Since its inception in 2013, the Middleburg Film Festival has become a major fixture on the crowded festival circuit, offering four days of films in Northern Virginia’s historic wine country, one hour from Washington, D.C. The festival will run Oct. 15-18 with most films screening virtually while a select number of films will be programmed as outdoor and drive-in screenings. This eighth edition, a hybrid version of in-person and virtual screenings, conversations and events, follows in the footsteps of numerous other recent fests that have also had to reinvent themselves and radically reshape crowd logistics in order to deal with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Despite the pandemic, MFF promises a carefully curated selection of narrative and documentary films, followed by Q&As with world-renowned filmmakers and actors. Variety editors Clayton Davis and Jazz Tangcay will return to host their popular Coffee and Contenders discussion with the Film Experience’s Nathaniel Rogers. A stellar slate of diverse films includes Oscar contenders, acclaimed festival favorites, foreign films and regional premieres.
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Launching the fest is the widely celebrated “Nomadland,” Searchlight Pictures’ winner of the Venice Golden Lion Award as well as the TIFF People’s Choice Award — and the first film ever to receive both. Directed by Chloé Zhao (“The Rider”), it stars Frances McDormand in her first role since winning the Academy Award for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Screening in the Centerpiece slot is Lee Isaac Chung’s critically acclaimed family drama “Minari,” the A24 and Plan B Sundance hit that won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award. “Concrete Cowboy,” from first time feature director Ricky Staub, and starring Idris Elba in a father-son drama set in North Philadelphia’s Black cowboy community, is the Friday Spotlight film. And Regina King’s feature directorial debut, Amazon Studios’ “One Night in Miami,” is the Saturday Spotlight film. It’s a fictional account of one night in 1964 where icons of sports, music and activism — Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) — gather to celebrate underdog Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) defeating heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. Other notable titles include the upcoming Apple TV Plus original animated film “Wolfwalkers” from two-time Oscar-nommed director Tomm Moore (“Song of the Sea,” “The Secret of Kells”) and director Ross Stewart (“The Secret of Kells”); “I Am Greta,” Hulu’s doc about the teenage climate activist; another timely doc, IFC’s “MLK/FBI”; and Brit comedy/fantasy “Blithe Spirit,” a reboot of the Noel Coward classic co-starring Judi Dench.
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In-Person and Virtual Tributes
Legendary icon Sophia Loren, star of Netflix’s upcoming “The Life Ahead,” will receive MFF’s Legacy Tribute Award and Aaron Sorkin (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”) will receive the Screenwriter Award. Other honorees include Zhao (“Nomadland”), the Agnes Varda Trailblazing Filmmaker Award; George C. Wolfe (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”), the Director Spotlight Award; the cast of “Minari,” the Ensemble Cast Spotlight Award; and Kris Bowers (“Respect,” “Green Book”), the Distinguished Composer Award. Bowers will perform selections from his scores in a virtual tribute concert from L.A.’s Capitol Records.