King Richard starring Will Smith
King Richard starring Will Smith

The Middleburg Film Festival is returning for its ninth year, with a fully in-person selection of film screenings, conversations and events taking place October 14-17 in Northern Virginia’s historic wine and horse country.

The 2021 Middleburg Film Festival will open with King Richard directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green (Monsters and Men) and starring two-time Academy Award nominee Will Smith, who also produces, as Richard Williams, the determined father of Serena and Venus Williams. The film follows the journey of a family whose unwavering resolve and unconditional belief ultimately delivers two of the world’s greatest sports legends. Starring alongside Smith are Aunjanue Ellis as the girls’ mom, Saniyya Sidney as Venus, Demi Singleton as Serena, and Tony Goldwyn and Jon Bernthal as influential coaches Paul Cohen and Rick Macci.

The Centerpiece slot on Saturday evening is Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, a humorous, tender and intensely personal story of one boy’s childhood during the tumult of late 1960s Northern Ireland starring Caitríona Balfe, Judie Dench, Jamie Dornan, Ciarán Hinds and Jude Hill. The film recently won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Closing out the Festival on Sunday, October 17th is The Power of the Dog from Academy Award winning director Jane Campion (The Piano, Bright Star). Based on the 1967 novel by Thomas Savage, the film stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst and Kodi Smit-McPhee and follows Phil Burbank (Cumberbatch), a charismatic rancher who inspires fear and awe in those around him. When his brother brings home a new wife and her son, Phil responds with mocking cruelty until he finds himself exposed to the possibility of love.

The Friday Spotlight will feature Red Rocket, written and directed by Sean Baker (The Florida Project, Tangerine) and starring Simon Rex in a magnetic, live-wire performance as Mikey Saber, a hustler who returns to his small Texas hometown after a failed adult film career in L.A. The dark comedy also stars Bree Elrod, Suzanna Son and Brittney Rodriguez.

Paolo Sorrentino’s autobiographical film The Hand of God has been selected as the International Spotlight Film screening on Friday, October 15. The film centers on a young man coming of age in 1980s Naples where family, soccer, cinema, love and loss dominate his thoughts. Sorrentino blends comedy with tragedy while beautifully showcasing his beloved Naples.

The critically acclaimed animated documentary feature Flee is this year’s Documentary Spotlight film. From director Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Flee tells the story of Amin as he confronts a painful secret he has kept for 20 years. Recounting the story for the first time to Rasmussen (his close friend and high school classmate), Amin chronicles his extraordinary childhood journey of fleeing Afghanistan with the help of smugglers and settling in Denmark as an unaccompanied minor.

“The uplifting King Richard is the perfect film to kick off this year’s festival as we return in person to Middleburg. Several films in this year’s line-up are deeply personal stories that focus on family and a sense of place, including Kenneth Branagh’s remarkable film, Belfast, Paolo Sorrentino’s poignant The Hand of God, and a refugee’s harrowing journey to safety in Flee,” said MFF Executive Director Susan Koch. “Sean Baker is known for crafting films that withhold moral judgment and creating characters who are both empathetic and real – and his latest film, RED ROCKET, reflects this. We’re especially pleased to close the festival with Jane Campion’s return to the big screen after 12 years, with the stunning The Power of the Dog,” she added.

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