Middleburg Film Festival Garners International Acclaim

Orrin Konheim Around Town, Art & Culture

The increasingly popular Middleburg Film Festival concluded yesterday
with a screening of the film “Green Book,” which won the Audience
Favorite Award, followed by a Q&A session with Director Peter Farrelly
and Viggo Mortensen (“Captain Fantastic”). The documentary “Biggest
Little Farm” took the prize in the non-fiction category.

In just six years of its existence, the festival has transformed a
tranquil Loudoun County town of less than 1,000 into an annual mecca
of film celebration. No attendance figures have been reported yet, but
it was reported last year that over 4,000 film attendees flooded the
three-blocks wide downtown area over the festival’s four days.
What prompts such a large stampede of movie fans — mostly from the
D.C. area– to travel up to an hour to see films that might have
eventually come out in their own theaters?

For one, the festival has accrued an impressive caliber of films. Last
year, the festival screened four of the nine films that eventually
were nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards: “Call Me By
Your Name,” “Lady Bird,” “Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri”
and “Darkest Hour.” Among this year’s selections that should figure
into the conversation of noteworthy films during the upcoming awards
season are Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma,” “Boy Erased,” “Ben is Back,” “The
Front Runner,” “The Favourite” and “Green Book.”

There’ are also the international films to add flavor; among the
festival’s 29 films, 17 different countries were represented.
Lastly, the Middleburg Film Festival offers an opportunity to mingle
with fellow film lovers, prominent film critics and even get within
spitting distance of some of the stars themselves. This year, Director
Jason Reitman (“Juno,” “Up in the Air”) participated in a talk about
his career and his upcoming film “The Front Runner” about the Gary
Hart scandal. Actor and director Joel Edgerton (“The Great Gatsby”)
participated in an audience Q&A session about his film “Boy Erased”
which stars Nicole Kidman and Lucas Hedges and tells the true story of
an Arkansas teenager who survived a conversion therapy program after
being outed as gay. Maggie Gyllenhaal also appeared as the recipient
of the festival’s annual Leading Actress Award where a tribute to her
films played in a special screening before her latest film, “The
Kindergarten Teacher,” was introduced.

Few of the big names to appear at the festival had as surprising a
trajectory as Peter Farrelly’s film. Along with his brother Bobby,
Farrelly’s films pioneered the gross-out comedy genre with hits like
“Dumb and Dumber” and “There’s Something About Mary.” His latest film
“The Green Book” is a decidedly more dramatic film that tackles race
and friendship in the Civil Rights Era.

“I’m happy to take the back seat to these two actors,” Farrelly said
in response to a question over whether the film’s tagline would
include “From the Director of ‘There’s Something About Mary.’”
“These are two of the best actors….,” he added.
The film is based on a true story about black pianist (Mahershala Ali)
Don Shirley and Italian-American (Mortensen) Tony Vallelonga who was
hired as a valet and security man on a concert tour through the Deep
South. While the film deals with substantial issues in a moving story,
it’s a fair statement that none of the prestige films to come out in
recent years about the Civil Rights era are so full of laughter. One
of the hallmarks of humor is the release of tension, and the contrast
between the aristocratic Shirley and the proudly low-class
blabbermouth Vallelonga provides plenty of fodder as the two initially
clash with unimaginable amounts of cringe.

The film’s staying power relies on its ability to be funny and moving
without shortchanging the grim realities of the period. Farrelly said
it was a balancing act that was enabled by the authentic relationship
at the center.

“I didn’t want to do a film with a white savior trope or a black
savior trope. This is a film about two people helping heal each
other,” Farrelly said.

The Audience Favorite Award winner for documentary “Biggest Little
Farm” chronicles the efforts of director John Chester and his wife
Molly to leave urban life behind and create a sustainable farm.

The Middleburg Film Festival was founded by Sheila Johnson who is the
co-founder of BET Networks, a movie producer and a noted
philanthropist. Originally from Pennsylvania, Johnson first fell in
love with Middleburg because of the other thing the region is famous
for: its proximity to horse country. After moving to the area, Johnson
opened the Salamander Resort and Spa in 2013. At the advice of Robert
Redford himself, she opened a film festival the next year to promote
it.

Information about the festival and its films can be found at
www.middleburgfilms.org.
Story by Orrin Konheim
Photo Courtesy of WTOP