The Middleburg Film Festival in Middleburg, Va., took place October 15 through October 18, spotlighting some of the most talked-about films of the season.
Like most film festivals, the Middleburg Film Festival went virtual or socially distant in 2020, with screenings taking place online or outdoors at Salamander Grand Lawn or Salamander Drive-In (these included in-person-only screenings for Nomadland, which kicked off the festival on Thursday).
On Friday, the festival included showings of the Western coming-of-ager Concrete Cowboy starring Idris Elba, heavy metal-drumming drama Sound of Metal starring Riz Ahmed, and documentaries including Billie (about Billie Holiday), 76 Days (about the onset of COVID-19 in China), and MLK/FBI (about the FBI surveillance of Martin Luther King, Jr).
Interspersed with the screenings were also conversations with Chloe Zhao (director of Nomadland), Aaron Sorkin (director of The Trial of the Chicago 7), actor Aldis Hodge (One Night In Miami), the cast of Minari, and more.
Minari, Lee Isaac Chung’s View of the American Dream
Minari screened on Saturday, highlighted as the Centerpiece film of the festival. Lee Isaac Chung’s thoughtful family drama stars Steven Yeun as a father who takes his family across the country to work on a “garden”/farm in Arkansas. This is a truly beautiful film supported by exceptional performances from its cast, including Yeri Han, who plays Yeun’s long-suffering wife Monica with steely grace and breakout Alan S. Kim, who plays David, the youngest child who lives with a heart condition. Yuh-Jung Youn, who plays the grandmother, rivals The Farewell’s Nai Nai in terms of memorable A24 matriarchs, although Shuzhen Zhao’s character never watched wrestling like this broad.
This film is a worthy addition to the “search for the American dream” narratives like The Grapes of Wrath and features gorgeous cinematography from Lachlan Milne. With Steven Yeun’s performance as Jacob, Yeun further proves he’s an actor to watch in the coming years when it comes to awards-worthy performances (maybe it’ll even be this one).
One Night in Miami, Regina King’s Feature-Length Directorial Debut
The closing day of the festival included Regina King’s directorial debut and one of the most highly anticipated films of the year: One Night in Miami.
When actors become directors, I always pay close attention to how they shoot scenes. Many actors-turned-directors (re: men) linger on a shot a little too long, in an almost masturbatory way, as if to show off a new trick they just learned. As a director, Regina King doesn’t dawdle on her shots; she gets in, gets it good, and gets out, and I think that serves her well—and will serve her well in future films.
One Night in Miami—the fictional account of Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Muhammad Ali, and Jim Brown meeting for one night in The Magic City—is a strong directorial debut from the Academy Award-winning actress. While the adapted play’s script could have used some tweaking to shape it into something more cinematic, King elicits some remarkable performances from her cast, specifically Kingsley Ben-Adir (“Malcolm X”) and Leslie Odom, Jr. (“Sam Cooke”). I could watch an entire movie with just these two, as they supply most of the conflict in the film, which takes place almost entirely in a hotel room (so much for a night out in Miami!). Rounding out the supporting cast is Aldis Hodge (who’s been on a roll lately with movies) as Jim Brown and Eli Goree as Muhammad Ali.
Despite the pandemic, the Middleburg Film Festival celebrated another year with a great selection of films that will play into the Oscar conversation in the coming months.