America’s civil rights movement is the focus of several documentary films that will be screened at the 2015 Virginia Film Festival, while festival director Jody Kielbasa is pleased to host “change agents” among the event’s speakers and panelists.
Kielbasa spoke to the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner on September 29, after announcing this year’s festival program at the Jefferson Theater. The 28th Virginia Film Festival will take place over the weekend of November 5-8.
This year’s documentaries make up “a really interesting mix,” Kielbasa said, ranging from Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot, presented in partnership with the UVA Center for Politics, to “films that are made by film makers here, like Monroe Hill,” which looks at local Charlottesville history, and Polyfaces, a documentary about Virginia farmer-activist Joel Salatin, “made by two Australian film makers – go figure!”
“The fascinating thing about the documentaries that we screen,” Kielbasa added, “are the opportunities to engage with the local populace on topics and subject matter that really resonate and are important to this community.”
Civil rights chronicle
Another film with a civil-rights theme is Stanley Nelson’s recent release, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution.
“When you look at the work that [Nelson has] done,” Kielbasa explained, including films like “Freedom Riders and then last year’s Freedom Summer and now The Black Panthers,” one can see how Nelson has been “chronicling the history of the civil rights movement in our country. It’s extraordinary to be able to screen these films.”
The Virginia Film Festival will also screen Bound: Africans versus African Americans, directed by Kenyan-born Peres Owino, and Aviva Kempner’s Rosenwald, which will be presented as a tribute to civil-rights leader and former University of Virginia professor Julian Bond, who died this summer. Director Kempner, poet Rita Dove, and Bond’s widow, Pamela Horowitz, will speak on a panel following the film’s screening.
“We lost Julian Bond this past year,” Kielbasa noted, “and we have a film that focuses on his having gone through one of Julius Rosenwald’s schools as a young man [and] the impact that that had on his life.”
The film also includes figures like Washington Post editor Eugene Robinson and other individuals who were educated in Rosenwald schools “and the impact that that’s had on their lives,” he added.
“To me,” he said, “that’s really significant.”
In addition to these documentary films, the Virginia Film Festival will include screenings of The Maltese Falcon and D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, curated by special guest Leonard Maltin. There will also be appearances by actress/director Meg Ryan, director Oliver Stone, and novelist/playwright Larry Kramer.
Kielbasa described Kramer as one of the “change agents” whose appearances on the Virginia Film Festival stage make the festival nearly unique.
Kramer, he said, is “a gentleman who started screaming at the top of his lungs in the early 80s when nobody would pay attention to the AIDS crisis. He wrote this phenomenal play [The Normal Heart] that suddenly made it, somehow, almost acceptable to care and accessible to an audience out there. Suddenly the dynamic began to change, entirely through his kind of activism, his ‘angry man’ kind of activism – but at that point somebody had to get the attention of our country and the world. And he was responsible for a lot of that.”
Kielbasa also pointed out how both the quality and quantity of films made in the Commonwealth or by Virginia film makers have improved over the past six years that he has been the festival’s director.
He said “the number of high quality films that are coming to us all the time that were made here or made by Virginians is extraordinary.”
Featuring over 100 films, the 2015 Virginia Film Festival will include screenings at several new venues, including the Violet Crown cinemas on the downtown mall and the former Vinegar Hill theater. Tickets go on sale through the film festival’s web site on Friday, October 2.