Experience Hollywood magic at the Middleburg Film Festival

The fifth annual film festival ushers in Tinseltown from Oct. 19-22.

middleburg film festival
Photo courtesy of the Middleburg Film Festival

Strolling down Washington Street in Middleburg—past an independent bookstore, an ice-cream parlor and an antique shop—feels an awful lot like stepping onto a film set.

For the past four years, Middleburg, an idyllic 18th-century town known for local wine and equestrian life with grand views of the Bull Run and Blue Ridge Mountains, has graciously welcomed some of Hollywood’s elite for the Middleburg Film Festival, Emma Stone and Meg Ryan among them. Yet festival organizers Sheila Johnson and Susan Koch emphasize the event’s casual atmosphere.

“We always have great parties and great conversations,” Koch says. “But we’re not fussy. We don’t have a traditional red carpet. And I think that’s one thing that people like about us; there’s not that distance between the filmmakers and the filmgoers.”

Johnson—co-founder of BET, CEO of the Salamander Resort, vice chairman of Monumental Sports and Entertainment and president of the Washington Mystics—first worked in film with Emmy-winning documentarian Koch when they worked on Kicking It, a film about the Homeless World Cup that premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. Though they enjoy collaborating on film selection, it’s not exactly DVD binge-watching with a bag of popcorn.

“It’s really a yearlong process because you start following films and watching them, and we always screen films that are not yet in the theater,” Koch says.

A trait that distinguishes the Middleburg Film Festival from fellow festivals is its spotlight on composing for film. This year, Oscar-winning composer Nicholas Britell—who scored Moonlight and has signed on to score the hotly anticipated Ocean’s Eight—will discuss his work on stage while the Shenandoah Symphony provides live accompaniment for screened selections from his films.

“It’s just the most emotional way of watching a movie because so often we’re very focused in on the dialogue; people forget about the music. And the music is what really can shape a scene,” Johnson says.

The festival, which runs from Oct. 19-22, will feature a few dozen movies making their regional premiere, including foreign-language titles and films directed by a relatively small Hollywood population: women.

“We’re just still a minority in entrepreneurship; we’re a minority in film. But it just comes down to money. The men can get money a lot quicker in financing the film than women can,” Johnson says. “We’re fighting it all the way.”

(October 2017)