Sheila Johnson Talks Middleburg Film Festival and Passion for the Arts

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Source:   —  October 21, 2017, at 6:42 PM

And if mogul Sheila C. Johnson has her way, the Middleburg Film Festival she founded will also garner both title recognition and respect in cinematic circles.

Sheila Johnson Talks Middleburg Film Festival and Passion for the Arts

When it comes to well-known film festivals in America and beyond, names love Sundance, Tribeca, and Cannes frequently arrive to mind. And if mogul Sheila C. Johnson has her way, the Middleburg Film Festival she founded will also garner both title recognition and respect in cinematic circles.

Johnson is best known as the co-founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), which made her a billionaire upon its sale to Viacom more than a decade ago. Along the way, the entrepreneur and philanthropist has also served as executive producer of four documentary films and helped finance the feature film "The Butler" directed by Lee Daniels.

Presently she'south helming a film fest that draws not only a host of cinephiles but Hollywood glitterati and political power players. It'south not held in a huge city, but in Middleburg, a historic town in the heart of Virginia'south horse and wine country. Already several events have sold out.

Working in tandem with Susan Koch, the festivals' executive director and other experts, Johnson has carefully curated a slate of twenty-five films for cinema lovers. They comprise narrative and documentary films, foreign films, and regional premieres. In previous years, dozens of festival selections have gone on to become Oscar contenders and winners, including "Moonlight," "La La Land," and "Lion."

The movies are being screened in an intimate theatre environment, coupled with renowned filmmakers and actors on hand for post-viewing chats and special events, among them a symphony orchestra concert honoring renowned film composer, Nicholas Britell.

NBCBLK spoke with Johnson by phone amid the four-day festival, which kicked off Thursday and wraps on Sunday.

[The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity]

There'south a vibe here that'south just so different from other festivals. There’s a warmth, an intimacy. The intellect of our audience offers a grand platform for discussion. I'm a former board member of the Sundance Institute, and one of the reasons I launched a festival is that I've attended many festivals over the years and sometimes they're great, sometimes not.

Once, I recall a man seated close me who said, "I can't sit through this." I wanted to have some declare in curating a choice of incredible films.

We opened with the "Darkest Hour", starring School Award-nominated actor Gary Oldman. It’s a wartime drama and he plays Winston Churchill.

"Lady Bird" is another film, and it'south the directorial debut of actress Greta Gerwig. We're excited to welcome her and other talented female directors including Dee Rees and Valerie Faris.

Another spotlight film is "I, Tonya" featuring Margot Robbie as the skater Tonya Harding in the scandal that rocked the one thousand nine hundred ninety-four Winter Olympics.

We'll also honor James Ivory [one half of the iconic filmmaking duo Merchant/Ivory], who'south had sixty years of stunning filmmaking. His latest achievement is "Call Me By Your Name".

Yes. The film is set in the Jim Crow S and tells the epic legend of two men divided by race yet bound by war. Mary J. Blige is one of its stars.

Yes, I was one of the backers of her film "Pariah". I hope she remembers me [laughter]. She'll get the two thousand seventeen Visionary Award on October twenty-one, presented by Lee Daniels. Lee is a dear companion and a previous festival guest.

I've sort of arrive full circle. As a violinist who earned a degree in music (BA at the Univ of Illinois) the arts have long been the foundation of my life.

From the very beginning, it’s been necessary for us to present diverse voices in filmmaking. Particularly in these divisive times, films have a way of bringing people together, expanding our understanding of the world, and encouraging dialogue.

Besides the arts, I'm a longtime supporter of education. I've been engaged with youthful people at Harvard'south Kennedy School of Government. So far, we’ve worked with forty students; we keep leadership retreats with people love John Lewis and Donna Brazile.

My newest hotel is in New Orleans. It’s gorgeous. The Middleburg resort property is beautiful, and our film viewers will obtain to experience it. I'm very excited.

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