For the last seven years, audiences have flocked to the Middleburg Film Festival. Running October 17th – 21st, and situated in the wine-country hills of historic Middleburg, Virg., the festival usually highlights some of the year’s buzziest titles, and 2019 is no exception.
“We’re a smaller festival with fewer overall screenings than other events, so we really have to think hard about our selections,” says MFF Executive Director Susan Koch. MFF is also a unique festival in that it’s exclusively run by women. “One of our signature events is our Women in Film luncheon,” she says, “which is a terrific networking event and extremely important as a tool for allowing women to have their voices and opinions heard.”
Programming director Connie White was responsible for whittling down a schedule of 34 films the festival should highlight. MFF’s opening night selection is “Marriage Story,” while the closing night will screen “The Irishman” – both from Netflix, and both arriving with serious accolades. The Friday spotlight selections are “Harriet” and “Waves,” and the Saturday night centerpiece is “Ford V. Ferrari.” Other titles include “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” “Clemency,” “A Hidden Life,” “The Report,” “Knives Out,” “The King,” “Varda by Agnes,” and the U.S. Premiere of “This Is Not A Movie.”
“I’m very excited about this year’s lineup,” says MFF founder and chair, Sheila Johnson. “I’m especially looking forward to seeing how our filmgoers respond to “Harriet,” which was filmed here in Virginia and tells the inspiring story of freedom fighter, Harriet Tubman, who repeatedly risked her own life to free countless slaves via the Underground Railroad.”
Johnson has extra reason for anticipation over this year’s crop of films – she helped to produce one. “I became involved in the documentary ‘Willie’ through my role as one of two African American NHL owners,” she says. “My partner, Ted Leonsis, and producer Bryant McBride, reached out to me about supporting the film and coming on board as an executive producer. Willie O’Ree is the Jackie Robinson of hockey and I am honored to play a part in highlighting his inspiring story of breaking the NHL color barrier.”
MFF is celebrating some tremendous talent with their yearly awards presentations. Acclaimed writer-director Noah Baumbach (“Marriage Story,” “The Squid and the Whale”) is receiving the Spotlight Director Award, Oscar-nominated DP Rodrigo Prieto (“The Irishman,” “Brokeback Mountain”) will be given the Distinguished Cinematographer Award, and Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Anthony McCarten (“The Two Popes,” “The Darkest Hour”) is being given the Distinguished Screenwriter Award.
“There’s something miraculous about ‘Two Popes’ as it started as a stage play,” McCarten says. “I then pitched it and Netflix said let’s make it. And then when [director] Fernando Meirelles joined the team, it became very real. The intention was to make something relevant and cinematic, and the message of the film is to listen to each other and find an honest middle ground.”
“Music, film, art, and dance – they all help you find your way in life,” says six-time Grammy Award-winning trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard (“Harriet,” “BlacKkKlansman”), who will be bestowed with the Distinguished Composer Award.
Blanchard’s emotionally rousing scores have become synonymous with films that seek to find answers to some of society’s toughest questions. “’Harriet’ is very intense and very important, especially for the times we’re currently living in. It’s a profound movie about an African-American heroine that’s been long overdue for the big-screen,” says Blanchard, who won’t be travelling alone. “His quintet, E Collective, along with a 35-piece orchestra, will be performing selections of his scores,” says Johnson.
The festival will also honor two women filmmakers – “Atlantics” director Mati Diop and “Harriet” director Kasi Lemmons – with the Agnes Varda Trailblazing Filmmaker Award, presented at the Festival’s Women in Film Luncheon on Friday.
The allure of Hollywood has always enticed the denizens of the nation’s capital city, and these days, entertainment, politics, and art are being intermixed more than ever before. “There’s always been this attraction between Hollywood and Washington DC, so we enjoy merging the two worlds,” says Koch.