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Film Festival Wrap-Up: Virginia Is for "Loving"

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Charlottesville’s golden, leaf-strewn and walkable downtown mall hummed with people of all ages over the weekend. Plenty of film geeks, mostly dressed in black, strolled around with badges around their necks.

The 29th annual Virginia Film Festival had big-name guests, more than 150 movies and the potential to grow into a event the likes of the Telluride Film Festival. But for now it retains its small-town charm.

Where else can you see Danny McBride and Colin Firth at the Bluegrass Grill for breakfast, where nobody bothers them or starts a Twitter-stalking campaign? That’s because this festival is less of an industry free-for-all and the focus remains solely on the work. The tiny political signs around town calling for smart “mindful growth” are a reminder that maybe we should appreciate this while it lasts.

The public premiere of “Loving” goes down on a rainy Thursday night in the packed Paramount Theater. What’s most notable isn’t Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s funny introduction, or the roundtable featuring producer and actor Firth and director Jeff Nichols, or the few dry eyes after the moving, powerful story of an interracial couple that changed marriage in Virginia.

Rather it was nearly 20 members of the gloriously diverse Loving family in attendance, cheering — though at least one grandchild later tells media outlets that the depiction of Mildred Loving should be not black but Native American, as it reads on her marriage certificate.

Nichols says he was nervous about the reactions of Virginians who would catch such details as accents and local scenery.

“You can’t grow up in the South and not be confronted by issues of race,” he says, noting that his family’s from a small Arkansas town. “The thing people forget about segregation, we still depended on each other to survive. That always reminded me of the complexity of the South that I saw very much represented in this story.”

The director of the Virginia Film Office, Andy Edmunds, praises the transformative nature of the film and tells Style he’s looking forward to June 12, which will mark the 50th anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia decision by the Supreme Court.

The governor has declared June 12 to be Loving Day, and Edmunds says a major televised event is in the works for Capitol Square that he hopes will go global — pencil in the proposed event date, June 10.

“Think Love Aid instead of Live Aid,” Edmunds says. June 12 also will be the first anniversary of the Orlando, Florida, shooting massacre, he adds: “My hope is by having a big event with high-profile guests, we can hijack the news cycle that day ... so it’s a day about love instead of hate.”

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