October 15, 2015 at 9:46 am EST | by Brian T. Carney
Middleburg mecca
Tab Hunter, gay news, Washington Blade, Middleburg Film Festival

Out actor Tab Hunter in his hunky ‘50s heyday. (Photo courtesy the Film Collaborative)

This year’s lineup at the Middleburg Film Festival offers first peeks at this year’s Oscar contenders, along with fascinating documentaries and a selection of foreign language submissions to the Oscars. The Festival also includes the chance to meet Hollywood celebrities and enjoy fine food and drink in Virginia wine country.

“It’s four days of fantastic films in a stunning setting,” says Susan Koch, executive director. “And, we have some really interesting guests coming.”

It runs Oct. 22-25 in Middleburg, Va., an hour west of Washington. Details at middleburgfilm.org.

This year’s festival will have a strong focus on female directors, several of whom will be in attendance to discuss their films with audience members. As Koch, also a documentary filmmaker, says, “I am pleased that we have so many films by women directors at a time when gender discrimination is such a huge issue. I think that’s an important dialogue to be having.”

For example, director Catherine Hardwicke (“Twilight” and “Thirteen”) will be on hand to introduce D.C. audiences to her new movie “Miss You Already” starring Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore.

Meg Ryan will be in attendance for the world premiere of her directorial debut “Ithaca.” Shot in Virginia and based on the classic novel “The Human Comedy” by William Saroyan, the movie reunites Ryan with Tom Hanks and stars her son Jack Quaid (”The Hunger Games”).

Documentary producer and peace activist Abigail Disney will discuss her directorial debut “The Armor of Light,” an acclaimed documentary about an evangelical minister who becomes a gun-control advocate.

LGBT cinephiles will be treated to the regional premiere of “Carol” by gay director Todd Haynes. Based on the autobiographical novel “The Price of Salt” by bisexual author Patricia Highsmith, the movie chronicles the troubled affair between a Manhattan socialite and a department store clerk. The movie stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara and features lesbian actress Sarah Paulson (“American Horror Story”).

Tab Hunter, subject of the new documentary “Tab Hunter Confidential,” will also be on hand to discuss his remarkable Hollywood career. The former teen heartthrob and recording star was the top grossing star for Warner Brothers from 1955 through 1959. He later revived his career by starring with Divine in “Polyester” (1981) and “Lust in the Dust” (1985), as well as playing the unusual high school biology teacher in “Grease 2.” Hunter came out in his 2006 memoir, confirming long-standing rumors about his homosexuality and his long-term relationship with late actor Tony Perkins.

Openly gay director Lee Daniels (“Empire”), whose film “The Butler” was a highlight of the inaugural Middleburg Film Festival in 2013, will also be on hand to meet with attendees on the final morning of the Festival. The Festival also includes “Brooklyn,” adapted from the novel by gay Irish writer Colm Tóibin.

The Festival opens with “Spotlight,” a powerful film about the team of investigative reporters at the Boston Globe who first uncovered the decades-long cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Producer Steve Golin will be on hand to discuss the movie after the screening; he will also be the first guest at the “Wine and Conversation” series at the Boxwood Winery.

Other highlights include “Macbeth,” the Shakespeare adaptation with Michael Fassbinder and Marion Cotillard, and the Hank Williams biopic “I Saw the Light.”

The Festival was founded in 2013 by Sheila Johnson, a long-time resident of Middleburg who is a film producer (“The Butler”) and a board member of the Sundance Institute. According to Koch, the idea began with a chance remark. “Robert Redford was visiting Sheila and said this would be a great place for a film festival,” she says. “And it is, even though we have no movie theater. We convert four venues into theaters. People stay in B&Bs and local hotels or just come out for the day. The setting is intimate and really creates this environment for conversation.”

And that’s what most important for Koch.

“I think film festivals have a way of bringing people together and creating a sense of community,” she says. “When you sit in that theater and you watch a film together, you can have great dialogue afterwards. That’s what I love.”

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