Virginia Film Festival brings creative giants Ava DuVernay and Jon Batiste to Charlottesville

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

Are you a movie fan? Are you looking for a nice fall getaway? Just head to Charlottesville, Virginia!

The 36th edition of the Virginia Film Festival returns this Wednesday through Sunday with screenings at the historic Paramount Theater, as well as other venues around town.

“We’re very excited about the lineup,” senior programmer Ilya Tovbis told WTOP. “The Virginia Film Festival happens in Charlottesville, Virginia, which is a little over two hours drive, or you can take Amtrak in from the D.C. or DMV area. It’s a beautiful setting — the fall leaves are at their peak, you’re right in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s just a very idyllic town to have a festival of this sort. Most of the venues are within really brief walking distance.”

The lineup kicks off Wednesday with “Maestro,” including a Q&A with makeup effects artist Kazu Hiro.

“This is one of the big fall titles,” Tovbis said. “If you’re getting ready to fill out your Oscar ballots, you definitely want to see this. If you’re a Bradley Cooper fan, you want to see this. If you’re a Carey Mulligan fan, you want to see this. If you’re a fan of great music in the tradition of Leonard Bernstein, you want to see this, because this is the story of his life and his love story with Felicia Montealegre, who was the mother of his children.”

Thursday returns to the Paramount Theater for “American Fiction,” which recently won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with filmmaker Cord Jefferson.

“This is a hilarious film that is deeply entertaining and will have you rolling in the aisles, while at the same time taking on very serious subject matter,” Tovbis said. “It takes on the book ‘Erasure’ and centers on Jeffrey Wright as a professor who is an author deemed ‘not Black enough.’ … One night in the peak of frustration, he takes every possible ugly stereotype about minority culture, stuffs it into a manuscript. … and Hollywood comes calling.”

Friday brings the U.S. premiere of “Origin” with a Q&A with filmmaker Ava DuVernay (“Selma,” “13th”).

“This is a huge deal,” Tovbis said. “She has outdone herself here. I think this film will be talked about as her crowning career achievement. It takes on Isabel Wilkerson’s book ‘Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,’ which looks at the preconceptions that lead to racism … and links together the caste system of India, the early Nazi laws that led to the Shoah and the Holocaust with American racism from Jim Crow laws all the way to modern day.”

Saturday will honor poet Nikki Giovanni with an award, while screening the new documentary “Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project,” which won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. That screening is followed by Alexander Payne’s new film “The Holdovers,” including a Q&A with producer Mark Johnson.

“(‘The Holdovers’) sees him re-team with Paul Giamatti, who plays this curmudgeonly professor who has to stay during the winter break with some students whose parents did not pick them up at a boarding school,” Tovbis said. “He is not particularly beloved by the students or his fellow teachers, and through the course of this vacation, he has to sort of win them over and they have to win him over — almost like an updated ‘Dead Poets Society.”

It all culminates Sunday with the Jon Batiste music documentary “American Symphony,” followed by a Q&A with Oscar-nominated director Matthew Heineman (“Cartel Land”) and a special live concert by Batiste.

“It began as somewhat of a typical concert film … as he was looking to put together one of the crowning achievements of his career, looking to pull on all the different sounds that make up America: African-American sounds, jazz, Native American music,” Tovbis said. “During the course of this ambitious project, he had a near tragedy: his wife had a recurrence of leukemia … and the film takes on a much more personal dimension.”

Find more information here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the 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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