Ever have big plans to see a movie, then realize you were mixed up about the showtime, you’re running dreadfully late, so it becomes a frantic chase scene in a screwball comedy to get there on time? Yup, that’s what happened to me on day four in Middleburg, my final day of the festival.
I was convinced the Loving screening was at 11 m, so I had set my alarm for 9. It was a Sunday, after all, and I’d allowed myself the luxury of a little lie in. But that was not to be the case. My wife Jennifer had booked an earlier flight back to LA for the Outfest Legacy Awards, so I was awakened by her call. She was at the airport, about to board. Half asleep, I double-checked my screening schedule. Loving: 10am! Cue panic! Instant adrenaline! I now had to shower, throw my face together, pack, check out, and try to make it to the screening by 9:45, at the latest. Rule number one at films festivals is that you can’t just stroll in. You need to get there reasonably early and queue up like a good girl or boy. Even in relaxed Middleburg, the screenings are popular and can often sell out.
What followed next was a mad dash to get ready and accomplish all of the above without any hit-and-run accidents. Did I succeed? Miraculously, yes. I was downstairs and in line at 9:40 for the packed screening of Loving.
Cheryl Boone Isaacs was in attendance sitting front and center. She had stuck around after her inspiring keynote conversation to take in the rest of the festival. Beverly Johnson sat a few seats from Isaacs. As my heart rate returned to normal, it hit me that four days of film heaven had gone by in a flash and was quickly coming to a close.
I found a seat next to my festival buddy, Nathaniel Rogers from The Film Experience. We’d been seeing screenings and panels together over the course of the past four days. His ever-cheerful presence made the whole festival experience that much more fun, to swap notes and share opinions with a familiar friend. I also ran into Clayton Davis from Awards Circuit. Always nice to finally meet someone you’ve only know online for so long.
To see Loving in Virginia gave it added emotional resonance, since this was the state where the events took place nearly 50 years ago. Based on the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga), the film traces their marriage in Washington D.C., and their return to Virginia where Richard was arrested and jailed for marrying a black woman. His conviction and imprisonment made nationwide news; watch for Michael Shannon’s cameo appearance as a Life magazine photographer. The Loving’s legal drama continued all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in 1967 that anti-miscegenation laws were unconstitutional.
The Lovings were two ordinary people who happened to fall in love at a time when interracial marriages were still illegal in 16 states in the South. It’s hard for me to imagine a time when such a law could have existed, but I spoke to a few locals who recalled living through the turbulence Civil Rights movement. They were excited to see the film and expressed surprise that this landmark case isn’t more widely known. Hopefully Jeff Nichols has helped remedy that by immortalizing the story in his immensely compelling film.
There is no violence in Loving, and little in the way of grand Oscar Moments. It’s a respectful well-told story that hums on a low-key level. Much of the emotional torment is expressed through subtle nuance instead of noble speeches. Ruth Negga’s face gracefully conveys the pain that Mildred Loving endured — a woman who only wanted the right to live with the man she loved, to know that her children could grow up without fear, to have the peace of mind that her family would be free of contempt or imprisonment. The film avoids scenes of aggressive racial conflict. Ultimately, it resonates best as a celebration of personal courage, and more importantly, the overarching power of love itself.
Manchester By The Sea, La La Land, The Eagle Huntress were each scheduled to receive second-chance Sunday screenings, but it was time for me to call it a wrap and head back to Los Angeles.
The audience awards were announced. Lion, the Friday Night Spotlight film won for Best Narrative Feature. The Eagle Huntress won Best Documentary.
The Eagle Huntress, from director Otto Bell, follows Aisholpan Nurgaiv, a 13-year-old girl in Mongolia who wants to follow in her father’s footsteps to be an eagle hunter. Aisholpan’s dream of becoming the first female eagle hunter would break years of tradition, since this is a traditional job reserved exclusively for men. As eagles soar, so does the magnificent cinematography. There are shots of Mongolia so breathtaking, they could be framed as photographs in a museum. Daisy Ridley provides the moving narration. We see young Aisholpan overcome cultural and social obstacles in this inspiring tale of a young woman empowered by the strength of her family upbringing, and especially the devoted support of her father.
Well, Middleburg was my first opportunity to attend film festival and I have to say, I had so much fun, meeting new people, making new friends, mingling with extraordinary filmmakers, and being immersed in so many wonderful movies. What a fine festival, lovely setting, and overall phenomenal experience. Kudos and applause to Sheila Johnson for bringing her love of film to Middleburg. To Susan Koch and everyone on the festival team for assembling the tremendous lineup and organizing such incredible events. Finally, my fond thanks to the staff of the Salamander Resort and Inn for being so considerate, helpful and hospitable.
Middleburg, Virginia has established itself on the map as a sensational place for film lovers to gather. Thank you Middleburg. See you in 2017.
Here are some photos of my Middleburg memories. Yes, I did find time to pay a visit to the Red Fox Inn, and perhaps got a tad too excited to see it on the National Register of Historic Places, to feel the shiver of touching a cornerstone of American history.