There’s something so wonderful about attending the Middleburg Film Festival each year. This is the third year I’ve been covering the festival for Awards Daily. In its sixth year, the festival which will screen a host of films will give the area a first look at many of this year’s potential Oscar contenders.
As Summer turns the Fall over 5,000 people will make their way to the town of Middleburg, about 30 minutes outside of Washington D.C to watch films such as Roma, At Eternity’s Gate, The Front Runner, Widows, Green Book, and Can You Ever Forgive Me? This year over 29 films will screen over the four days.
My buddy, Clayton Davis at Awards Circuit put this on his list of Top Ten Festivals not to be missed, and it indisputably is one of the best. It is film heaven in an intimate setting. One great thing about being back in Middleburg was the reunion with my East Coast friends, Clayton, Nathaniel Rogers, and Charles Bright.
This year, I tried a new strategy of flying in on the red-eye, leaving LA the night before. The other option was to get up at 2am, leave at 4am and catch a 6am flight. So, by the time you get to the opening night film, you’re already exhausted. This plan worked a charm. Jennifer and I arrived bright and early, got some work done and we were ready to go! On a side note, driving into Virginia from D.C as the sun rose was a picturesque moment. It was heavenly. Much like the festival and its setting.
First up, was the much-anticipated opening night film, Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma. It’s the one film I’ve been dying to see. Curaon, black and white, cinematography to die for? I couldn’t wait.
Executive director of the festival Susan Koch told me that she had seen the film in LA and together with Netflix and a team from Dolby’s sound department had flown in a team to ensure the film was presented in the best surround sound system possible. The Salamander Resort’s ballroom was transformed into a screening room to present the film in 7.1 surround sound.
Roma, Oh Roma. Veni, Vidi, Vici! It came, we saw, it conquered. I have to say, the most-anticipated film delivered last night. Alfonso Cuaron’s latest is an absolute masterpiece. Seeing it with fellow cinephiles at the Salamander Resort. From the opening shot to the end, Cuaron’s film is an immaculate work of art. There’s a reason why del Toro put this in his top five films of all-time.
From the opening frame of water being splashed across the tiles to the end frame, Cuaron plunges us into a cinematic experience quite unlike we have ever experienced before, gifting us a story so very close and personal to him.
Yalitza Aparicio makes her debut here as Cleo, the maid in a boisterous middle-class home. It is her story as she learns about love and loss while she becomes an essential yet often underappreciated member of this family. Roma bestows all the affection on the selfless Cleo that she deeply deserves. Whether it’s capturing her daily chores as seemingly prosaiac as washing the laundry or doing the dishes, Cuaron’s cinematography instills each moment with poetic purity, bringing to life every fine detail.
Aparicio brings heart and soul, injecting emotion through her silent observations. She dives into Cleo showing the sacrifice a young woman makes to care for a family and children that is not her own. Cleo’s character is one of very few words, but the power and depth Aparicio commands through her expressive observations is incredibly powerful and rich.
One can not talk about the greatness of this film without mentioning the sound design. There is no score, no soundtrack here, the sounds of Mexico City here are a character unto themselves. Whether it’s the marching band, the student protests, or the planes flying overhead.
Producer and longtime Cuaron collaborator Gabriela Rodríguez later told me that it took three attempts to find the correct plane. Cuaron ensured every detail was accurate in this homage to the women in his life and to Mexico.
The film is exquisite. It is a masterpiece and we will be talking about its artistry for years to come. My one recommendation, see the film, this gift from Cuaron on the big screen. Seek out the finest presentation possible.
Following the screening Aparicio and Rodriguez were present for the Q&A. Aparicio told the packed room that she had never heard of Cuaron before. She was a teacher, but her sister convinced her to go to the casting session. Skeptical, Aparicio thought the casting calls were part of a human trafficking ring because casting calls in her neighborhood were uncommon.
On what she wanted people to take from the film, Aparicio said she hoped people would learn to be more considerate and never forget that people in domestic service leave their own homes and families to love another family’s children as their own. But more importantly, she said, people shouldn’t be judged because of their race or socio-economic levels.
As the Q&A came to a close, Aparicio was presented with the Rising Star Award.
And that my friends was a wrap on day one. Day two will see the screening of Can You Ever Forgive Me? At Eternity’s Gate, A Private War, Boy Erased, an encore screening of Roma, Wildlife, and Steve McQueen’s Widows which I’m excited to see again.
The secret screening will take place at 12.10 at the Community Center and the secret is already out: a premiere of Jon S. Baird’s Stan and Ollie!