Virginia Film Festival

“It's not given to people to judge what's right or wrong. People have eternally been mistaken and will be mistaken, and in nothing more than in what they consider right and wrong.”

~ Leo Tolstoy

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story by Russell Leary, Humanities Program Coordinator


The Russian authors of the 19th century gifted the world some of the most beautiful and profound literature ever composed. Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn—each of these mercurial Russian authors composed enduring works that pierce the human soul. Professor Andrew Kaufman at the University of Virginia has been sharing this gift with his students at the University of Virginia, as well as inmates at the correctional facilities in the area, through the program “Books Behind Bars.”

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Local filmmaker Chris Farina, director of award winning film World Peace and other 4th grade achievements, felt that the world needed to know about the powerful impact this program is having on students and prison residents alike, leading to the creation of his latest work, Seats at the Table. The film captures the experiences of Dr. Kaufman’s Slavic Literature course as they engage the residents of the correctional facility in discussing life’s most profound questions.

On Friday, in conjunction with the Virginia Film Festival, Chris Farina visited the Miller School of Albemarle to discuss his film with students. Current and future members of the Humanities Program were able to get a private screening of the documentary followed by a candid conversation with Mr. Farina. Over the course of the hour spent together, students had the unique opportunity to hear directly from a visionary artist regarding the creative process of directing, the challenges inherent in staying true to self, and the lessons humanity can learn from connecting with others.

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Mr. Farina shared his deep conviction that the power of this film comes in showing genuine connection between two segments of society that might never otherwise interact. Through scenes of powerful dialogue, the film indeed reminds us that prison inmates are human beings—each with fears, passions, dreams, and above all else regrets.

It is perhaps Tolstoy himself who said it best:

“Every man bears within him the germs of every human quality, and now manifests one, now another, and frequently is quite unlike himself, while still remaining the same man.”

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Tolstoy, as well as Farina, emphasized the maxim that the world is not black and white, a war between good and evil, but instead full of nuance and internal conflict. Mr. Farina charged each of them to look past the labels placed on others, especially those placed “criminals,” and instead to attempt to know the heart of everyone they meet.

The film will be screened this weekend at the Virginia Film Festival. Mr. Farina hopes that it will lead to reform in how criminals are viewed, treated, and educated in America’s prison system. He also hopes that all people will be struck by the power of literature.

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