And we are off! Day two of the Middleburg Film Festival. As the first full day, it was going to be a jam packed. The first dilemma was deciding whether to see At Eternity’s Gate or the secret screening which was Stan & Ollie. Given that the latter was a reminder of the comedy duo who were responsible for many of my childhood laughs, it was the latter screening I chose to attend. And what a treat it was. The film is embargoed until Sunday afternoon, so we can’t say much…
The first film on the day’s screening list was A Private War. Mind you, Can You Ever Forgive Me? was screening too and the temptation to revisit that was far too real. But, I chose A Private War because having delivered such great documentaries such as City of Ghosts and Cartel Land, I was curious to see what director Matthew Heineman had to offer as A Private War marks his move from documentary to feature filmmaking.
Readers of the Sunday Times will be familiar with the film’s subject, Marie Colvin. She was an American journalist who covered the war in Libya, Iraq and the Middle East, on the front lines of journalism. Her story is one of courage and bravery. Her face is well-known because she wore an eye patch after losing an eye during an ambush when she was caught up in a Civil war in Sri Lanka.
The film stars Rosamund Pike as Colvin and Jamie Dornan as her friend and associate, photographer Paul Conroy. Conroy was lucky to escape alive after their media center in Syria was besieged. Colvin did not survive.
Pike is superb, phenomenal as the fearless Colvin because she fights for what she believes in. Who better to direct than Heineman. His documentaries Cartel Land and City of Ghosts make him the perfect fit for this feature. The ambush, the war sequences are nerve-wracking and filled with tension. He does not flinch, not once.
While Colvin often narrowly misses shrapnel and bullets that come all too dangerously close, she doesn’t escape unscathed after each trauma. She is plagued by nightmares and horrifying memories, flashing back. Sounds trigger her and she’s back amidst the terror and back at the forefront. She’s back there in Libya, in Syria or Sri Lanka. She drinks and she smokes, her private war is fought on an internalized mental battleground. She suffers from PTSD, haunted in particular by a young girl’s corpse that reappears in her nightmares and flashbacks.
The great message that this film delivers is a reminder of the great legacy of Marie Colvin, a woman who like many journalists who steadfastly do their job to expose the corruption that lies within governments around the world. It’s a message of sheer courage as she searched for the truth. Colvin died for it.
The realism that Heineman depicts about the horrors of war while paying homage to great journalism makes for a harrowing and compelling watch. The bombardment scenes are tense and torturous. The scenes from Colvin’s 2003 reporting of the mass graves of 600 Kuwaitis is riveting as the women mourn the death of their sons and husbands. The hospital scene in Syria is equally brutal and disturbing.
Heineman’s narrative builds to the siege of Homs, Syria, the place where Colvin would ultimately lose her life. Her cameraman Paul is always warning her to leave, but she wants to get that story out to the world to show the true story of civilian suffering and under attack from the regime. It plays out to CNN and would be her last story before she meets her tragically end.
Heineman’s film envelops us great cinematography and immersive set pieces, especially those shots of the war zones, but this is Pike’s film and her performance is fascinating and captivating. In a word, Pike is superb.
A Private War was a hard watch at 10am, so it was on to film two, the surprise screening of Stan & Ollie. I will be posting thoughts on that in my update once that embargo has lifted, so stay tuned.
Film number three this afternoon was Boy Erased, where we were blessed with Garrard Conley and Joel Edgerton attending the screening.
The film is based on Conley’s memoirs and stars Lucas Hedges. Edgerton wrote and directed the film. During the film’s Q&A he said it was producer Kerry Roberts who threw fuel on the fire. “She is the reason the film exists.” Egerton told the packed Salamander screening room. He went on to say he had grown up morbidly curious about institutions that try to change people and this film was about a family who actively sought to lock their child up in an attempt to reshape him into someone he was not. The details of the book made him even more fascinated. Edgerton says, “I learned it wasn’t so cut and dry and the foundation was about the conflict of religion and truth.”
As soon as Boy Erased ended, as daylight faded, it was on to the final film of the night, Steve McQueen’s Widows. Stay tuned for more because it’s time for another screening.
On a side note, it’s Saturday and I still haven’t ordered my crab cakes. I will not leave this town without ordering them. Salamander’s food and those crab cakes are to die for.