Belfast Wins Top Prize at Middleburg Film Festival

Current best picture frontrunner “Belfast” has scooped the top prize at the Middleburg Film Festival.

Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical “Belfast,” a black-and-white family drama about the Northern Ireland city in the late ’60s, was awarded best narrative film.

Branagh also appeared at the festival to receive the director spotlight award. The award for best documentary film went to National Geographic’s “The Rescue,” directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin — the Academy Award-winning filmmakers of “Free Solo.”

“Congratulations to our Audience Award winners ‘Belfast’ and ‘The Rescue,’” said MFF Executive Director Susan Koch. “We were so honored to have Kenneth Branagh join us to present ‘Belfast’ with its masterful filmmaking, deeply moving story and stunning performances. ‘The Rescue’ had our audience on the edge of their seats and cheering by the end for a film that showcases the very best of what documentary filmmaking can do.”

Branagh’s movie, which also won the people’s choice award at the Toronto Film Festival, screened as the Saturday Night Centerpiece film with an encore presentation on Sunday afternoon and sold-out crowds at both. Branagh participated in a post-screening conversation, where he was met with a standing ovation, on Saturday with Washington Post Chief Film Critic Ann Hornaday. He returned Sunday morning for a career-spanning tribute conversation with KPCC’s John Horn. A humorous, tender and intensely personal story of one boy’s childhood, the film stars Caitríona Balfe, Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Ciarán Hinds and Jude Hill.

“The Rescue,” which was the festival’s opening documentary film, chronicles the riveting, against-all-odds story that transfixed the world in 2018: the daring rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave in Northern Ireland after monsoon rains had trapped them in a pitch-black chamber deep in the cave. Vasarhelyi and Chin bring alive the mission, shining a light on the international community that united to save the boys.

“A huge thank you to everyone who made our return to an in-person festival a great success,” said MFF Founder and Board Chair Sheila Johnson. “We are so grateful to the distributors and filmmakers who shared their films with us — and to our sponsors, filmgoers and volunteers for all their support in making our 9th year the best one yet.”

Focus Features will campaign Balfe and Dornan as supporting, while Hill goes for lead at the Oscars. Dench, who plays Grandma, is hoping to land a supporting actress nomination. If nominated, Dench will be the second-oldest supporting actress nominee in history.

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