“We’re not trying to be another Sundance,” says Susan Koch, executive director of the Middleburg Film Festival. After all, Middleburg, Va. — a sleepy place 30 minutes west of Dulles airport — is “a town that doesn’t have a movie theater,” Koch says. (The films will be screened at schools, libraries and community centers.)
This is the festival’s first year, and Koch says it’s best to start small. “ ‘We don’t want 100 films’ is what we said early on,” Koch says. “Yes, big film festivals are great and they’re prestigious and you want your films in those, but ask any filmmaker and they’ll tell you the festivals they enjoyed the most are the small, intimate ones where you can really interact with your audience and other filmmakers.”
The four-day event’s slate of 20 movies includes not-yet-released but expected-to-be Academy Award contenders, recent independent films that didn’t reach the area, and foreign films. (The Washington Post is a sponsor of the fest.) What links them, Koch says, is that they’re great movies — which makes it difficult to give friends the inside scoop.
“People ask me a lot, ‘Which film do you recommend?’ ” she says. “And it’s like your children. You don’t want to have a favorite.”
A look at four highlights from the inaugural Middleburg Film Festival:
‘August: Osage County’: This is an early Oscar contender for, well, everything. Based on Tracy Letts’ play of the same name, which won a Pulitzer in 2008, the film stars Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Sam Shepard and Ewan McGregor as a messed-up family that comes together to mess one another up some more.
‘The Armstrong Lie’: This documentary was supposed to be director Alex Gibney’s story about Lance Armstrong’s triumphant return to cycling. What Gibney ended up with was incredible access to Armstrong both during the time he was lying his pants off and in the aftermath of said pantsing.
‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’: The festival’s “centerpiece screening” stars Idris Elba as South African leader Nelson Mandela. A special showing on Saturday night will be followed by a concert by South African singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka. The biopic, based on Mandela’s 1994 autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom,” will also screen Sunday afternoon, sans concert.
‘Nebraska’: The opening-night film stars Bruce Dern and was directed by Alexander Payne, who helmed “The Descendants” and “Sideways.” Dern, who will be at the screening, took the best actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival for this story of a grumpy old man who’s on a road trip with his son to claim a sweepstakes prize that doesn’t exist.
Middleburg Film Festival, Middleburg, Va.; Thu.-Sun., various times and prices; 866-738-1948.