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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MOVIE OF THE WEEK October 22, 2021: WOMEN IS LOSERS

The patriarchy is far from dead, but every woman lucky enough to come of age in the United Stats in a post-RBG, post-Roe v. Wade world is likely to find Lissette Feliciano’s earnest, scrappy ’60-set drama Women Is Losers an eye-opening reminder of how much harder things used to be. It also serves as a powerful argument for why it’s so important not to lose the progress we’ve gained.

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK October 8, 2021: ASCENSION

A study in contrasts, director Jessica Kingdon’s observational documentary Ascension (her first feature) is a fascinating look at contemporary China, a country driven by both consumption and service, tradition and innovation. Kingdon’s camera captures a wide swathe of modern Chinese society — from phalanxes of factory workers to nouveau riche executives. Her remarkable level of access supports a fly-on-the-wall filmmaking style that lends itself to a truly intimate cinematic experience.

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK October 1, 2021: STOP AND GO

Time has moved differently since March 2020, often slowing to a glacial crawl. For that reason, the charming road comedy Stop and Go — which is set during the early days of Covid-19 — already feels quaintly nostalgic. Remember when we doused everything in Lysol? And changed clothes after coming back from the store? And were terrified our loved ones would catch Covid and die? (Hmm. Maybe things haven’t changed so much since lockdown started after all.)

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK September 24, 2021: EL PLANETA

Part Grey Gardens, part Kajillionaire, and part Paper Moon, writer/director Amalia Ulman’s feature directorial debut, El Planeta, is also wholly its own beast. The film is a naturalistic, observational dramedy about a mother and daughter in Gijon, Spain, who find themselves facing impending eviction and doing whatever they need to in order to get by. Filmed in expressive black and white, El Planeta is a thoughtful, slice-of-life character study.

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK September 17, 2021: I’M YOUR MAN

If Westworld had been a romcom instead of a gory sci-fi parable, it might have ended up looking something like Maria Schrader‘s winsome I’m Your Man, which follows a skeptical academic who agrees to test a “perfect partner” android in exchange for research funding support. Determined to poke the concept full of holes, she reluctantly finds herself drawn to her manufactured soulmate — and does a fair bit of self-analysis along the way.

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK September 10, 2021: LANGUAGE LESSONS

After the last year and a half, it would be understandable if someone read the quick summary of Natalie Morales’ Language Lessons — two very different people bond through a series of online chats and messages — and thought “A Zoom movie? No way!” But this intimate, heartfelt dramedy is so much more than that. It’s a carefully observed character study about friendship, privilege, and the power of a genuine connection, whether it’s virtual or IRL.

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK September 3, 2021: WHO YOU THINK I AM

The power of love, the need for validation, and the nature of identity are compellingly tangled in Who You Think I Am, director Safy Nebbou’s adaptation of French writer Camille Laurens’ novel. Juliette Binoche stars as Claire Millaud, an accomplished academic who’s drifting and lonely in the wake of a midlife divorce. Her impulsive decision one night to pose as a much younger woman online leads to both joy and heartbreak.

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK August 27, 2021: LILY TOPPLES THE WORLD

In a social media world full of misinformation and over-filtered influencers, it’s always refreshing to encounter a creator who’s genuine, whose passion is about what they do, rather than just getting people to smash the subscribe button. That description perfectly fits accomplished domino-toppler Lily Hevesh, the subject of Jeremy Workman’s charming documentary Lily Topples the World. Ambitious but understated, focused but unassuming, Lily has earned success through an all-too-rare combination of talent and authenticity.

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK August 20, 2021: REMINISCENCE

Writer/director Lisa Joy’s twisty Reminiscence has all the hallmarks of a classic film noir. A flawed hero. A femme fatale with a dark past. A manipulative crime boss. Double-crosses and misdirection. Climate change. Wait, climate change? Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum might never have had to deal with soaring temperatures and rising sea levels, but that all-too-realistic threat underlines everything in Joy’s sci-fi-tinged mystery, offering a new angle on a familiar trope.

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