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EDITORIAL: Inheritance at the Middleburg Film Festival

Each October we come to a seemingly perfect part of Virginia to better understand our existence. Embraced by the grace, charm and beauty of Middleburg, life is revealed in the context of an imperfect world.

Racism. Hatred. Sexism. Abuse. Violence. Bad behavior. Coming of age. Dark hours. Final days. Retribution and redemption.

The themes of this year’s movies at the Middleburg Film Festival were provocative, sometimes disturbing. Yet somehow the films of Middleburg managed to impart humanity into life that at this moment feels absurd.

One of those films is “Mudbound,” which won the audience choice award at this year’s festival. Set in Mississippi during and after World War II, “Mudbound” follows two returning veterans—one white and one black—as they navigate a quagmire of social codes in the unforgiving landscape of Jim Crow. The film powerfully depicts the ongoing struggle to extricate American society from a legacy of injustice.

Current events -- whether on the grounds of the Loudoun County Courthouse or more violently in Charlottesville -- come to mind. “Mudbound” director Dee Rees was asked about the film’s current relevance during an interview following a Middleburg screening.

“I hope that people take away the fact that we can’t begin to tackle our collective history until we interrogate our own personal histories,” she said. “It’s not just about race, it’s about what ideas we’ve inherited, what attitudes we’ve inherited, and what we’re unconsciously passing on.”

What to inherit?

That’s a question we should ask in the current consideration of symbols from our history.

The answer can be found by examining and confronting our own personal histories.

“Each of our lives is a single thread, and we’re all weaving the same thing,” Rees said, speaking to the tattered racial tapestry that “Mudbound” illuminates. “We’re all connected to what happened before. We’re not separate from our past. We’re all actors in the present––we are not passively watching it. We’re all actors in what we’re creating.”

Whether they are based on fact or are merely an artistic impression of universal truths, movies have a way of exposing the complex dimensions of our humanity.

For four days in October each year -- this year was the fifth -- the Middleburg Film Festival asks us to consider our place in the world. The festival gives voice to humanity. We inherit the stories it brings us.


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