Although the organizers of the new Middleburg Film Festival say their goal is to keep things small and intimate in their inaugural offering, the film gods might have different ideas, as the festival has lined up Oscar bait like Alexander Payne's "Nebraska" and Justin Chadwick's "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" and will feature such hot commodities as Lee Daniels and Wil Haygood, the creative team behind "Lee Daniels' The Butler."
"We were really conscious of the fact that we wanted to be small," said Susan Koch, the festival's executive director. With 15 films spread over Oct. 24-27 in a Virginia town with no movie theater, that would seem to go without saying.
Films will screen at a variety of venues like the National Sporting Library and Middleburg Community Center. But the two films announced so far — "Nebraska" will screen on opening night, Oct. 24, and "Mandela" will be the centerpiece flick on Oct. 26 — suggest some star power. "Nebraska" star Bruce Dern will attend, and the proximity to Washington, as well as festival founder Sheila C. Johnson's own film pedigree, make it likely the festival might get outsize attention that wouldn't necessarily come to just any old hunt country town.
Johnson, who also founded the town's new Salamander Resort & Spa, is an executive producer for "Lee Daniels' The Butler" and the hard-hitting documentary "The Other City," about the AIDS epidemic in Washington, D.C.
Koch, a frequent collaborator with Johnson who co-directed "The Other City," said Middleburg's small-town charm and the setting will keep the festival close to the ground, citing the involvement of local institutions like Boxwood Winery and The Shenandoah Conservatory. "Festivals come in all shapes and sizes. ... As a filmmaker, I've enjoyed the smaller festivals. There something about being at a smaller festival, and really connecting with your viewers," Koch said. "I think it'll be a special time, or at least that's our intention."