MFF 2019 Willie O'Ree

Willie O'Ree, the first black man to play in the National Hockey League, walks on stage to a standing ovation after a Saturday morning screening of the documentary "Willie."

Coverage: "Middleburg Film Festival wraps up with thought-provoking conversation, tribute concert and Scorsese's 'The Irishman'"

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Middleburg a star on film fest weekend

Virginia Rushing at Middleburg Film Festival

Culpeper resident Virginia Rushing, left, poses on Washington Street during the Middleburg Film Festival weekend with family members. The women attend the event each October.

Virginia Rushing of Culpeper said she looks forward to the Middleburg Film Festival each October as a place to gather and catch up with her family.

“The highlight is us all getting together, and the catalyst is the film festival. We tend to choose movies that are thought-provoking – not too risque because we're with our parents,” Rushing told the Times-Mirror Sunday following a screening of “The Aeronauts,” which stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, the star duo from critically acclaimed “The Theory of Everything.”

Rushing says her family (well, the women – “We leave the husbands and kids at home,” she says with a laugh) typically takes in four films each year, two on Saturday and two on Sunday.

Among the films they caught this year were the Fred Rogers biopic “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” and “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.”

“It's been a great experience,” Rushing said, adding that they usually try to pick films of varying genres and those that spark a dialogue. “You walk out of there thinking about things that you didn't think about when you walked in the room. It's a highlight to have that conversation.”

For Dee Miller, a McLean resident who said she was taking in her fifth Middleburg Film Festival, the festival is something that's always circled on the calendar.

“It's just something so unique in the Washington area. There are always movies you can't see in the theaters,” Miller told the Times-Mirror. “I plan around it.”

Miller said she enjoyed the Sunday morning Q&A with screenwriter Anthony McCarten, who was honored as the 2019 Middleburg Film Festival Distinguished Screenwriter, before heading to three movies and savoring a dinner in Middleburg.

Film festival founder Sheila Johnson, a Middleburg resident and the founder of Salamander Resort, has said part of the reason she launched the event was to show off Middleburg. In that endeavor, she's clearly succeeded.

“We feel fortunate to have Middleburg so close in general – even without the film festival,” Rushing said. “The area is beautiful.”

-Trevor Baratko

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Blanchard honored as Distinguished Film Composer

Terence Blanchard and Sheila Johnson

Film composer Terence Blanchard receives the Distinguished Film Composer honor from Middleburg Film Festival Founder Sheila Johnson at Johnson's Salamander Resort and Spa in Middleburg Oct. 20.

Grammy Award-winning jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard, a frequent composer for Spike Lee’s films, was honored with the Middleburg Film Festival’s Distinguished Film Composer award during a soulful concert at Salamander Resort Sunday.

Among Blanchard’s most noteworthy scores are from “Eve’s Bayou,” “Malcolm X” and “BlacKkKlansman.” He also composed for the upcoming Harriet Tubman biopic “Harriet,” the director of which, Kasi Lemmons, was on hand for Sunday’s performance.

Film festival founder Sheila Johnson, a classically trained violinist, said composers and songwriters are the “unsung heroes” of film.

“The musicians put the heart and the soul into the art of storytelling,” Johnson said. “ … Music can really change the complexion of the film.”

Joining Blanchard for the concert was his E-Collective band the D.C. Pops Orchestra.

Previous musicians honored at the Middleburg Film Festival include songwriter Diane Warren (songs "Turn Back Time," "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," "How Do I Live") and composer Nicholas Britell (films "Moonlight," "The Big Short," "12 Years a Slave").

-Trevor Baratko

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Friday and Saturday highlights

"Waves" cast

From left, “Waves” writer and director Trey Edward Shults and starts Sterling K. Brown, Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Taylor Russell share a light moment while reminiscing about their bonding experience on set. "Waves" traces the emotional journey of an affluent African-American family living in suburban south Florida, led by a well-intentioned but domineering father Ronald Williams (Brown) as they navigate love, forgiveness and coming together in the aftermath of a devastating tragedy.

Visitors to the Middleburg Film Festival were treated to quite the lineup of events and engagements as the festivities continued Friday and Saturday.

Met with a particularly warm welcome was "Waves" star and two-time Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown, who joined writer-director Trey Edward Shults and co-stars Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Taylor Russell for a post-screening question-and-answer session Friday evening at Salamander Resort and Spa.

Scheduled for official release next month, "Waves" follows a hard-working African-American family that is forced to confront and rethink their household dynamic after enduring a harrowing tragedy.

"It's about the highs and lows of life and love and everything in between," Shults said. He and the cast are often cryptic when asked what the film is about, as it takes numerous twists and turns beyond its initial portrait of family life.

"Don't leave halfway through the movie," Brown said with a smirk before showtime, alluding to the film's unexpected tonal shifts.

Harrison and Russell, who play teenage siblings Tyler and Emily, credited the authenticity of the film and their performances to Shults' relational directing style and deeply thoughtful script.

"I was so fascinated by the relationship between a brother and a sister, and how you in so many ways are the biggest protectors of each other," Russell said. "We fight a lot — we also love so much."

Audience members were able to meet and take photos with the guest panelists afterward.

Kasi Lemmons, director and co-writer of Friday Spotlight film "Harriet," sat down with Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday for an in-depth conversation about her new movie, which chronicles the efforts of trailblazing abolitionist Harriet Tubman, as well as Lemmons' shift from actress to filmmaker.

Though her feature directorial debut, 1997's "Eve's Bayou," received high acclaim and has been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry, Lemmons — part of the mere 1 percent of Hollywood directors that are women of color — had to fight to be considered to direct projects for many years.

"First they went to all the white men, then they went to all the white women, then they went to all the black men, then they went to all the Indian women, then we had a meeting," she said, describing what it took for her to eventually be approached to direct her third feature film, 2007's "Talk to Me."

Still, she is optimistic about the current and future demand for voices like hers.

"I think it's starting to be kind of cool. People are looking for, finally, women filmmakers and filmmakers of color," she said.

Later in the morning, The Hill School played host to special guest Willie O'Ree, the subject of documentary presentation "Willie," on which MFF founder Sheila Johnson served as co-executive producer.

MFF 2019 Willie O'Ree

Willie O'Ree, the first black man to play in the National Hockey League, walks on stage to a standing ovation after a Saturday morning screening of the documentary "Willie."

An African-Canadian, O'Ree became the first Black player in the National Hockey League when he joined the Boston Bruins in 1958. He became an inspiration and advocate for generations of young hockey players, particularly those of minority status. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last year.

After a mid-morning screening of "Willie," O'Ree received a standing ovation as he approached the stage, where he was joined by director Laurence Mathieu-Leger and several others involved with the film for a Q&A.

"In doing some research ... I found out about all the incredible things about you and how you changed the game and opened so many doors for people," Mathieu-Leger said to her subject. "We wanted to tell Willie's story right now because, more than ever, it's a relevant story."

Moderator Anson Carter — himself a former Bruin — asked O'Ree about the segment of the film in which he learns about one of his ancestors who fled from slavery in South Carolina to find freedom in Canada.

"I couldn't believe it. I was in awe," O'Ree said. "I read [the records] three or four times, and I just stared at it. It became real personal."

The Stanley Cup also made an appearance on the school's campus. Johnson is a co-owner of the Washington Capitals, which won the cup last year.

Other events scheduled for Saturday include the sold-out evening showing of Saturday Centerpiece film "Ford v. Ferrari," starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale. The festival will conclude Sunday.

-John Battiston

MFF 2019 Mathieu-Leger, O'Ree

"Willie" director Laurence Mathieu-Leger, left, explains the pleasant surprises she encountered while researching Willie O'Ree for the new documentary "Willie."

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Kasi Lemmons

Kasi Lemmons, director and co-writer of Friday Spotlight film “Harriet,” discusses her transition from child actor to renowned filmmaker. "Harriet" offers a new look at famed abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Lemmons partook in an intimate Q&A at the elegant Salamander Resort & Spa library Saturday morning.

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A new look at Truman Capote

Ebs Burnough

Ebs Burnough, director and producer of “The Capote Tapes” documentary, discusses his film, which screened at the seventh annual Middleburg Film Festival on Oct. 18. Offering up questions by Burnough's side is the festival's executive director, Susan Koch.

Was acclaimed 20th century writer Truman Capote's life a triumph or tragedy? While tipping toward the former, “The Capote Tapes” documentary -- among the first screenings at the Middleburg Film Festival Friday -- doesn't shy away from Capote's darkness, complexity and appetite for acceptance.

Director and producer Ebs Burnough uses a blend of never-before-heard recordings from journalist George Plimpton and new interviews with Capote pals to analyze the life of the “In Cold Blood” and “Breakfast at Tiffany's” author.

Burnough, like many cultural observers, had thought Capote's compelling life had been emptied into public view via big-picture feature films and various biographies. Turning over a few more stones, Burnough learned that was far from the case.

"In some ways he's certainly a tragic figure ... he's also an oddly heroic figure in a way," Burnough, a former official in the Obama administration, said, noting the inevitable challenges an eccentric, gay man faced in 1940s and 1950s America.

“As a black gay man who grew up in northern Florida, I was always taught to remember the people on whose shoulders I stood — the people who made life a little easier for me,” Burnough told Variety last month.

While an essential and poignant watch for historians and lovers of literature, the 90-minute "Capote Tapes" offers plenty of laughs and gasps as interview subjects reflect on the riotous writer's exploits.

-Trevor Baratko

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Tom Junod

Journalist Tom Junod, whose work profiling Fred Rogers for Esquire inspired the new film, "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," recalls his friendship with Rogers before his 2004 death.

Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster

From left, "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" co-screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster explain the decade-long process of bringing their Fred Rogers biopic to the screen.

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Welcome to opening night

Middleburg Film Festival Sheila Johnson

MFF Founder and Board Chairwoman Sheila Johnson speaks during a private event prior to the screening of official opening film "Marriage Story."

Hundreds of film lovers and prominent local figures gathered in Middleburg Thursday for the opening festivities of the seventh annual Middleburg Film Festival.

While the sold-out evening presentation of official opening film "Marriage Story" — followed by a question-and-answer session with writer-director Noah Baumbach — was the main attraction, tickets also sold out for an afternoon screening of "Parasite," the latest film by renowned South Korean director Bong Joon-ho.

MFF Executive Director Susan Koch introduced the "pre-opening film," which starts as a comedy-drama about a poor family living in Seoul before morphing into something much different.

"This is a great film. I mean, it's wild. It's going to start out one way and it's going to take you on a real ride," Koch said.

The rest of the evening's festivities took place at Salamander Resort and Spa, where MFF Founder and Board Chairwoman Sheila Johnson delivered opening remarks at a private event before the screening of "Marriage Story."

"This selection at this year's festival is the most inspiring group of films we've ever seen, and diverse," Johnson said. She added that one of her favorite selections at this year's festival is Saturday's big attraction, "Ford v. Ferrari," which follows the true story of two men preparing to compete at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans auto race in France.

"For all you men, you're going to feel the testosterone in that theater," Johnson quipped.

Koch added a few words, thanking all of the people who made the event possible and emphasizing the number of extraordinary films that will play during the weekend.

"We're going to be finding out how many movies you've actually seen come Sunday. There's so many good ones to choose from, and if you want any recommendations feel free to ask. But I think they're all great, so enjoy yourselves," Koch said.

The Stanley Cup will again be making an appearance in Middleburg Friday afternoon, an accompaniment to the screening of "Willie," a documentary on Willie O’Ree, a descendant of escaped slaves who became the first black player in the National Hockey League. The cup will be on display and open to public viewing for a couple hours at the Emmanuel Episcopal Church starting at 4 p.m.

Johnson is part of the NHL's Washington Capitals ownership group. After the Capitals won the 2018 Stanley Cup, the revered trophy was shown off at Salamander Resort.

More information about this weekend's events is available at middleburgfilm.com.

-John Battiston

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