‘Lion’ wins Middleburg Film Festival audience award on way to Oscars

Lion,” which is currently in sixth place to claim the Best Picture Oscar according to our 24 experts, just won the Audience Award for Best Narrative at the Middleburg film festival. While this filmfest based in suburban D.C. is only four years old, the winner of this award can factor into the Oscar race in a big way. Last year’s winner, “Spotlight,” went on to win Best Picture and the first two films to take home this prize — “Philomena” in 2013 and “The Imitation Game” in 2014 — each got nominated for the top Academy Award.

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“Lion” opened the festival last Thursday at the Salamander Resort. Garth Davis’s film tells the real-life tale of an Indian boy separated from his family and adopted by a Tasmanian couple played to a packed house. “Lion” edged out other Oscar favorites including “La La Land,” “Manchester by the Sea,” “Loving” and “Moonlight.”

To date, 17 of the films that unspooled here have gone on to amass a total of 48 Oscar nominations, including additional Best Picture bids for “Nebraska” (2013) and “Brooklyn” (2015). Films that played here have taken home three Oscars in all (Picture and Original Screenplay for “Spotlight”; Adapted Screenplay for “The Imitation Game”).

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The festival attracted many stars this year including Emma Stone and writer/director Damien Chazelle from “La La Land.” Producers Angie Fielder (“Lion”) and Ged Doherty (“Loving”) were also on hand to discuss their films. The festival’s keynote conversation was with academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs who discussed the organization’s efforts to increase diversity and her own journey through the industry as an African-American woman.

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 capital, it’s nestled in the southwest corner of Loudoun County, a booming commuter region with the highest median income in the entire country.

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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 Salamander Resort and Spa in Middleburg, which played host to the festival.

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