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T​he Virginia Film Festival announces its lineup for its upcoming 36th year, set for October 25-29. The Festival’s Opening Night Film is Maestro. Written, produced, and directed by Bradley Cooper, the film focuses on the relationship between Leonard Bernstein (Cooper) and his wife Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan). The VAFF will welcome makeup effects artist Kazu Hiro (Academy Award winner for Bombshell and The Darkest Hour) to receive the VAFF Craft Award alongside the screening.

The Festival’s Centerpiece Film is The Holdovers, directed by Alexander Payne, and featuring Paul Giamatti as a curmudgeonly New England prep schoolteacher who forms an unexpected bond with a wayward student. Academy Award-winning filmmaker Mark Johnson (Rain Man, Breaking Bad), the film’s producer and VAFF Advisory Board Chair, will be on hand for a post-film discussion and Q&A.

The Festival’s Closing Night Film is American Symphony, with Academy Award®-nominated, and Emmy Award-winning-filmmaker Matthew Heineman and recording artist Jon Batiste presenting in person. Grammy and Academy Award-winning composer, bandleader, and television personality Jon Batiste is tirelessly preparing his “American Symphony” when he and his longtime partner, “Emmy award-winning journalist and NYT bestselling author Suleika Jaouad learn that her rare form of leukemia has returned after ten years in remission. Heineman will receive the VAFF Directorial Achievement Award, and Batiste will briefly perform, following a post-screening discussion.

2023 Gala Screenings

Origin, with director, producer, and writer Ava DuVernay. By the Academy Award-nominated DuVernay (When They See Us, 13th, Selma), Origin explores the life and work of the author Isabelle Wilkerson and the events that inspired her to write the groundbreaking and bestselling book Caste. DuVernay will receive the VAFF Visionary Award.

American Fiction, with Emmy-winning director, producer, and writer Cord Jefferson (Succession, Watchmen). The film, starring Jeffrey Wright and fresh off winning the coveted People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, is an equally provocative and hilarious satire that skewers literary and Hollywood portrayals of Black culture. Jefferson will receive the VAFF Breakthrough Director Award.

Rustin, with Academy Award-winning producer Bruce Cohen (Silver Linings Playbook). Rustin stars Colman Domingo as Bayard Rustin, a key organizer of the historic 1963 March on Washington, whose progressive politics and homosexuality forced him into the background of the movement and its history.

Dream Scenario. Hapless family man Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage) finds his life turned upside down when millions of strangers suddenly start seeing him in their dreams. But when his nighttime appearances take a nightmarish turn, Paul is forced to navigate his newfound stardom, in this wickedly entertaining comedy from writer-director Kristoffer Borgli (Sick of Myself) and producer Ari Aster.

Other VAFF Gala Screenings include Todd Haynes’ May December, starring Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore; a special presentation of War Pony with writer Franklin Sioux Bob and directors and writers Gina Gammell and Riley Keough (Emmy-nominated actor, Daisy Jones and the Six); and Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project featuring a post-screening conversation with Nikki Giovanni, who will receive the VAFF Changemaker Award.

VAFF Spotlight Screenings include All of Us Strangers starring Paul Mescal and Andrew Scott; Eileen featuring Anne Hathaway; Fingernails with Riz Ahmed and Jessie Buckley, and two Sundance heavyweights: Audience Award winner The Persian Version, and The Disappearance of Shere Hite, with Academy Award-nominated director Nicole Newnham on hand to receive the VAFF Chronicler Award.

The Virginia Film Festival continues its tradition of presenting some of the most acclaimed international films on the festival circuit. Toplining this lineup are eight official 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.

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