The Middleburg Film Festival was born from an instinct BET co-founder Sheila Johnson had about the town of Middleburg being the perfect destination for a film festival. She contacted Emmy and Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Susan Koch, whom she had worked with on documentaries, to help her vision become a reality. The festival has grown, showcasing 25 films last year, 20 of which received Oscar nominations. We caught up with Johnson, the founder and board chair, and Koch, the executive director, to talk about the growth, success and future of the Middleburg Film Festival.
What inspired you to start the festival?
SJ: Middleburg has been my home for many years, and I always thought it would be the perfect location for a film festival. I spent many years on the board of Sundance, and four years ago I thought the time was right to start a festival in my own hometown. It’s turned out even better than I could have ever imagined. Film festivals really have a way of creating a sense of community and sparking dialogue.
What can attendees expect from the festival after its three successful years so far?
SJ: This year festivalgoers can expect another fantastic slate of films, lots of fascinating conversation, a diverse mix of filmmakers and other special guests, great parties and wine tastings—and even a trolley car to take you around town.
How do you expect the festival to grow this year?
SJ: Last year our ticket sales doubled, and we expect the sales to increase again this year. That said, we want to keep the festival small and intimate—that’s definitely part of its charm.
How are the films selected?
SK: We select films both from submissions that we receive and films that we see at other leading festivals that we think would appeal to our audience. We only screen films that have not yet been in theaters.