If you’re an avid moviegoer, you might have noticed that fall is a fantastic time for cinema. Gone are the space explosions and atomic earthquakes of summer you claimed to attend for the relief of air conditioning, and in are the films that lure you with superb acting, stunning cinematography, a script that lingers in your mind, or all that and then some. While theaters now boast their fair share of wonderful films, one of the biggest perks of fall for film lovers is the abundance of film festivals, with some of very best taking place right here in Virginia.
Virginia’s film industry has been growing steadily over the past few decades, with film and television projects such as AMC’s TURN: Washington’s Spies, Meg Ryan’s Ithaca, and PBS’ upcoming television series Mercy Street basing their productions in Virginia, and the film community has flourished. With new festivals joining the fun each year, whatever type of film it is you’re looking to see, odds are there’s a festival for that.
The draw of a good film on a chilly day tends to be a pull all its own, but attend one of the festivals on this list and you’ll find yourself nestled in some of Virginia’s loveliest locations – the Blue Ridge Mountains, the horse country of Middleburg, Richmond’s historic Museum District, the cozy streets of Harrisonburg, a town built for fall; the locations list rivals what’s featured on film. So, grab a buddy, a jacket, and a warm beverage and take the scenic route to some of Virginia’s best celebrations of the wonderful world of film.
One of the first festivals you won’t want to miss on the list is the Middleburg Film Festival, October 22-25. Centered around the gorgeous, world-renowned Salamander Resort and Spa in Middleburg, Virginia, this festival is skyrocketing in the level of quality of film and talent it attracts. No doubt drawn in large part by the beauty of Middleburg, a historic town with English aesthetic charm and a sprawling countryside peppered with grazing cattle and horses, this third year festival has already brought critically acclaimed films such as The Clouds of Sils Maria, The Imitation Game, Timbuktu, Muscle Shoals, and Nebraska. This year, the lineup promises to keep you smiling, laughing, and crying all weekend, and as the Oscar contenders roll out later this year, sweetly telling your friends, “I already saw that.”
Ithaca, filmed in Petersburg, Virginia, will premier at Middleburg Film Festival.
Next up is a festival for all the Halloween lovers. One of the fastest-growing horror festivals, the Virginia Independent Film Horror Film Fest, October 29 – November 1, plants itself in gorgeous Winchester, and lets the horror fans flock to it like b-movie zombies. Noting that they are confident attendees will be “a-quiver with fear and delight”, this festival boasts the best in horror from across the globe, as well as a showcase on homegrown horror from Virginia filmmakers. Nine feature films, a handful of delightful shorts, and a midnight showing of a horror classic make this festival a necessary destination for anyone who wants to get the full Halloween experience. Folks who scare themselves silly can take a breather in surrounding idyllic Winchester and then hop right back in the holiday horror.
A favorite across the country, the Virginia Film Festival, November 5-8, has been bringing some of the most talented, renowned and fascinating films and public figures to gorgeous Charlottesville for twenty years against the backdrop of the brilliantly painted Blue Ridge Mountains. The festival has behind it the academic power of the University of Virginia, the self-proclaimed crowning-achievement of founder Thomas Jefferson, making it an irresistible mix of Hollywood star power, intellectual debate and picturesque mountain scenery. The festival has hosted the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Oliver Stone, Sandra Bullock, Sidney Poitier, Sigourney Weaver, Mia Wasikowska, Ashley Judd, Julian Bond, and many more. The downtown mall, a popular pedestrian street in the heart of Charlottesville, works as the main hub for the festival, and offers attendees the chance to roam through cozy coffee shops and award-winning restaurants in between screenings.
Virginia Film Festival 2014 by Jack Looney.
A relative newcomer to the list, the Greater Washington Immigration Film Festival, October 22-25, is in its second year. The festival is one of the few in the country devoted to films about immigration: roughly a dozen carefully selected films over three days showcase the immigrant experience, their contributions to their adopted American home, and stories of their countries of origin, while connecting newcomers with neighborhoods in their communities. Offering a wonderful line-up of films you might otherwise not be able to catch, the festival finds itself showing thought-provoking content on a particularly relevant subject this year. Despite the increasing attention the festival has garnered, admission remains inexpensive and many venues are donated spaces, adding to the eclectic and illuminating experience.
James River Shorts, November 20, is a central part of the James River Film Society’s yearly offerings, bringing you to the heart of the historic Richmond Museum District to watch independent films often looked over in the mainstream film conversation. For those in the mood for a quick fest that gives them access to short projects they’ll likely not see anywhere else and renowned guests from the independent film world, this celebration of the art of filmmaking is the perfect fit. Screening at the regal Virginia Museum of Fine Art, this festival offers the chance for a perfect day of independent film screenings and a free spin around this world-class museum, against the backdrop of one of Richmond’s most walk-able neighborhoods.
The Alexandria Film Festival, November 5-8, is a special event this year, as the opening night feature is episode one of Virginia-filmed PBS TV series Mercy Street, which will not officially air until January 16. This festival offers attendees the chance to take in gorgeous Old Town Alexandria, and spot some of the buildings that inspired the Civil War era Mercy Street, including beautiful Carlyle House. Skipping back a hundred years prior, you can tour cozy churches attended by George Washington, watering holes frequented by Thomas Jefferson, and walk in our forefathers’ footsteps on cobbled streets. You can also visit the boutique shops that line the streets or discuss the day’s films at a restaurant looking out on the Potomac.
About the Author:
Margaret Finucane is the staff assistant for the Virginia Film Office, wants to explore every swimming hole and lake in Virginia, write like Mindy Kaling but a little different so she doesn’t get all mad, and pet every dog on earth.