With five stars and another Best Picture title under their belts, Sheila Johnson, Salamander Resort and Middleburg Film Festival orchestrators have had plenty of reasons to smile in the past two weeks.
In what has been a mostly sad and shameful Black History Month for the commonwealth, we hope Johnson and her team found time to celebrate and reflect on the impressive operations they've built, both at Salamander and with the film festival.
There's no better representative of empowerment than Johnson, a co-founder of Black Entertainment Television and owner/partner of the Washington Mystics, Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals. By no means is it necessary to qualify Johnson's innumerable achievements with the “first woman” or “first black female” tag; what she's built is remarkable for anyone – black or white, male or female. Still, various news reports inevitably make note of Johnson's sex and race, which is fine, we suppose, if it emphasizes or illuminates just how much she has accomplished.
(OK, for the record, Johnson the first African-American woman to attain a net worth of at least $1 billion.)
With Salamander, a project that Johnson envisioned more than a decade ago, Loudoun County is now home to the only Forbes Five Star resort in the Washington, D.C. region. That Salamander is the only property in the power-hungry, tourist-heavy region to claim five stars demonstrates what a noteworthy and demanding feat it is.
The resort was a practice in perseverance for Johnson, the former University of Illinois cheerleader who for years had to fight off persistent NIMBYers who either failed or refused to understand the jewel Johnson wanted to bring to Middleburg.
“It is a dream come true,” Johnson told the Times-Mirror after the Forbes announcement. “I knew it would become a destination spot when we opened. It boiled down to service … We brought in an ace team who shares the vision.”
One member of that ace team is Reggie Cooper, the resort's general manager.
“What separates a four-star from a five-star resort are personal, memorable experiences, which is why it's an exclusive club,” Cooper said.
Each October – such a scenic time of year in western Loudoun – Salamander serves as home base for the Johnson-founded Middleburg Film Festival, which can now chalk up another Best Picture winner to its titles.
We don't set ourselves up as experts in the film industry. Maybe that's why we continue to be awed that the six-year-old festival in little ole Middleburg lands lauded, poignant and rousing films year after year. And it's not only the films – some of Hollywood's brightest minds and biggest stars have been on hand, as well.
This year's Best Picture winner focused on a relationship between a bouncer from an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx who was hired to drive world-class pianist Dr. Don Shirley on a concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South in the 1960s. “Green Book” was the marquee event for the 2018 festival's final day, with two screenings and a question-and-answer session with the film's director, Peter Farrelly, actor Viggo Mortensen and composer Kris Bowers.
The Times-Mirror has covered the festival since day one, with an opening night screening of “Nebraska” kicking things off in 2013. Six years later, Best Picture winners “Moonlight,” “Spotlight” and dozens of other Oscars nominees have screened in Middleburg. Emma Stone, Dee Rees, Meg Ryan, Damien Chazelle, Lee Daniels, Greta Gerwig, Maggie Gyllenhaal and others among Hollywood's elite have showed up to take in Middleburg's quaint streets and dashing countryside.
Every year the festival screens films that inspire thought, challenge us and spark conversation. There are also moments when we flat-out party. (We love it when Sheila hits the dance floor.)
The festival has delivered thousands of people to Middleburg and Loudoun County over the years – many of whom may have never stopped by otherwise.
She can pass on praise and give credit to others on her team – and they no doubt deserve it – but none of this would have happened if not for one person. Thank you, and congratulations, Dr. Johnson.