‘Rustin,’ ‘Saltburn’ Among Fest Screenings



How does one create a film festival during an actors strike? Middleburg Film Festival executive director Susan Koch explains she’s approached programming the Virginia fest in the same manner as she has always done. “We looked for the strongest films and a wide range of films that represent diverse voices and ones we feel will expand our view of the world,” she tells Variety.

Now in its 11th year, the festival continues to be a carefully curated weekend of films and conversations, including many of the year’s buzziest titles. “Rustin,” a Netflix biopic of civil rights activist Bayard Rustin that was directed by George C. Wolfe, will open the four-day fest. Wolfe will receive the festival’s Impact Award for his work in bringing the impactful civil and LGBTQ rights story to the screen. Searchlight’s “Poor Things” and A24’s “Priscilla” are also among films screening from Oct. 19-21 in the Virginia town.

Representation is most important to Koch and the festival team when planning four days of films and conversations. “We have women represented, we have people of color, and the international component is covered with at least eight international language submissions,” says Koch.

Noteworthy among the festival’s offerings this year is a collaboration with the U.S. Department of State through the U.S.’s film diplomacy program, USC’s American Film Showcase, to host Ukrainian filmmakers in a panel discussing their recent projects and the connections between their heritage and Ukraine’s film industry. “We will be showing at least one of their films and clips, as well as having a Film Diplomacy panel with them. I think they will benefit from being exposed to all the other filmmakers that are present.”

Emerald Fennell’s “Saltburn” will screen at the fest, and the director will collect the Agnès Varda Trailblazing Film Artist award and grant.

Composer Michael Giacchino will also be recognized with the Distinguished Composer Award during a tribute concert performed by the Louden Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Kim Kluge. Past composer and songwriter honorees include Mark Isham, Marco Beltrami, Diane Warren and
Kris Bowers.

Bowers is set to receive the inaugural Sheila Johnson Vanguard Award, named after the festival’s founder and board chair. This year, Bowers’ work can be heard on “The Color Purple” as well as “Origin,” which reunites him with Ava DuVernay. As a filmmaker, Bowers landed an Oscar nomination for his 2020 short film, “A Concerto Is a Conversation,” which he co-directed with Ben Proudfoot (“The Queen of Basketball”). The pair teamed up once again to direct the upcoming documentary short film “The Last Repair Shop,” which will also screen at the fest.

“Celebrating Kris with this inaugural award is a heartfelt privilege. His presence within our festival family over the years has been a source of pride as we’ve witnessed his meteoric ascent as a composer and filmmaker,” says founder and board chair Sheila Johnson. “I’m so inspired by his work as are many young people, especially young people of color in our community who view him as a role model.”

Makeup artist Kazu Hiro, whose credits include “Bombshell” and “Darkest Hour,” is responsible for Bradley Cooper’s physical transformation into Leonard Bernstein in “Maestro” and will be the recipient of the Distinguished Makeup Designer Award for his contributions to the film. Additionally, Sofia Coppola and costume designer Stacey Battat are being honored with Variety’s Creative Collaborators Award for their past work and latest collaboration on “Priscilla.”

“I hope people will step a little bit out of their comfort zones and go see a film that they might not otherwise have seen,” Koch says. “There are so many treasures there. I think this year’s films will facilitate even more inter­esting conversations.”


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