Story and photos by Laticia Headings

The eighth annual Middleburg Film Festival (MFF) is once again in full swing as film lovers anticipate another year of critically-acclaimed films, innovative and socially-distanced events, and captivating conversations with special guests. 

Like most big events that draw enthusiastic crowds, the MFF, taking place October 15-18th, has recalibrated for the times. “The safety and well-being of our filmgoers has been our primary concern as we weighed the options for this year’s festival,” executive director Susan Koch says. “We’re delighted that we’re able to offer a mix of both in-person and outdoor screenings.”

Evening films will be socially-distanced and held outdoors on the grand lawn of the Salamander Resort. There will be a “pop-up” drive-in located in the lower parking lot. For those who prefer to watch movies at home, a line-up of approximately 20 films will be available virtually throughout the four days of the festival. Audiences will also be able to discuss films and swap opinions in a virtual festival lounge. 

Conversations will accompany some of this year’s films. As in years past, there will be award tributes and Q&A’s with leading filmmakers, actors and guests, and a concert honoring a prominent music composer, a hallmark of the Middleburg Film Festival.

Since its debut in 2013, the festival’s caliber of compelling films has sparked both excitement and a level of prestige, impressive to even the most ardent film critics. In 2019, 41 Oscar nominations were garnered from the 32 films screened at the MFF, including five for best picture and the best picture winner, “Parasite.”

“MFF 2020 will present some of this year’s most anticipated films including ‘Nomadland,’ which took the top prize at both the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals, and ‘One Night in Miami,’ the directorial debut of academy award-winning actor, Regina King,” Koch says.

When theaters closed in May due to the pandemic, the festival launched the “Middleburg Virtual Cinema,” offering filmgoers an opportunity to purchase tickets on the MFF website to advance film screenings not yet available to the general public. Each week, new movies are released, and ticket revenues are shared with the distributor. This collection of films (still available) spans the gamut of highly entertaining, cinematically-stunning, and racially-relevant with the same superb acting and complex narratives you’d expect from a carefully curated festival.  

“Miss Juneteenth,” timely released on June 19th, is a film that’s both charming and soulful. An annual beauty pageant (one that provides a college scholarship to its winner) sets the stage for this story of an African-American single mother and former pageant winner, and her daughter, who differ on life perspectives, but find common respect through their love of each other. 

It seems every year Hollywood produces a military story that sheds new light on a different facet of our history. “The 24th” is a true story about the all-black twenty-fourth United States infantry regiment and Houston riot of 1917. This riveting drama unravels the systemic racism that existed within our military and serves as barometer for modern day times.

In the documentary genre, there are many great stories from which to choose. “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” highlights race relations in America and the extraordinary life of civil rights pioneer, Georgia Rep. John Lewis, and the landmarks of equality for which he so steadfastly fought. 

Touted as the “most audacious, difficult, complicated rescue mission ever attempted,” “Desert One” is a documentary that tells the remarkable story behind the freeing of 52 American hostages during the 1979 Iranian revolution, directed by two-time Academy-award winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple. 

“Creem,” the story of the legendary music magazine with interviews from Michael Stipe, Joan Jett, and Gene Simmons, is a musical buffet for lovers of rock-n-roll. Of particular note are the six films directed or co-directed by women, a remarkable ratio in an arena typically dominated by men. The films include “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” “Desert One,” “The Fight,” “Miss Juneteenth,” “River City Drumbeat,” and “The Audition.” 

Although this year will be different, the Middleburg Film Festival will be no less exciting. “We’ve been so gratified by all the support we’ve received from our filmgoers, filmmakers, distributors, and sponsors,” Koch says. “Now in our 8th year, it’s clear we have a community of devoted cinephiles here in Middleburg.” ML

Advance tickets for the film festival are now on sale. Individual tickets go on sale October 6. A full list of films can be found online. For ticket and event information, visit the middleburgfilm.org website, mobile app, and social media @MiddleburgFilm for updates. 

Laticia Headings is the host and co-producer of “The Middleburg Life” docu-series. She discovered Middleburg after attending a Producer’s Guild event at the first annual Middleburg Film Festival in 2013 and has come back every year since as a volunteer and attendee. Laticia is a producer, writer, and camerawoman with 22 years of experience in television, documentary film, and multi-platform media. Her video production company,  Latitude: Media with Attitude, is based in Middleburg where she now lives with her husband, Christian, and dog child, Sadie.  

Published in the October 2020 issue of Middleburg Life.