Cord Jefferson’s satirical comedy “American Fiction” has won the Audience Award for narrative film at the Middleburg Film Festival. Proving to be a true crowd-pleaser, it’s the third audience prize for the MGM title on the festival circuit following the Toronto and Mill Valley Film Festivals (at the latter it tied with “Rustin”).
Based on the novel “Erasure” by Percival Everett, the film follows author Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Jeffrey Wright), a frustrated novelist who is fed up with the establishment profiting from “Black” entertainment that relies on tired and offensive tropes. The film also stars Sterling K. Brown, Erika Alexander, Issa Rae, Tracee Ellis Ross, Leslie Uggams and John Ortiz.
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With SAG-AFTRA still on strike, it’s been writer, director and producer Jefferson doing the promotional and festival rounds for the movie, with the Oscar buzz continuing to grow in these early days of the season.
Now in its 11th year, except last year’s winner “Devotion,” all Middleburg Audience winners have gone on to score Oscar nominations or wins, including — “Belfast” (2021), “Minari” (2020), “The Two Popes” (2019), “Green Book” (2018), “Mudbound” (2017), “Lion” (2016), “Spotlight” (2015), “The Imitation Game” (2014) and “Philomena” (2013). “Belfast” and best picture winner “Green Book” also won at Toronto and Mill Valley.
“Congratulations to our remarkable Audience Award winners,” said Susan Koch, executive director for MFF. “We couldn’t be prouder of this year’s lineup and were honored to present so many exceptional films and welcome leading filmmakers to engage in thoughtful conversations.”
Middleburg also bestows prizes for documentaries and international features chosen by its festival attendees. The winning doc this year was “Invisible Nation” from Vanessa Hope, which takes a deep look into the election and tenure of Tsai Ing-wen, the first female president of Taiwan.
For international, the crowd selected J.A. Bayona’s “Society of the Snow,” which recounts the 1972 Uruguayan flight that crashed in the Andes, forcing survivors to become each other’s best hope. The film’s composer, Oscar winner Michael Giacchino, received the Distinguished Composer honor from the fest, as well as a tribute concert performed by the Louden Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Kim Kluge, playing his most memorable works including “The Incredibles” (2004), “Up” (2009) and “The Batman” (2022). The film is also the official selection for Spain for the best international feature category at the Oscars.
A special award was also given to Kris Bowers for his short film “The Last Repair Shop.” Though attendees could vote for it, short films are not eligible for the audience statuette, allowing the fest to reward the film’s positive and creative messaging. Bowers also received the inaugural Sheila Johnson Vanguard Award, named after the legendary festival’s founder and board chair.
“We are incredibly thankful to all who played a role in making this year’s festival another resounding success,” said Johnson. “Our heartfelt appreciation goes out to the distributors and filmmakers who entrusted us with their wonderful films and to our sponsors, filmgoers, staff and volunteers for their continued support and tireless work.”
There were many other filmmakers honored at this year’s annual celebration of film in the heart of Virginia, including George C. Wolfe (“Rustin”), Alexander Payne (“The Holdovers”) and Emerald Fennell (“Saltburn”).
MGM pushed back the release date for “American Fiction” due to the ongoing strikes, with a limited release set for Dec. 15 and an expansion on Dec. 22.
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