Fifth Annual Film Fest 919 Wrap – Sarah Knight Adamson

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Film Fest 919, with headquarters in Chapel Hill, NC, celebrated its 5th year with another high-caliber program of films. Beginning October 19, and running through October 23, it brought many of this year’s Oscar hopeful films to the festival. Most know a film festival is only as good as the programmers, and in this case, two seasoned film industry women founders are at the helm— Randi Emerman and Carol Marshall. These remarkably talented women have lengthy resumes in the film and entertainment industry. For both Emerman, CEO of Iron Mermaid Films, the former Vice President of Marketing of Silver Spot Cinemas and former CEO of the Palm Beach International Film Festival, and Marshall, CEO and publicist of Carol Marshall Public Relations, Inc., an Academy Award Member and former overseer of talent and publicity for both the Santa Barbara and Palm Beach International Film Festivals—taking on the challenge of creating a new film festival is their way of promoting excellent films.

Their criteria in the selections are to present films that have not had their theatrical release— thus giving film lovers the benefit of telling their friends they saw some of the best new films before anyone else in the state or possibly the country. As a film critic, I enjoy attending FF919, as I can add to my list of those, I had hoped to see at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. And yes, the quality and prestige of their films are of the highest order.

“We are so proud of the program we’ve put together for our 5th year,” remarked Emerman and Marshall.

“We have films from all around the world representing 13 countries; some tremendous thought-provoking documentaries, official Academy submissions for Best International Film, and many unique and memorable stories that will touch the heart and soul. We look forward to celebrating the theatrical experience together!”

FF919 kicked off Wednesday, October 19, with a special presentation of the new Horizon Award to director JD Dillard, followed by the Opening Night screening of his action-drama Devotion, starring Jonathan Majors and Glen Powell. Set during the Korean War, this visceral film tells the story of the US Navy’s first Black aviator and his dedicated wingman, pilots who both confront geopolitical uncertainty and racist hostility with uncommon valor. It’s an inspiring tale of friendship, courage, and sacrifice.

During the film, JD Dillard and producer Rachel Smith were in attendance. Following the presentation to JD Dillard of Film Fest 919’s first Horizon Award, the film received an enthusiastic response from the audience. A Q&A discussion with the filmmakers moderated by Vanity Fair‘s Katey Rich followed, setting the tone for an exciting weekend of films.

“The Horizon Award is presented to an outstanding filmmaker whose work not only demonstrates excellence in their craft but perhaps, more, importantly, signals a stunning breakthrough in their own artistry and body of work,” said Emerman and Marshall. The award also recognizes Mr. Dillard’s incredible filmmaking achievement.

Film Fest 919 continued through Sunday, October 23, with films presented at two venues: The Silverspot Cinema and The Lumina Theater. Tickets were available at www.filmfest919.com or on the theaters’ website. Their slogan states: ‘Catch the Films Before They Catch On!’

Film offerings included:

All The Beauty and the Bloodshed
, USA – Documentary Directed by Laura Poitras, Featuring Nan Goldin

This documentary feature follows the life of artist Nan Goldin and the downfall of the Sackler family, the pharmaceutical dynasty that was greatly responsible for the opioid epidemic’s unfathomable death toll.
Winner of Golden Lion for Best Film & Smithers Foundation Award, Venice Film Festival; Toronto International Film Festival

Armageddon Time, US/Brazil, Directed by James Gray, Starring Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong, Anthony Hopkins

Paul (Banks Repeta), a dreamy middle-class kid, has an urge to be an artist. His loving but conventional and insecure parents (Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong) don’t understand. As he wrestles with self-expression, Paul finds inspiration from Johnny (Jaylin Webb), a rebellious schoolmate, and his Jewish immigrant grandfather (Anthony Hopkins), who, since escaping Ukraine during World War II, has lived the best and the worst of the American Dream.
Nominated for Palm d’Or, Cannes; Telluride Film Festival

Bad Axe, USA – Documentary Directed by David Siev

Bad Axe captures a closely-knit Asian-American family living in a rural Michigan community as they now fight to keep their American dream alive. As owners of a local prominent restaurant, they reckon with a global pandemic, racial tensions, and generational scars from Cambodia’s killing fields.
Winner Best Documentary, SXSW Film Festival

Bardo – Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu Cast: David Gimenez Cacho, Griselda Sciliani, Ximena Lamadrid, Iker Solano, Luz Jimenez, Louis Couturier, Andrés Almedia, Clementina Guadarrama, Jay O’Sanders, Francisco Rubio, Fabiola Guajardo, Noé Hernández, Ivan Massagué

Bardo is an epic, visually stunning, and immersive experience set against the intimate and moving journey of Silverio, a renowned Mexican journalist and documentary filmmaker living in Los Angeles, who, after being named the recipient of a prestigious international award, is compelled to return to his native country, unaware that this simple trip will push him to an existential limit.
Venice International Film Festival

Close, Belgium/Netherlands/France Directed by Lucas Dhont with Eden Dambrine, Gustav De Waele

The film center’s on the intense friendship between two 13-year-old boys, Rémi (Gustav De Waele) and Léo (Eden Dambrine). The images of the boys, supplied by Frank van den Eeden’s fluid cinematography, riding their bikes through fields of flowers will stun and delight you. Once school starts, the prison walls of social convention begin to close, with devastating effects on their friendship which is suddenly disrupted.
Official Academy Submission for Belgium; Winner, Grand Prize of Festival, Cannes; Telluride Film Festival

Corsage, Austria/Luxembourg/Germany/France Directed by Marie Kreutzer Starring Vicky Krieps

Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Krieps) is idolized for her beauty and renowned for inspiring fashion trends. But in 1877, ‘Sisi’ celebrated her 40th birthday and must fight to maintain her public image by lacing her corset tighter and tighter. While Elisabeth’s role has been reduced against her wishes to purely performative, her hunger for knowledge and zest for life makes her more and more restless in Vienna. Official Academy Submission for Austria; Winner, Un Certain Regard for Best Performance – Vicky Krieps, Cannes Film Festival

Devotion, USA Directed by JD Dillard, Starring Jonathan Majors, Glenn Powell, Christina Jackson, Thomas Sadoski, and Joe Jonas

Is a war epic based on the bestselling book of the same name. It tells the inspirational true story of two elite US Navy fighter pilots who helped turn the tide in the most brutal battle in the Korean War: Jesse Brown, the first Black aviator in Navy history and his fellow fighter pilot and friend, Tom Hudner. Their heroic sacrifices and enduring friendship would ultimately make them the Navy’s most celebrated wingmen.
Toronto International Film Festival.

Empire of Light, UK/US, Directed by Sam Mendes, Starring Olivia Coleman, Colin Firth, Micheal Ward

Mendes sidesteps the expected nostalgia to follow the philosophy written on the cinema’s walls: “Find in light where darkness lies.” The film leads us through the characters’ profound struggles, both internally and with a society encountering massive cultural and economic shifts. Working again with the Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins, Mendes has created a rich, complex celebration that, at its core, reminds us how music and cinema can bring us together, even as the world drives us apart.
Telluride Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival

Good Night Oppy, US – Documentary Directed by Ryan White

Ryan White’s movie embodies a shared childhood dream for those born at the dawn of the space age: to reach out for the stars, to travel to space, to add to our knowledge and our understanding of who we are, and, perhaps, to discover whether we’re alone in this expanse. The film follows a team from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory—brilliant scientists all, but also with an infectious child-like enthusiasm—as they create, launch and guide. White weaves a thrilling tale that will inspire any explorer. Telluride Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival

If These Walls Could Sing, UK – Documentary Directed by Mary McCartney
Disney presents an original documentary, giving exclusive access to the world’s most famous and longest-running studio, Abbey Road Studios. In this personal film of memory and discovery, director Mary McCartney, Sir Paul McCartney’s daughter, guides us through nine decades to tell the stories of some of the studio’s most iconic recordings.
Telluride Film Festival

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, US –Written and directed by Rian Johnson, Starring Daniel Craig alongside Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline, with Kate Hudson and Dave Bautista.

Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Rian Johnson assembles another all-star cast, returning to the franchise he began. Benoit Blanc (Craig) returns to peel back the layers in this new whodunit. This new adventure finds the intrepid detective at a lavish private estate on a Greek island, but how and why he comes to be there is only the first of many puzzles. Blanc soon meets a distinctly disparate group of friends gathering at the invitation of billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) for their yearly reunion. As in all the best murder mysteries, each character harbors their secrets, lies, and motivations. When someone turns up dead, everyone is a suspect.
Toronto International Film Festival

Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues, US – Documentary Directed by Sascha Jenkins

Musician and documentary filmmaker Sacha Jenkins accessed the personal archive of legendary jazz trumpeter and singer Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong. Tapping into Louis’ own audio recordings, representing a meticulous account of his personal life, Jenkins offers insights into the man behind the music. His private conversations juxtaposed his public persona as one of the world’s most famous musicians and performers. Archival footage and a soundtrack containing some of Satchmo’s best-known songs and performances bring Louis to life and show him as a barrier-breaking Black entertainer who navigated the times he lived in to keep at his craft over a 50+-year career.
Toronto International Film Festival

Saint Omér, France Directed by Alice Diop, Kayije Kagame, Guslagie Malanga

Saint Omér follows Rama, a novelist who attends the trial of Laurence Coly at the Saint-Omer Criminal Court to use her story to write a modern-day adaptation of the ancient myth of Medea, but things don’t go as expected.
Official Academy submission for France; Winner Edipo Re Award; Luigi De Laurentiis Award and Silver Lion Award, Venice Film Festival

She Said, US, Directed by Maria Schrader, Starring Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan, Patricia Clarkson

Two-time Academy Award® nominee Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman) and Zoe Kazan (The Plot Against America) star as New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, who together broke one of the most important stories in a generation— a story that shattered decades of silence around the subject of sexual assault in Hollywood and altered American culture forever. A testament to the power of investigative journalism, She Said details the journey of reporters and editors engaged in the unrelenting pursuit of the truth and highlights the courage of survivors and witnesses who chose to come forward to stop a serial predator in his tracks. Together, their commitment and fortitude sparked a national conversation, helped propel the #MeToo movement and fueled a reckoning of the system that had enabled him. A discussion after the film was hosted by Randi Emerman and Sarah Knight Adamson, a film critic.

The Banshees of Inisherin, Ireland/UK/US, Written and Directed by Martin McDonagh, Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon

In Bruges stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson reteam for this fable about two lifelong friends who reach an impasse with alarming consequences for both. This pitch-black comic fable of wounded friendship and the perils of petty grievance comes from the vibrant imagination of Oscar-winning writer and director Martin McDonagh. Reuniting McDonagh with his ingenious In Bruges stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, The Banshees of Inisherin is enchanting, poignant, and entertaining.
Winner Volpi Cup for Film and Golden Osella for screenplay at Venice Film Festival; Toronto International Film Festival

The Inspection, US, Directed by Elegance Bratton, Starring Jeremy Pope, Gabrielle Union

Inspired by the filmmaker’s life story, Ellis French (Jeremy Pope) is a sensitive young Black man who enlists in the Marine Corps to pull himself out of homelessness and gain the love of his dogged and combatant mother, played by scene-stealing. While the film takes place in the age of America’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue” policy, which directed applicants to the military not to be asked about sexual orientation, homophobia is deeply entrenched in all aspects of service, from boot camp to battle. Once enlisted, French struggles to conceal his sexual identity — as well as his invading attraction to his drill instructor (Raúl Castillo) — while under the watchful eye of the belligerent and hard-lining unit commander (Bokeem Woodbine).
Toronto International Film Festival

The Lost King, UK, Directed by Stephen Frears, Starring Sally Hawkins, Steve Coogan

In the archaeological find of a century, the remains of King Richard III — presumed scattered over 500 years ago — were discovered under a parking lot in Leicester in 2012. The search was spearheaded by amateur historian Philippa Langley, whose passion and unrelenting research were met with skepticism by the academic establishment. Directed by two-time Oscar® nominee Stephen Frears (The Queen, A Very English Scandal) and starring two-time Oscar® nominee Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water, Spencer) as Langley, The Lost King is the inspiring true story of a woman who refused to be ignored and took on Britain’s most eminent historians, forcing them to rethink the legacy of one of the most controversial rulers in English history. A tale of discovery, obsession, and stolen glory (both then and now), The Lost King is a magical adventure illuminated by one woman’s awakened sense of purpose.
Toronto International Film Festival

The Quiet Girl, Ireland, Directed by Colm Bairéad, Starring Carrie Crowley, Andrew Bennett, Michael Patric, and Catherine Clinch

With a setting of 1981, this film tells the story of a young girl, Cáit, who is sent away for the summer from her dysfunctional family to live with ‘her mother’s people.’ These are Seán and Eibhlín Cinnsealach, a middle-aged couple she has never met. Slowly, in the care of this couple, Cáit blossoms and discovers a new way of living, but in this house where affection grows, and there are meant to be no secrets, she discovers one. Winner, Grand Prix of the Generation Kplus International Jury and Children’s Jury Special Mention – Berlin International Film Festival

The Voice of Dust and Ash, Iran – Documentary Directed by Mandana Biscotti Featuring Mohammed Reza Sharjarian

The incredible true-life story of monumental singer and humanitarian Maestro Mohammed Reza Sharjarian, who NPR declared “one of the 50 greatest voices of all time.” When Iran’s ayatollah banned music and performances in the entire country, instruments and records were criminalized, and being caught with any resulted in lashings, imprisonment, exile, or execution. Mohammed Reza Sharjarian risked everything to confront the regime, singing truth to power and uniting the country as his voice grew to a chorus of 80 million people strong. His lifelong humanitarian efforts, pursuits of equality, and freedom of speech are immortalized for generations to come through his majestic, soaring vocals and lyrics.

White Noise, US Directed and written by Noah Baumbach, Starring Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Raffey Cassidy, Don Cheadle.

Hilarious, horrifying, lyrical, absurd, ordinary, and apocalyptic all describe White Noise. It dramatizes a contemporary American family’s attempts to deal with the mundane conflicts of everyday life while grappling with the universal mysteries of love, death, and the possibility of happiness in an uncertain world.
Winner, Green Drop Award – Venice Film Festival

Women Talking, US, Directed by Sarah Polley, Starring Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Sheila McCarthy, Jessie Buckley, Frances McDormand, Judith Ivey

Mennonite women gather to conspire in a barn on a prairie far away. They have choices—they could do nothing; they could stay and fight, or they could leave. The metaphor is as clear as the light, for they need to outlast the abuse they endure from the men in the community. We never see these men, but we read their power in the women’s eyes and expressions. This adaptation of Miriam Toews’ novel has a powerful gravity.
Telluride Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival

Before the final film rolled, the festival announced the Audience Favorite Award Winners, which ended in a tie between Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin and The Quiet Girl, Ireland’s official submission for International Feature. Maria Schrader’s, She Said was a very close runner-up!

The closing night film Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery Academy Award®-nominated writer and director Rian Johnson was honored with the Distinguished Screenwriter Award during the closing night festivities on Sunday, October 23. Johnson is currently traveling abroad with the film and was not able to be in Chapel Hill, his recorded acceptance video played on the big screen, and he thanked both Emerman and Marshall for the award and congratulated them on a great festival.

“When deciding who to honor this year with this award, we both felt that Rian Johnson’s script stood out in such a significant way that we just couldn’t let his inability to attend affect that decision.” Johnson is in good company, with previous recipients being Anthony McCarten (Two Popes), Chloe Zhao (Nomadland), and Sean Baker & Chris Bergoch (Red Rocket).

“We had such a great time with everyone this year and were thrilled to be able to share this incredible lineup with a community of film lovers,” commented Emerman and Marshall.

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Sarah Knight Adamson

Chicago-based Sarah Knight Adamson is the film critic for the Internationally syndicated radio show Hollywood 360, broadcast on over 90 stations. She has served on film panels for the Chicago Public Library, been a juror at film festivals, and writes about film for Naperville Magazine. She is founder and publisher of Sarah’s Backstage Pass website, where her written work appears.