AWFJ @ Middleburg Film Festival 2023 – Sandie Angulo Chen reports

The Middleburg Film Festival turned eleven this year, showcasing 39 feature and documentary films in the bucolic Virginia town just an hour from Washington, D.C. The festival, founded by billionaire entrepreneur Sheila Johnson and run by executive director Susan Koch, always highlights women filmmakers and an impressive slate of titles. This year, the festival’s Best Narrative Feature went to American Fiction, written and directed by Cord Jefferson; Best Documentary Feature went to Invisible Nation, directed by Vanessa Hope; Best International Feature was director J.A. Bayona’s Society of the Snow; and the Special Presentation Audience Award went to filmmaker Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers’ The Last Repair Shop

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AWFJ Presents ARRANGED – Review by Sandie Angulo Chen

Directors Diane Crespo and Stefan C. Schaefer’s short-and-sweet film captures the joy of the two women bonding against the odds. Their blossoming friendship overcomes obstacles, including their parents’ cringe-worthy reactions to the co-workers socializing outside of school. Even at school they can’t escape narrow-minded (and laughably inappropriate) comments from the secular Jewish Principal, who is so uncomfortable with their modesty that she accuses them of being indoctrinated and offers them cash to buy something trendy to wear.

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

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 Comebale, Nell Minow, and Susan Wloszczyna; Maryland-based Sandie Angulo Chen; and Jazz Tangcay, who flew in from Los Angeles. 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.

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AWFJ Presents ARRANGED – Review by Sandie Angulo Chen

Directors Diane Crespo and Stefan C. Schaefer’s short-and-sweet film captures the joy of the two women bonding against the odds. Their blossoming friendship overcomes obstacles, including their parents’ cringe-worthy reactions to the co-workers socializing outside of school. Even at school they can’t escape narrow-minded (and laughably inappropriate) comments from the secular Jewish Principal, who is so uncomfortable with their modesty that she accuses them of being indoctrinated and offers them cash to buy something trendy to wear.

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AWFJ @ Middleburg Film Festival – Sandie Angulo Chen reports

The ninth year of the Middleburg Film Festival brought back the fest’s in-person programming in Virginia horse country. Founded by Sheila Johnson and run by executive director Susan Koch, the four-day festival continues to feature an impressive slate of diverse and thoughtfully-curated narrative and documentary feature films (34 this year).

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AT THE READY – Review by Sandie Angulo Chen

At the Ready is an easy sell for those who find something uniquely fascinating about the state of Texas, and in particular its border towns. The fact that there are high schools in Texas that offer law enforcement courses and criminal justice clubs in which students compete in mock raids, hostage negotiations, active-shooter situations, and other law enforcement scenarios shouldn’t come as a surprise; it’s Texas. What is surprising, is that the documentary isn’t about an all-White high school in a red swath of the State; it’s about a club at predominantly Hispanic (nearly all the students are cued as Mexican American) Horizon High School in El Paso.

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LES NOTRES – Review by Sandie Angulo Chen

Canadian writer-director Jeanne Leblanc’s family drama centers on 13-year-old Magalie, whose unexpected pregnancy throws her small Quebec town into a state of constant gossip. Everyone is quick to blame Magalie’s best friend and neighbor Manuel, who happens to be the Mexican-born teen foster child to the town’s beloved mayor -and his wife.

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SPRING BLOSSOM – Review by Sandie Angulo Chen

There’s something inherently uncomfortable about age-gap romances when one person is underaged. Even when the older party isn’t a teacher, coach, or other authority figure, it’s still problematic. What’s remarkable about the French film Spring Blossom is that unlike similar films made by men, this one is from the perspective of the young woman and doesn’t shy away from showing precisely how intelligent but also naive and young the protagonist really is… probably because writer-director-star Suzanne Lindon penned the script when she was 15 (and shot the film when she was 19).

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Jessica Kavana Dornbusch chats REEFA – Sandie Angulo Chen interviews

In August 2013, 18-year-old graffiti artist Israel Hernandez, who tagged under the name Reefa and aspired to be the next Banksy or Basquiat, died after being Tased by Miami Beach police officers who caught him tagging a commercial wall. Less than a year after Israel’s death, Miami-based filmmaker Jessica Kavana Dornbusch signed on to tell the story of the Colombian refugee’s last summer alive, his goal of making it to New York City and pursuing his artistic dreams, and his love of his tight-knit family.

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Jessica Bruder and Bob Wells on NOMADLAND – Sandie Angulo Chen interviews

Knowing the fascinating backstory of Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland gives audiences additional appreciation of this film’s unique style and universal appeal. Sandie Angulo Chen get the inside scoop from two of the film’s backstory principals, Jessica Bruder who wrote the book behind the adapted script and Bob Wells, a Nomad clan leader who added his own unique voice to the screenplay. Both were mentioned by Chloe Zhao in her Golden Globes acceptance speech. Sandie Angulo Chen chats with Bruder and Wells for their take on Nomadland.

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