Movie review

A Look Back at the 2021 Middleburg Film Festival | Festivals & Awards

A glitch arrived early when the screen at the town’s community center decided to go boom during a showing of “The Rescue,” which covers the against-all-odds story that mesmerized the world in 2018: the dangerous rescue of twelve boys and their coach from the deep. But the crack team of Middleburg volunteers soon swooped in to save the first showing of the fest.

Alas, we are still living with the effects of this horrible disease. But the savvy founder of the festival, Sheila Johnson, who created this exquisitely curated yearly event on the advice of Sundance fest founder Robert Redford, decided to employ the same protective measures used at Telluride and other earlier fests to safeguard attendees. Namely, we had to show evidence of being vaccinated as well as a recent negative test. For our efforts, we were given wristbands that confirmed our COVID-free status.

Meanwhile, a cap on ticket sales helped maintain a safe distance among film-hungry fans. Yes, you had to wear masks during the screenings. But on the upside, the four make-shift venues that serve as theaters, which have been uncomfortably jam–packed in earlier years, allowed for more comfort and breathing space in the seating placement.

Speaking of awards, it was more than worth it to swab your nose in order to see some of the year’s cream of the crop that will likely be contenders for gold trophies. Ever since 2016, when actress Emma Stone and writer/director Damien Chazelle made an appearance at the festival to promote “La La Land,” Hollywood has been taking note of this festival’s influence during awards season set in a wealthy community tied to Washington, D.C.

Consider that after winning the highly coveted People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, Kenneth Branagh brought his acclaimed “Belfast,” based on his own working-class childhood during the troubles in the Northern Irish city, to this town of slightly less than 700 residents. Of course, it helps that he received a Director Spotlight Award for his efforts. During a Q&A that followed conducted by Washington Post critic Ann Hornaday, Branagh, who also wrote the script, talked about how being in lockdown made him think about a life-changing event—actually a terrible sound—from 50 years ago.

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