AWFJ’s Eyes on Middleburg Film Festival 2022 — Sandie Angulo Chen reports

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This past October, the Middleburg Film Festival celebrated its 10th anniversary with a program-filled long weekend. The four-day festival, founded by Sheila Johnson and run by Susan Koch, featured an impressive selection of 45 narrative and documentary feature films. Several AWFJ members, particularly those who live in the Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area, were in attendance, including Virginia-based critics Mae Abdulaki, Leslie Combemale, Nell Minow, and Susan Wloszczyna; Maryland-based Sandie Angulo Chen; and Jazz Tangcay, who flew in from Los Angeles. Several of us once again attended the annual Women in Film luncheon, which featured writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood as a special honoree. This year, instead of discussing the films and performances, we decided to share what we consider to be some of our favorite moments from the 10th annual Middleburg Film Festival.

Nell Minow: I love the Middleburg Film Festival, and this year, as always, the highlight was the tribute to the too-often-overlooked heartbeat of the movies, the composers. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the festival, the concert featured not only this year’s honoree, Michael Abels (Get Out, Us, Nope), but composers who were honored in previous years, including Mark Isham, Kris Bowers, and Charles Fox. I got goosebumps when Fox rehearsed in the Salamander lobby, and we got to listen. Another high point for me was hearing screenwriter Samuel Hunter and actor Brendan Fraser talk about making The Whale providing behind-the-scenes details about adapting Hunter’s play for the screen and finding the title character’s vulnerability inside the prosthetics.

Leslie Combemale: For me, the best experiences of the 2022 Middleburg Film Festival centered around special guest Terilyn Shropshire, the editor of Gina Prince-Bythewood’s newest feature The Woman King. I had the pleasure of doing The Woman King post-film Q&A. The enthusiasm and appreciation from the audience was infectious, and Shropshire’s answers and insights about her work on the film were fascinating. She was also a panelist on Sunday’s “State of the Industry” panel, where she talked about the impact of being able to see The Woman King at live screenings. She was also the editor on The Old Guard, which was never shown on the big screen, and she shared what a huge difference it was to have the communal experience with an audience on her newest film. Her last appearance was on Sunday afternoon in a master class on editing moderated by fellow AWFJ member Jazz Tangcay, and hearing her go through the highlights of her career and the lessons she learned taught me about aspects of her craft I would not have known otherwise.

Sandie Angulo Chen: Outside of watching some terrific films, my favorite moment of the 10th Middleburg Film Festival was the Women in Film luncheon, where Nell, Mae, Susan, Leslie, and I sat with filmmaker Lizzie Gottlieb, whose documentary Turn Every Page — The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb chronicles the 50-year friendship and collaboration between the legendary author Caro and his editor Gottlieb, who’s Lizzie’s father. It was a delight to hear about the film, a true labor of love, and the relationship between these two men of letters who’ve worked closely for five decades. The documentary is not only excellent, but it also won the festival’s award for Best Documentary Film.

Jazz Tangcay: A highlight for me was definitely launching Variety’s Creative Collaborators there. Our conversation with Rian Johnson and his editor Bob Ducsay was fascinating and so informative. I also loved the conversation with Gina Prince-Bythewood. What a talent. What a force. She is a warrior and it was great to learn about her journey and her story. It was great just seeing fellow writers, journalists and of course, seeing the support of female creatives. The festival is one of the best and truly delivers year after year.

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Sandie Angulo Chen

Sandie Angulo Chen is a feature writer, film critic, and book reviewer. She’s written about movies and pop culture since high school, contributing to outlets like Common Sense Media, The Washington Post, EW, Moviefone, and Variety. She lives outside Washington D.C. with her husband and their three young cinephiles.