Ebertfest 2017 and 2018

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As Ebertfest begins to prepare for its 20th anniversary in 2018, it has released a video from Shatterglass about last spring’s festival.  It is always one of the highlights of the year.

Roger Ebert’s 19th Annual Film Festival // A Retrospective Documentary from Shatterglass Studios on Vimeo.

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Middleburg Film Festival: Sheila Johnson and Susan Koch on This Year’s Films

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In its fifth year, the Middleburg Film Festival has grown from a tiny gem at the splendid Salamander Resort in Virginia hunt country to a major powerhouse with a very strong line-up ranging from major awards contenders to exceptional independent films, plus interviews with promising newcomers and established greats. The festival opens October 19, with The Darkest Hour, starring Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill. In an interview, founder Sheila Johnson and executive director Susan Koch talked about the festival’s highlights, including a tribute to women directors, a presentation to composer Nicholas Britell featuring not just movie clips but a full live orchestra, and a conversation with Legacy Award winner James Ivory.

What inspired this year’s special focus on women directors?

Koch: It’s funny because we had these films and these incredible directors and all of a sudden I realized we have four of the leading women directors coming to the festival with these great films. We have Dee Rees with Mudbound, an epic film. We have Greta Gerwig with Ladybird. We have Maggie Betts making her directorial debut with Novitiate and we have Valerie Faris, co-director of Battle of the Sexes. Given everything that is going on, I think that it’s just great to have a dialogue that focuses on the accomplishments of women.

Johnson: It’s not that we go looking for films by women. It is really done organically. It’s because they have done the job and they’ve made some of the best films. We did not know that would be a theme until we saw what we would be presenting.

As much as I love seeing the films, my favorite thing about your festival is your great tributes to the composers, this year to Nicholas Britell of “Moonlight” and “Battle of the Sexes.” There’s nothing like it at any other festival. How did that come about?

Johnson: We wanted something that was different, that no other film festival was doing. I’m also a violinist, and so when I watch movies I really listen to the music. And so Susan and I thought it would be really great if we could really celebrate that “unsung” hero (pun intended), the composer. It gives us a chance to expand the educational component of the festival by bringing in the incredible student musicians from the Shenandoah student orchestra. And we can show clips on the big screen with the dialogue off just to hear the music. And this year one of our previous awardees, Marco Beltrami, will return to do a master class with Nicholas.

What made you decide on James Ivory for the Legacy Award?

Johnson: Well just look at what he’s done. His are my favorite movies in the whole world.

Koch: He’s 89 and he’s not showing any signs of stopping. We will be showing his new film, Call Me by Your Name, and it seemed like such an opportunity to recognize his tremendous body of work. He’s got an incredible, elegant visual sense and he portrays people with such understanding and humanity.

I’m very exciting about participating in the festival for the first time on the Talk Back to the Critics panel!

Koch: We love having you out there and people want to meet you. The people who come to the festival have a lot to say about movies so we are expecting some lively discussions.

The films this year range from family-friendly to adult material, from ultralocal to international.

Johnson: Yes, we Wonderstruck, based on the book by Brian Selznick, we have have entries for the foreign-language Oscar, and we have a documentary filmed in Middleburg called Music Got Me Here, the story of a young man who suffered a severe traumatic brain injury that left him unable to talk until his former music teacher was able to reach him.

What do you want this festival to do?

Johnson: There is something about seeing a film as part of a community experience. You’re sitting there experiencing it together and afterwards it just really fosters dialogue. I think the other thing that we’ve been thinking about a lot especially at these times is that there is an incredible need for people to talk to one another. We have seven countries’ submissions to the Oscars and we hope people will be expanding their views of the world through these incredible foreign language films. I just really hope that in so many ways, we are not are only presenting incredible films but also giving people a lot of things to talk about.

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Middleburg Film Festival Announces the 2017 Schedule

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The Middleburg Film Festival announced today the riveting wartime drama DARKEST HOUR, starring Academy Award©-nominated actor Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, will open the festival on Thursday, October 19. Actor Ben Mendelsohn, who portrays King George VI, screenwriter Anthony McCarten, and producer Lisa Bruce will participate in a conversation following the screening.

Middleburg Film Festival, now in its fifth year, runs from October 19 to October 22 in Virginia’s historic wine country located one hour from Washington, DC.

LADY BIRD, the impressive directorial debut of actress Greta Gerwig (FRANCES HA), will screen as the Saturday Evening Centerpiece Film on October 21 with Gerwig in attendance. Gerwig also penned the script of this uproarious comedy starring a perfectly cast Saoirse Ronan. LADY BIRD’s terrific ensemble also includes Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, and Beanie Feldstein.

On Sunday, October 22, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (DIR Martin McDonagh) will be featured as the Sunday Centerpiece Film. The film, starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, and Peter Dinklage, is a darkly comedic drama about a bereaved mother who demands accountability from the town sheriff.

This year, the Festival has selected three Spotlight Films: CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (DIR Luca Guadagnino) and MUDBOUND (DIR Dee Rees) will screen on Friday, October 20; and I, TONYA (DIR Craig Gillespie) will screen on Saturday, October 21.

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME stars Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer in a sun-soaked romance set in Northern Italy. MUDBOUND, set in the Jim Crow South and starring Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund and Mary J. Blige, tells the epic story of two men divided by race yet bound by war. I, TONYA features Margot Robbie as the infamous skater Tonya Harding in the scandal that rocked the 1994 Winter Olympics and ended her skating career.

The 2017 Festival will recognize three artists and their contributions to films and filmmaking. On Friday, October 21, James Ivory, screenwriter of CALL ME BY YOUR NAME and half of the iconic Merchant/Ivory filmmaking duo, will be honored with the 2017 Legacy Award for 60 years as director and/or screenwriter of such classic films as HOWARD’S END, THE REMAINS OF THE DAY, and ROOM WITH A VIEW. Dee Rees, director of MUDBOUND, BESSIE and PARIAH, will receive the 2017 Visionary Award on October 21, presented by Lee Daniels (THE BUTLER, EMPIRE).

Academy Award©-nominated composer Nicholas Britell will be honored as this year’s Distinguished Film Composer on Saturday, October 21. The Shenandoah Conservatory Symphony Orchestra presents a selection of his most memorable scores accompanied by film clips. Britell will perform two solo piano pieces and also discuss his creative process. Britell’s scores include BATTLE OF THE SEXES, MOONLIGHT, THE BIG SHORT, 12 YEARS A SLAVE, and A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS. Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (BATTLE OF THE SEXES) will introduce Britell.

“The Middleburg Film Festival marks our fifth year with an extraordinary slate of films and special guests,” said Middleburg Film Festival Executive Director Susan Koch. “We’re especially delighted to welcome three incredibly talented female directors – Dee Rees, Greta Gerwig, and Valerie Faris. We’re also pleased to honor James Ivory, not only for his recent achievement with CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, but for sixty years of stunning filmmaking.”

“From the very beginning, it’s been important for us to present diverse voices in filmmaking,” said Middleburg Film Festival founder Sheila C. Johnson, “Especially in these divisive times, films have a way of bringing people together, expanding our understanding of the world and encouraging dialogue. The festival also celebrates some of the film industry’s unsung heroes. One of my favorite events is our Symphony Orchestra concert honoring a renowned film composer – and this year we are thrilled to recognize Nicholas Britell.”

The Coca-Cola Company returns as Middleburg Film Festival’s Presenting Sponsor.

The Washington Post is the founding media sponsor.

For showtimes and festival information, please visit: www.middleburgfilm.org or download the mobile app for iphone or android

Follow us on Twitter @middleburgfilm and like us on Facebook at facebook.com/MiddleburgFilmFestival.

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SDCC 2017: Highlights Beyond the Headlines

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One of my traditions at San Diego Comic-Con is to pick a door in the Convention Center at random at some point during the four day celebration I call the Iowa caucuses of popular culture. SDCC is more than the appearances of the biggest Hollywood stars on behalf of upcoming blockbusters at the venue’s legendary Hall H, with people lining up as much as a day or two before to get one of the 6000 seats. Throughout the Convention Center are panels on past, present, and future comics, games, books, movies, and television shows, especially those with an element of sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal, or supernatural. Not exclusively, though — one of the panels I happened upon by chance a few years ago was the Archie Comics discussion about introducing Kevin, their first gay character. Any form of entertainment that has passionate fans will be somewhere at SDCC. This year, the panel I wandered into featured the distinguished actor Vincent D’Onofrio and the iconic rock star Meat Loaf, who are appearing together in a new SyFy television series called “Ghost Wars.” They were followed by David Duchovny, who told us about his new Audible audiobook, “The X Files: Cold Cases.

Some of the most interesting things I saw and heard at Comic-Con this year:

Brian Selznick, author/illustrator of Wonderstruck and screenwriter of the new movie adaptation directed by Todd Haynes, told me that just as one of the two stories in the book is told in pictures only, without words, that portion of the movie will be silent. And so, those scenes, set during the silent era of the movie, features deaf actors playing hearing characters. We see them speak, but do not hear them, and so it is the only form of performance where they are indistinguishable. One challenge: letting them know when their name is called, so they have to turn around to respond.

Leslie Combemale put together a panel of women directors that was, in my experience the only panel where everyone thanked the moderator and the other panel members so graciously. SDCC is the world’s best place to spot cool t-shirts, but I especially loved the one worn by panelist Gina Prince-Bythewood: Strong Female Character. It was a thrill to hear Victoria Mahoney say, “I leave my house to find the magic, where the crazy stuff lives” and say “We have so many stories to tell. Do not let yourself go silent.”

I always love the MAD Magazine panel, with “the usual gang of idiots,” including editor John Ficarra and art director Sam Viviano. And yes, they feel like Donald Trump was created just to give them material. They began with a rollicking rendition of their version of “America the Beautiful,” featuring lyrics like these:

O fake news spreading everywhere/Distortions and deceits/For airlines dragging passengers/And Trump’s obnoxious tweets/America, America/Bill Cosby’s not in jail/Al-ter-nate facts and Russian hacks/Our government’s for sale!

During the Q&A, a middle-aged man in the audience got up to sing one of MAD’s 1960’s song parodies from memory, and a young boy asked about the current issue. I hope 40 years from now, he’ll be singing one of this year’s song parodies at the 2057 MAD panel.

I rode a dragon at the X-Box booth!

copyright Nell Minow 2017

I love the behind the scenes panels with storyboard artists, production designers, costume designers, and composers. I learned how the story of “Zootopia” evolved and heard composer Ludwig Göransson and production designer Hannah Beachler talk about working with director Ryan Coogler on smaller projects before joining forces for one of 2018’s most anticipated films, “Black Panther.” We were the first to hear some of the African music Göransson recorded for his score. Joe LoDuca told me about writing music for the “Evil Dead” movies, and assured me that horror people are the nicest people. Production designer Gary Kordan (the new FOX series, “Ghosted” with Craig Robinson and Adam Scott) told me that the secret to creating a good set is making it look lived in.

The whole secret to my job is, once the set is done, to age it. You have all the scenic painters come in and add fingerprints, smudge marks, scuff marks, dust, spider webs. All the kind of things that exist in real life, you do on a set and then it doesn’t look like a sitcom or a multi-cam brightly lit thing. It looks aged and it looks gritty. Even if it’s the funniest comedy, it doesn’t matter, because I believe the comedy is better when the set design is more realistic. It feels more absurd that this real thing is happening and these people are saying this on a set that has splatter marks on it and dust and age.

I always look forward to some amazing new advance in technology at SDCC, the first place I saw 3D printers, virtual reality headsets, and drone cameras, all before they were available for consumers. This year I was astonished by Adobe Character Animator, which allows you to make a drawing and then aim the camera at yourself to animate it, following your facial expressions and movements. This was what made it possible for the live “Simpsons” episode that had Homer taking calls in real time from viewers.

I had a chance to talk to veterans like Marty Krofft, who is rebooting “Sigmund and the Sea Monsters” for Amazon Prime, starring David Arquette, and current stars working on new projects, like Seth Rogen (producing and directing) and Josh Hutcherson (acting) in a new Hulu series, “Future Man.” I spoke to “SNL” star Aidy Bryant about her new animated Amazon Prime series called “Danger & Eggs,” about an adventurous little girl and her best friend who is much more cautious, probably because he is an egg. The show has a wonderful commitment to inclusivity and diversity, including same-sex parents and a child who uses the pronoun “they.” And I spoke to breakthrough artists like Instagram and YouTube star Splack (Jean Robert), who told me how he started making Vine videos when he had nothing, and found a million followers on social media. Jake Monaco told me about using PVC pipe to create the music for “Dinotrux” and writing new music for the updated “Be Cool, Scooby-Doo.”

A highlight of every year’s SDCC is the costumes, many meticulous, homemade re-creations of superhero or “Game of Thrones” looks, and many with a personalized twist. I especially loved a tiny Wonder Woman with her wheelchair serving as her invisible airplane, and the woman dressed as Tippi Hedren in “The Birds,” not just the iconic green suit but with black birds attached to her sleeve and hair. One of the most popular events is always the costume competition on Saturday night, called the “Masquerade.” This year’s featured “Game of Thrones” characters signing their version of a song from “Hamilton.”

Can’t wait for SDCC 2018!

Originally published on Huffington Post.

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Comic-Con: Days 3 and 4

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I attended the designer/illustrator panels: storyboard and pre-viz artists, costume designers, and production designers and interviewed the composer for the “Evil Dead” series, “Riverdale,” and “Dear White People.” I wandered into a room at random and it turned out to have Vincent D’Onofrio and Meat Loaf talking about their new SyFy series, “Ghost Wars,” followed by a panel with David Duchovny on his new Audible release, X-Files: Cold Cases. I attended Leslie Combemale‘s sensational “Women Rocking Hollywood” panel of women directors, including Angela Robinson (“Professor Marston and the Wonder Women”) and Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Cloak and Dagger,” “Beyond the Lights”). I’m not saying it was the only panel where the participants thanked the organizer and each other, or that only women do that, but it was the only one I attended where that happened. Saturday night, of course, is the annual costume competition, the SDCC Masquerade, this year featuring the Game of Thrones characters singing their version of “Hamilton.”

I talked to Seth Rogen, Eliza Coupe, and Josh Hutcherson about their new series, “Future Man,” coming to Hulu November 14. And I attended one of the most popular panels at SDCC, the legendary “Starship Smackdown.” Good to see the bullet rocket get so much love. Thanks to all and can’t wait for next year!

All images copyright 2017 Nell Minow

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