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Why Does the World Need Another Film Festival?

Thompson on Hollywood By Rick Allen | Thompson on Hollywood October 30, 2013 at 12:50PM

With a prolonged global recession putting increasing pressure on the already fragile financial underpinnings of film festivals all over the world, what’s the argument for yet another curated offering -- and especially one taking place more than an hour from a major city, in rural Virginia? That skepticism greeted the announcement of this weekend’s first annual Middleburg Film Festival, which was spearheaded by Washington DC (and Middleburg) entrepreneur, filmanthropist and sports team owner Sheila Johnson -- one of the producers of "Lee Daniels’s The Butler."
Susan Koch and Sheila Johnson at the Middleburg Film Festival
Susan Koch and Sheila Johnson at the Middleburg Film Festival

  • Bruce Dern’s emotional appreciation of "Nebraska"’s Director Alexander Payne, who “gave me a greater freedom than I’ve ever had as an actor over 50 years,” in a post-screening panel with the film's producers Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa.
  • Legendary Swampman Jimmy Johnson expressing his surprise that “a group of good ‘ole boys from Alabama” could have had such an enduring impact on popular music, following the screening of "Muscle Shoals," which traces how a small Alabama town on the banks of the Tennessee River has been an “unlikely breeding ground for some of America’s most creative and defiant music” -- from the Stones to Aretha Franklin, Jimmy Cliff to Alicia Keys to Steve Winwood (all featured in the movie).
  • Lee Daniels wiping away tears after having seen his film "The Butler" for the first time since its premiere, and characterizing the movie as “essentially a father/son tale” that is also “a love letter to America.” Daniels was joined in a post-screening discussion by Washington Post journalist Wil Haygood (whose true story for the paper led to the book and film); the two were questioned by Post reporter Krissah Thompson.
  • Ted Leonsis tracing the “tectonic changes in storytelling, making self-expression through video” a defining trend of our age.  “Now that the tools of the trade are available at a low cost … we can activate genius on a worldwide basis” – intermingling cultures and democratizing a medium “too often controlled by old, white men” that has nonetheless “created what our culture felt and thought, and how our country is expressed abroad.”
  • Stefano Sardo, director of the "Slow Food Story," noting that “food is culture put in motion for regular people,” after a screening of his documentary.  The film traces the roots and accelerating impact of an eco-gastronomic movement that began in Italy, spread worldwide, and – by recognizing a “universal right to pleasure” – promotes doing what is “right, fair and clean” to reclaim both pleasure and politics through food, in “a noble way that relates to everyone.”
  • Josh Rofé, director of "Lost for Life," talking about the young people in his film who are serving life sentences without parole for “unspeakable acts” committed when they were juveniles: “how do we as a society consider what it will take for a murderer to construct a life worthy of a second chance?”  Rofé’s after-screening panel included the film's producer Leonsis, juvenile justice activist and "Hangover producer" Scott Budnick, and me.

Organizer Johnson surveyed the scene with real satisfaction, proud of inaugural results that suggest that the movie world will soon become very familiar with Middleburg.

This article is related to: Festivals, Bruce Dern, Middleburg Film Festival, Lee Daniels' The Butler , The Armstrong Lie, August: Osage County, The Square

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.