be able to welcome them. … This is going to be a fascinating discussion about the opioid crisis in our country.”

It all builds to the closing night screening of “C’mon C’mon.”

“It’s a very sweet and tender film and an interesting film for Joaquin Phoenix, very different for his relationship with his nephew whose father is undergoing some difficulties,” Kielbasa said. “He steps in for his sister and takes over caring for the boy over a period. … The changes they both undergo in this relationship is really quite extraordinary. It’s a nice way to close the festival.”

Last year, the festival was largely virtual with two drive-in movie locations. This year, all screenings require masks, while the Paramount Theatre requires both masks and proof of vaccination.

“We are offering one of our drive-in locations again this year at the historic Morven Farms,” Kielbasa said. “It’s a stunning location with a mountain backdrop on a beautiful, historic farm. … We’re closing out at Morven Farms with an anniversary screening of ‘The Addams Family,’ since it is Oct. 31 that evening if someone wants … to do something in the spirits of the season.”

He insists it’s a great weekend road trip if you’re heading down from the D.C. area.

“It’s going to be getting close to peak fall season,” Kielbasa said. “It’s a beautiful town surrounded by the mountains. … The pleasure of sitting in the historic Paramount Theatre to see our big gala screenings is really wonderful. It was built in 1931 and is a lovingly restored movie palace.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Virginia Film Festival (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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