I recently had the pleasure of attending the 2019 Middleburg Film Festival at the Salamander Resort and Spa in Middleburg, Virginia, where I saw some of the year’s most anticipated prestige films. It was my first time attending a festival of this caliber, and I can honestly say that it was one of the most exciting long weekends of my life.
The festival is actually quite small and intimate, much like the town it’s set in, but the programmers, year after year, have done an incredible job of landing the most anticipated fall titles that you will likely hear a lot about as awards season picks up. It is a unique experience where you can walk out of a major contender, and run into the writers of the film right outside the screening room and have a casual conversation with them without drawing any attention.
MFF 2019 kicked off with a Thursday afternoon screening of Bong Joon-Ho’s highly anticipated Parasite. I don’t think I’ve seen this much praise for any film since Moonlight shook up the Oscar race in 2016, and it certainly did not disappoint. A thrilling tale of class relations in South Korea, Parasite lives up to the ravenous praise that it has sustained since it premiered at Cannes back in May.
Next up was the official Opening Night Film, Noah Baumbach’s heartbreaking Marriage Story. Following a couple’s divorce, this one was a real tearjerker, but it is so powerful that it is a must-watch when it hits Netflix this December. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson star as the separating couple, and if it were up to me, the two would win Best Actor and Best Actress respectively.
Friday kicked off with a bright and early cry, as I opened my day with a morning showing of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which stars Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers. This feel good crowdpleaser was met by a standing ovation from the Middleburg crowd, and will be just as warmly received when it goes wide in late November.
The Friday night centerpiece was my personal favorite of the festival (and my current #1 movie of the year), Trey Edward Shults Waves. I don’t want to give too much away about the plot of this one, but it is certainly one of the most unique movies I have seen in a long time. Shults is a director who I have admired since his 2015 debut, Krisha, but Waves feels like a real breakthrough into the elite for the 31 year old.
The highlight of the festival happened shortly after this screening and Q&A, when I had the opportunity to meet the cast (including Sterling K. Brown, Kelvin Harrison Jr., and Taylor Russell), and the writer/director himself!
A friend and I had met Russell in town prior to the screening, and she told us to find her after the Q&A. She then proceeded to introduce us to the entire team where we had the opportunity to take pictures and speak with them. The Waves team was the nicest, and most down to earth group of people, true class acts. They were extremely engaging and receptive to the questions we had for them.
Saturday was the craziest day of the festival, three films for me. The day started with the festival’s 2019 Audience Award winner, The Two Popes, which was followed by a Q&A with the Oscar nominated screenwriter, Anthony McCarten.
Next was the Michael B. Jordan, Brie Larson, and Jamie Foxx starrer, Just Mercy. A very moving piece which follows civil rights defense attorney Bryan Stevenson’s fight to free wrongly convicted prisoners who are on death row. This one hit particularly hard, considering its subject matter, and is one of the most important movies of the year.
Saturday was capped off with Rian Johnson’s brilliant Knives Out. Inspired by Agatha Christie’s classic whodunnits, Knives Out blends Johnson’s unique style with a riveting mystery, producing another one of my favorites from the fest.
And finally, Sunday’s closing night feature was one of 2019’s most anticipated titles, Martin Scrosese’s The Irishman, which stars the all star cast of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci. Despite a nearly three and a half hour runtime (thankful for you all, this is another Netflix original so you can watch it in multiple sittings from the comfort of your own home), The Irishman is one of Scrosese’s best. I would not be surprised if, come February 9, 2020, this is the movie that takes home the big prize.
Needless to say, I had the best time at my first Middleburg Film Festival. In a weekend dedicated to the celebration of so many great films, I found a lot of creative inspiration in the incredible cinema and insightful conversations that I witnessed, backed by such talented filmmakers. I already can’t wait until next year!