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Film Fest 919 announces 2020 slate, ‘One Night in Miami,’ ‘MLK/FBI’ to open

“One Night in Miami” will open the third annual Film Fest 919 in Chapel Hill on Oct. 14.

After announcing this year’s reimagined drive-in festival experience last month, the official slate for the Triangle’s Film Fest 919 has arrived.

The Chapel Hill-based festival will kick things off with back-to-back opening nights, featuring Regina King’s directorial debut, “One Night in Miami,” at the drive-in venue at Carraway Village on Wednesday, Oct. 14, followed by the documentary “MLK/FBI” for Opening Night on the Green at Southern Village on Oct. 15.

The festival will then screen films Wednesdays through Sundays throughout the month, until closing night on Oct. 31 with a special 45th anniversary showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

“In light of these unprecedented times, we are delighted to be able to offer this year’s program in person, enabling all to enjoy an evening under the stars and experience some of the season’s most compelling movies,” Founders Randi Emerman and Carol Marshall said in a press release.  “Films are a powerful way to increase our understanding of one another and encourage healthy dialogue especially during this fraught and divisive time and we feel strongly that our program reflects that spirit.”

Frances McDormand as Fern in “Nomadland.” (Searchlight Pictures)

Another festival highlight will be a screening of Chloé Zhao’s awards season darling “Nomadland,” which stars Frances McDormand. The film has already earned top marks at the Venice Film Festival, taking home the coveted Golden Lion Award, as well as at the Toronto International Film Festival, winning the People’s Choice Award. The hardware will continue to roll in at Film Fest 919, as the festival present the second-ever Distinguished Screenwriter Award to Zhao.

The event’s other top prize, the Spotlight Award, will go to writers, directors and brothers Ian and Eshom Nelms prior to the World Premiere screening of their film, “Fatman.” The movie stars Mel Gibson, Walton Goggins and Marianne Jean-Baptiste, and takes an unconventional look at a rowdy, unorthodox Santa Claus who is fighting the decline of his business.

Another pair of brothers will also be honored at the festival, as The Lawler Brothers host the world premiere of their short film, “Good Samaritans.” Jake Lawler, co-founder of Inside The Film Room, and his brother Conor Lawler, a film student at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, co-wrote, produced and starred in the short film about two men from different walks of life who debate the homeless crisis in America before heading off to work. The short is directed by Nick Stathopoulos, founder of VTN Productions.

During the event, the festival will also screen Netflix’s popular documentary “The Social Dilemma,” prior to hosting a virtual discussion moderated by Fred Stutzman and Phil Amalong, executives from Freedom, a platform that increases productivity and wellbeing by reducing digital distractions. The discussion will also feature the film’s director, Jeff Orlowski, producer Larissa Rhodes, and Tim Kendall, formerly the president of Pinterest and director of monetization at Facebook.

FULL FILM FEST 919 SLATE

AMMONITE” UK

Written and directed by Francis Lee

Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan star in this raw love story between a solitary paleontologist and a wealthy, grieving wife in 19th-century Dorset.  Mary Anning (Winslet) devotes her days on Southwest England’s Dorset coast to finding and cataloguing fossils of ammonites, extinct and beautiful sea creatures. In the early 19th century this is no work for a woman, and no scientific society will have her. So Mary toils alone, even as male scientists visit to study and take credit for her work. When one visitor brings along his grieving wife, Charlotte (Ronan), then abandons her there to return to London, the two women have no one to turn to but each other. Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan have both shown exceptional range, depth, and intensity on screen, delivering performances of raw electricity.  Film premiered at Toronto International Film Festival

FAREWELL AMOR” USA

Written and directed by Ekwa Msangi

After 17 years apart, Angolan immigrant Walter is joined in the U.S. by his wife and teen daughter. Now absolute strangers sharing a one bedroom Brooklyn apartment, they struggle to overcome the emotional distance between them. Walter is trying to let go of a previous relationship while his wife Esther struggles with a new country, culture and a husband who seems distant. Their daughter Sylvia is a dancer just like her father, and while she also finds her new life difficult, she bravely starts to explore the city and show herself through dance. The film is both a universal immigrant story and the unique perspective of three characters bound together by history and hope. It is an intimate and deeply personal look at an inter-generational tale that has defined America since its inception. Film premiered at Sundance 2020.

HERSELF” Ireland / UK

Directed by Phyllida Lloyd

Single-mother Sandra (Clare Dunne) escapes her abusive partner with her two young children, only to find herself trapped in temporary accommodation. After months of struggling, she draws inspiration from one of her daughter’s bedtime stories and hits upon the idea of self-building an affordable home. She finds an architect who provides her with plans and is offered land by Peggy (Harriet Walter), a woman she cleans for. Aido (Conleth Hill), a building contractor, appears willing to help too. But as her past rears its head in the form of Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson) her possessive ex, and as bureaucrats fight back against her independent spirit, will Sandra be able to rebuild her life from the ground up?  Film premiered at 2020 Sundance Film Festival; winner of Human Rights Film Award, Dublin International Film Festival.

NIGHT OF THE KINGS” France / Côte d’Ivoire / Canada / Senegal

Written and directed by Philippe Lacôte

When a young man is incarcerated in Côte d’Ivoire’s largest prison, La MACA, he finds himself entering a world as dangerous and complex as the one he was navigating on the outside. While ostensibly overseen by a team of rundown guards, the prison is really ruled by Blackbeard (Steve Tientcheu, Les Misérables). On his last legs, and seeing his power waning, Blackbeard makes one final play to keep his power over the prison: on the night of the red moon, he designates MACA’s newcomer “Roman.”  In a griot role that recalls Scheherazade in One Thousand and One Nights, Roman (Koné Bakary) must recount a story until the sun rises if he wants to keep his life and the prison from falling into chaos. Roman spins a story about Zama King, a notorious gang leader whose life spanned from ancient times to the fall of Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo and was filled with intrigue and magic. Film flows between a prison drama and visually stunning sequences that depict Roman’s elaborate tale.  Further incorporating song and dance, Night of the Kings is a mesmerizing meditation on the art of storytelling and its role in survival.

THE COMEBACK TRAIL” USA

Written and directed by George Gallo, co-written by Josh Posner

It’s 1974, and as his latest schlock-pic tanks, Max Barber (Robert De Niro) is deep in debt to the mob—specifically, Reggie Fontaine (Morgan Freeman) who has a certain flair that’s very ‘70s. He even uses movie references (think: Tony Perkins in Psycho) as threats. Barber devises a scheme to save himself and partner Walter Creason (Zach Braff) from ruin: they’ll make a picture where they set up their aging star in an insurance scam so they can save themselves. The star? Duke Montana (the indisputably great Tommy Lee Jones). If you’re up for a flick that flips stereotypes and tramples taboos, drive on over, tune in, and enjoy the ride. With De Niro, Freeman, Braff, and Tommy Lee Jones on board, isn’t that just what you need? From the writer of “Midnight Run” and produced by Joy Hurwitz, whose husband Harry Hurwitz wrote and produced the original film.

“GOOD SAMARITANSUSA – World Premiere

Directed by Nick Stathopoulos, written by Jake and Conor Lawler

Short film written and directed by UNC-Chapel Hill alumni and popular Tar Heel linebacker, Jake Lawler and his brother, Conor Lawler.  After seeing a homeless man get abused during their meal, two men from different walks of life debate the homeless crisis in America before heading off to work. 

UNCLE FRANK” USA

Written and directed by Alan Ball

In 1973, teenaged Beth Bledsoe (Sophia Lillis) leaves her rural Southern hometown to study at New York University where her beloved Uncle Frank (Paul Bettany) is a revered literature professor. She soon discovers that Frank is gay and living with his longtime partner Walid “Wally” Nadeem (Peter Macdissi) — an arrangement that he has kept secret for years. After the sudden death of Frank’s father — Beth’s grandfather — Frank is forced to reluctantly return home for the funeral with Beth in tow, and to finally face a long-buried trauma that he has spent his entire adult life running away from.  Writer-director Alan Ball’s (Academy Award® winner for American Beauty screenplay) heartfelt and hilarious road movie travels from the bohemian scene of post-Stonewall New York City to rural South Carolina, following Frank’s painful journey from hitting rock bottom to acceptance and forgiveness and, finally, reintegration into his family and into life itself. Bettany reveals Frank’s fragile core by peeling away the layers of Frank’s sophisticated but guarded persona. Sophia Lillis plays Beth as a naive but observant young woman whose eyes are opened to a world she could never have imagined. Peter Macdissi also has a standout performance as Wally, a man whose capacity for compassion runs deeper than he even knows. Ball (known for his ensemble TV work on Six Feet Under and True Blood) also elicits strong turns from his superb supporting cast, including Stephen Root, Margo Martindale, Steve Zahn, Judy Greer and Lois Smith. Film premiered at 2020 Sundance Film Festival; winner of Audience Award, Deauville Film Festival.

UNDINE” Germany/France

Written and directed by Christian Petzold

Undine is a historian who works as a museum guide in Berlin. She knows all about the Humboldt Forum, and has the knack of choosing just the right blouse and suit. She is nonchalantly beautiful, and the way she imparts her knowledge about the city that was built on a swamp is as professional as it is graceful. And yet, time and again, her gaze wanders over to the courtyard café at the Stadtmuseum to see if he is there, or is still there, or if he’s there again. Him. But Johannes is leaving, leaving her, and Undine’s world is collapsing. The magic has gone… Christian Petzold reworks the myth of the mysterious water spirit as a modern fairy-tale in a disenchanted world. His Undine defies her role as a powerless and spurned woman and falls in love anew, with Christoph, who dives into the sunken world of a reservoir. Petzold’s deeply assured work reimagines this legend by way of his own cinematic vision, in which precise everyday gestures are combined with ghostly hyperrealism. The story of a life-or-death love splendidly and effortlessly told.  Film premiered at Berlin International Film Festival, winner of Silver Berlin Bear and Fipresci Prize.

The full festival schedule will be available in the coming days, and event passes are still available.

Individual film tickets will go on sale Oct. 8 on the festival’s website.

Zach Goins View All

Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Charlotte, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.

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