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Snapshots from the 2017 Middleburg Film Festival


'Mudbound' takes home this year's Audience Award

Director Dee Rees' “Mudbound,” a film about American injustice set in Jim Crow Mississippi, claimed the Audience Award at this year's festival.

Film-goers select the Audience Award each year by ballot.

“We want to congratulate Dee Rees on her remarkable film," said Middleburg Film Festival Executive Director Susan Koch in a prepared statement. “With 'Mudbound,' Dee Rees has firmly established herself as one of the most talented and important directors working in film and television today – and we look forward to presenting many more of her films in the future.”

“We are grateful to all of our sponsors, distributors, filmmakers, special guests, volunteers, and the local Middleburg community who helped make this year’s film festival possible,” said Middleburg Film Festival Founder Sheila C. Johnson, whose Salamander Resort serves as the host site for the event. “With their support, we have been able to share many of the year’s best films accompanied by thought-provoking conversations.”


From right, "Battle of the Sexes" directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris speak with a Washington Post writer about the film, which screened Sunday at the Middleburg Film Festival. Times-Mirror/Trevor Baratko

Sunday afternoon at the Hill School

Two films featuring powerful women who have secured their place in history screened at Middleburg's Hill School on the festival's final day -- the widely known “Battle of the Sexes,” starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell, and “Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold,” a documentary on the compelling life of writer Joan Didion.

“Battle of the Sexes,” in theaters now, recaps the famed 1973 tennis match between tennis star Billie Jean King and former tennis star, huckster and self-proclaimed chauvinist Bobby Riggs.

The Didion documentary, a Netflix original, recounted the highs and lows of the writer's life and career, which has spanned more than a half century.


Distinguished Composer honor goes to Nicholas Britell

Nicholas Britell was honored with this year's Distinguished Film Composer Award at the Middleburg Film Festival. The Shenandoah University Conservatory of music performed Britell compositions during a concert Saturday. Britell's scores include “Twelve Years A Slave,” “The Big Short” and Moonlight,” among others. Times-Mirror/Trevor Baratko

Composer Nicholas Britell, who was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score in 2016 for “Moonlight,” was presented the Distinguished Composer Award at this year's Middleburg Film Festival. “Moonlight” screened in Middleburg last year, and “Battle of the Sexes,” which Britell scored, is playing at this year's festival.



Dee Rees claims the 2017 Visionary Award
By Trevor Baratko, Times-Mirror Managing Editor
Oct. 21, 2:32 p.m.

Director Dee Rees was honored Saturday with the 2017 Visionary Award at the Middleburg Film Festival. Rees' “Mudbound” is among the most acclaimed films at this year's installation.

The 40-year-old writer and director engaged in an intimate conversation this morning at Salamander Resort, the event's host site.

“I was joking that there would be a fireside chat. I didn't know there would literally be a fireside chat,” Rees said, referencing the cozy, fireplace setting in Salamander's library.

“Mudbound,” which screened Friday and runs again Saturday night, is a drama set in post-World War II, Jim Crow-era Mississippi. Rising Delta floodwaters and simmering racial tensions greet a pair of returning fellow veterans—one white and one black—as they navigate a quagmire of social codes in an unforgiving landscape. “The film powerfully depicts the ongoing struggle to extricate American society from a legacy of injustice,” according to festival organizers.

Speaking of the film and its contemporary relevance, Rees urged Americans to not turn away from the often harrowing past and present of racial tension and violence in America – a sentiment that particularly struck a chord in Middleburg, located just 90 miles north of Charlottesville, where white supremacists have marched with torches and sparked deadly protests in recent months.

"We can't not look ... we have to look at the body," Rees said.

"As a country, we have to keep looking. We can't look away. Because we keep looking away -- that's how we end up where we are now."

Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday noted the so-called “elephant in the room,” the sexual assault allegations against famed Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

“This is just kind of one person,” Rees said. “I think it's probably more rampant than this. This is just the one person that has recently been outed. It just requires an investigation of the whole industry of how business is done. It's not surprising, just in the same way that 'Mudbound' is an investigation of who we are as a country. This is not new – this is who we are. It's not past tense. This is who we've always been. The tablecloth is just being pulled back.”

Rees said she hopes the allegations against Weinstein convince people to believe women when they talk about sexual assault and not dismiss their stories.

Rees' first feature film, 2011's “Pariah,” received critical acclaim at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

"Mudbound" director and writer Dee Rees speaks with Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday Oct. 21 at the 2017 Middleburg Film Festival. Times-Mirror/Trevor Baratko





Opening night with "Darkest Hour"
By Chantalle Edmunds, Times-Mirror Staff Writer
Oct. 20, 12:50 p.m.

From left, "Darkest Hour" producer Lisa Bruce, screenwriter Anthony McCarten and actor Ben Mendelsohn at Salamander Resort. Times-Mirror/Chantalle Edmunds

The fifth annual Middleburg Film Festival is underway after kicking-off with “Darkest Hour” screening Thursday night.

Joe Wright's World War II drama, which depicts the month of Winston Churchill's appointment to prime minister of the United Kingdom and his subsequent decision not to seek a peace treaty with Adolf Hitler, played to a sold-out crowd at Middleburg's Salamander Resort.

Local businesswoman Sheila Johnson founded the film festival and Salamander Resort.

Actor Gary Oldman, who portrays Churchill in the film, is widely expected to nominated for an Academy Award for his performance.

Oldman's co-star, Ben Mendelsohn, who plays King George VI in the film, attended opening night and took part in a question-and-answer session afterward.

Mendelsohn, an Australian native, has starred in critically acclaimed films such as “Killing Them Softly” and “Place Beyond the Pines” along with blockbusters like “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Rogue One.” In 2016 Mendelsohn won an Outstanding Supporting Actor Emmy for his role as Danny Rayburn in Netflix's “Bloodline.”

Mendelsohn spoke about listening to newsreels in preparation for his role as George VI and how his portrayal was different from other actors, like Colin Firth, who have played the king in the past.

“Darkest Hour” screenwriter Anthony McCarten and producer Lisa Bruce also fielded questions from the audience after the screening.

McCarten spoke about Churchill's mastery of the English language and how his ability to weigh the merits of two opposing arguments before making a decision made him a great leader.

The film contained a mixture of historical fact and dramatic license, McCarten said. He referenced a scene in the movie where Churchill travels on a London underground train and lets the views of ordinary citizens influence his decision not to enter into a peace treaty with Hitler. McCarten joked, saying essentially we don't know that occurrence didn't happen.

Festival-goers were treated to a 1950s-themed party after the show.

“I'm very honored to be invited. I have a suite as big as a football field here,” McCarten, who is staying at Salamander Resort, told the Times-Mirror. “I would like to come back every year. I'll place that in Shelia's hands, though."

Middleburg Film Festival and Salamander Resort founder Sheila Johnson speaks after the "Darkest Hour" viewing Thursday night. Times-Mirror/Trevor Baratko


Select Middleburg Film Festival guests enjoyed an opening night garden party at Salamander Resort. Boxwood Winery, Greenhill Winery, Oceano Wines and Mt. Defiance Cidery and Distillery were pouring beverages. Times-Mirror/Trevor Baratko


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