Those of you who have known me over the years can confirm that my enthusiasm for the countryside is nearly non-existent. I am a city girl at heart; London, Paris, New York. My poor friends who lived outside London’s M25 knew I wouldn’t leave that safety zone unless I was going directly to another city.
However, in recent years I’ve begun to open my mind to the tranquility of the countryside, realizing that in my old age I need to get away from the madness sometimes. Earlier this year, returning to visit London, I hired a car and drove all the way to Bristol, something I had never done before. My former boss has a farm there and I wanted my wife, Jennifer, to get a taste of the English countryside. Now there are photos out there somewhere of me feeding chickens and walking a horse. The year before that, my wife wanted to visit Scotland, so we stayed in a castle in the middle of nowhere with no WiFi . Today, here I am reporting from Middleburg, Virginia, at the fourth annual Middleburg Film Festival.
Middeburg, Virginia. Population 700. I’m sitting in my room at the Salamander Resort and Spa. There is not a siren to be heard. No traffic noise, no car horns, no planes or helicopters overhead. It is bliss. Even though the resort is bustling with film talk, there is a calmness in the air.
My day started early, leaving from LAX at the crack of dawn to fly into the nation’s capital. I relished being disconnected from the world for a few hours, with no phone signal, no WiFi, no computer. I was isolated, by choice. I didn’t purchase United Airline’s WiFi for the flight, which lasted just over 4 hours, and even though I felt a slight dread of missing out, it was a nice feeling, to know that the world would go on spinning without having Tweetdeck open or my emails dinging.
I opened Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and was able to get some reading in — something that becomes a luxury during awards season. I watched the in-flight Meryl Streep films — Mamma Mia and Finding Dory. Before I knew it we had landed at Dulles and were being driven through Virginia.
The history lover in me geeked out. My degree is in American Studies with History, and my thoughts transported me back to the events of the American Revolution and the Civil War. Driving down streets and roads I could feel and see the history all around me, and it gave me goosebumps.
In Middleburg itself is The Red Fox Inn, established in 1728, the town’s oldest structure and still operating. I’m hoping to pay a visit there in the next few days.
We arrived at the Salamander Inn & Resort, home for the next three nights, and home base of the Middleburg Film Festival.
Now in its fourth year, the festival was founded by Sheila Johnson, Co-founder of BET and CEO of the resort. Johnson, who is also a producer formed the festival as an opportunity to bring her loves together, film and the Middleburg community.
The festival gives the D.C. crowd a chance to see films generating awards buzz, reporters and cinephiles alike. Each year the festival has grown, both in terms of attendees and the numbers of films that screen here. Four ago, there were just 20 films. This year’s slate has over 30 events. This is the first time I’ve attended and I’ll be covering the next few days for Awards Daily.
I didn’t arrive in time to see Certain Women. But I did catch the opening night film, Lion. It’s a film that immerses you in the true story of 5-year-old Saroo, who is torn from his family and everything he knows when he gets separated from his brother in a busy train station in Khandwa, India. We follow Saroo as he’s carried further and further away, ending up 1500 kilometers from home and unable to remember how to get back. Through a terrifying journey of panic, despair, and determination to survive, director Garth Davis makes sure we’re completely invested and emotionally hooked. Sunny Pawar who plays young Saroo gives a knockout performance, as does Dev Patel as Saroo years later when he decides against all odds to track down his family. You’ll need tissues for this one.
Actress Priyanka Bose, who plays Saroo’s mother in the film, was present at the screening along with Saroo Brierley himself. “Love has such a resonance in this story,” she said. “We need more stories like this.”
At the after party, Brierley said he hoped to write more and hopes to write scripts that have an effect as meaningful as his inspiring life story has been to so many. This was only the second time he had seen the film with an audience.
Day Two begins tomorrow with a Women In Film Panel which will look at the current atmosphere in the industry for women behind the camera. The panel will includes Lion producer Angie Fielder, Lauren Versel (the Last Five Years Producer) and Bo Derek.
It will a great day to see Best Foreign Language Contenders: Neruda, Toni Erdmann, Julieta and The Salesman. Both Moonlight and Manchester By The Sea are Friday’s Spotlight films. I’m super-excited to see the latter. I already know the former is a truly great film. It opens this weekend so please go see it!
The rest of the festival slate will include Jackie, Loving, American Pastoral, Paterson, Loving, Fire At Sea, Aquarius, The Red Turtle and I, Daniel Blake. Another highlight will be a chance to see Academy President Cheryl Boone Issacs who headlines this year’s keynote event.
I wish I could clone myself to see all the films playing, alas, I am just one person. One of the five screening locations around Middleburg, the ballroom here has be transformed into a central theatrical venue with a huge screen… apparently it’s much bigger this year.
Culminating the week’s offerings, Saturday night’s centerpiece film is La La Land. I cannot begin to express how excited I am to finally see this film. I also love that I’m seeing it here in Middleburg and not in La La Land itself. Both Emma Stone and Damien Chazelle will be flying in to attend the screening and answering a Q&A afterwards.
On that note, It’s almost 1 a.m. I have to rise early tomorrow. So I’ll leave you with these photos and rest up for Day Two.