Sony Pictures Classic’s Capernaum receives the Audience Favorite Award.
Peter Farrelly’s acclaimed festival hit Green Book closed the inaugural Film Fest 919 last night with writer/producer Nick Vallelonga in attendance. The audience packed the Silverspot Cinema theater and wildly applauded the late November release. Vallelonga introduced the film after receiving the Film Fest 919 Spotlight Award from festival coordinators Carol Marshall, Randi Emerman, and Claudia Puig. Vallelonga shared the emotional experience of translating his father’s personal story for the big screen.
“Everything you see in there is true,” Vallelonga explained. “It’s a good weird. Pete [Farrelly] kept me included in everything. Every time I see it, it brings a tear to my eye.”
Vallelonga also detailed the process of casting the actor to play his father, who toured the Deep South in late 1962 as the chauffeur of African-American pianist Dr. Donald Shirley (brilliantly played by Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali). Describing his father as a “Soprano-type,” Vallelonga explained that Peter Farrelly suggested Oscar-nominee Viggo Mortensen. Mortensen accepted the role and gained the 50 pounds to play Tony Vallelonga.
“He was eating all the time,” Vallelonga laughed.
The screening capped off a successful start to Film Fest 919 which hosted more than a dozen high profile Oscar contenders. Festival goers seemed to find their way organically into the festival with word of mouth highlighting many of the fantastic events the festival had to offer. Responding to a surge in attendance, festival organizers provided an additional screening of Roma and surprised attendees with the Southeastern U.S. premiere of Vox Lux, starring Natalie Portman. After 8 years in the making, festival organizers seemed incredibly happy with festival turnout.
But most importantly, audience members I talked to during the festival looked as if they were having an amazing time. Before the Green Book screening, I struck up a conversation with another festival attendee who found solace in the festival’s offerings. She shared with me that she was extremely emotional after her “rough week” politically as the festival played out against much of the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings. Ultimately, the social justice aspects of Green Book and recommendations from family members spurred her to attend the screening. It was amazing to hear even a whisper of her life’s story as we waited for the screening to star. She shared with me that she worked with Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, and others to integrate abortion rights into the Democratic national platform in the early 1970s.
It was a fascinating, if all too brief, conversation. The kind of experience that a great film festival can help broker.
Film Fest 919 also announced the recipient of the inaugural Audience Favorite Award: Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum. The film tells the story of a Lebanese boy who sues his parents for the “crime” of giving him life. Selected as Lebanon’s Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film, Capernaum received the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes this year. Sony Pictures Classics will release the film theatrically.
Additional information about Film Fest 919 is available on their website. Film Fest 919 will return to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, October 9 – 13, 2019.