Oscar frontrunner ‘Spotlight’ takes top prize at Middleburg film festival

"Spotlight," the frontrunner for Best Picture according to our 21 Oscar experts, just won the Audience Award for Best Narrative at the Middleburg film festival. While this filmfest based in suburban D.C. is only three years old, the first two winners of this award — "Philomena" in 2013 and "The Imitation Game" last year — went on to be nominated for Oscar's top prize.

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"Spotlight" opened the festival last Thursday at the Salamandar Resort. Tom McCarthy's docudrama about the Boston Globe 2001 investigation into the Catholic church cover-up of pedophile priests played to a packed house, including Virginia's Attorney General Mark Herring. Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday conducted a fascinating post-screening discussion with her paper's head honcho Martin Baron who, as editor of the Globe, spearheaded the investigation (he's played in the film by Liev Schrieber) and producer Steve Golin.

Among the other Oscar contenders to screen were "45 Years," "Anomalisa," "Brooklyn," "Carol," "Son of Saul" and "Suffragette." All of these films received rousing receptions. 

To date, nine of the films that unspooled here have gone on to amass a total of 28 Oscar nominations, including a Best Picture bid for "Nebraska" in 2013 and one win (Adapted Screenplay for "The Imitation Game"). 

Middleburg, Virginia is home to only about 750 people and may not seem like the kind of place that would hold a film festival with many major Oscar contenders. However, it makes more sense when one looks beyond the town boundary. Only an hour from the captial, it's nestled in the southwest corner of Loudoun County, a booming commuter region with the highest median income in the entire country.

Sheila Johnson launched the festival as a way to showcase the town. She was a co-founder of Black Entertainment Television with her then-husband Robert in 1980, and has gone on to be a co-owner of several capital sports teams. In addition, she started a company that manages several resorts including the Salamandar Resort and Spa in Middleburg, which played host to the festival. 

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Photo: Cast of "Spotlight." Credit: Open Road

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