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Film Fest 919 announces 2021 lineup, highlighted by ‘King Richard,’ ‘Spencer’

North Carolina’s biggest film festival is back, as Film Fest 919 announced on Thursday the lineup for its fourth year of festivities.

This year’s week-long festival will be highlighted by an opening night showing of Warner Bros. Pictures’ “King Richard,” followed by Telluride darling “C’mon, C’mon” as the centerpiece, and Neon’s “Spencer” as the closing night film. Of course, other awards-season highlights will be mixed in throughout the festival, including Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch,” Celine Sciamma’s “Petite Maman,” Sean Baker’s “Red Rocket” and more.

The Kristen Stewart-led Princess Diana biopic “Spencer” will close out Film Fest 919 this year. (Neon)

Similar to the 2020 edition of the festival, this year’s events will take place at two venues: the Silverspot Cinema indoor movie theater, as well as the Drive In at Carraway Village, both located in Chapel Hill. The festival has extended its length this year, spanning a whole week from Monday, October 18 to Sunday, October 24.

If the past is any indicator, awards predictors should have their eyes trained on Chapel Hill and Film Fest 919, considering each of the festival’s three previous slates has included the eventual Best Picture winner at the Oscars. In 2018, that came in the form of “Green Book,” while 2019 led the way with “Parasite” and last year’s fest featured “Nomadland.” This year’s slate looks to continue on that prestigious tradition, as both “Spencer” and “King Richard” are early favorites to produce the leading actor winners, with hopes of earning a shot at Best Picture, too.

Will Smith stars as Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena, in “King Richard,” which kicks off this year’s festival. (Warner Bros.)

As is tradition at Film Fest 919, the festival will not only be screening films, but will also be honoring the talent who make these movies possible. This year’s Spotlight Award will be presented to multi-award-winning, 12-time Oscar nominated songwriter Diane Warren during the festival’s opening night, October 18. The evening will include a Conversation with Diane and a special laser show presentation of her hit tunes at the Drive In at Carraway Village.

On Friday, October 22, the Third Annual Distinguished Screenwriter Award will be presented to co-screenwriters Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch ahead of a screening of their film “Red Rocket.” Past winners include Anthony McCarten for “The Two Popes” and Chloé Zhao for “Nomadland.” Finally, the annual Rising Star Award will be presented to Eduardo Franco (“Booksmart,” “Stranger Things”) who co-stars in the animated feature “Koati,” which will be screened at the festival.

Check out the full festival slate below!

“A CHIARA” – Italy/France 
Written and directed by Jonas Carpignano

A rising star of a resurgent Italian cinema, Jonas Carpignano continues his deeply felt project of observing life in contemporary Calabria with this gripping character study of a teenager, Chiara (a revelatory Swamy Rotolo), who gradually comes to discover that her close-knit family is not all that it seems. Keeping his camera close to Chiara as she struggles to understand the difficult truth about her mysteriously missing father—and the crime syndicates that control her region—Carpignano has created an intimate, furiously paced drama that refuses to make its unlikely protagonist either a victim or a hero. 
Cannes Film Festival Winner, Best European Film, Directors’ Fortnight. 

“A HERO” – Iran
Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi

Rahim is in prison because of a debt he was unable to repay. During a two-day leave, he tries to convince his creditor to withdraw his complaint against the payment of part of the sum. But things don’t go as planned… 
Cannes Film Festival Winner, Grand Jury

Written and directed by Josef Kubota Wladyka

Kaylee “K.O.” Uppashaw, a mixed Indigenous boxer, prepares for a championship fight. Her hands are wrapped, gloves taped shut, and face greased. She pounds the mitts with her trainer, Brick. The room echoes with the strength of each hit. She’s preparing for the boxing match of her life. The crowd roars in the distance as the sounds crescendo into a fever pitch— Kaylee wakes up in a women’s shelter from a wishful dream of a life she once had. This is her reality. A boxer struggling to pick up the pieces of her life. After her shift working at a diner, Brick drives her to a clandestine rendezvous. They meet a P.I. who presents evidence that Weeta, Kaylee’s younger sister who disappeared two years ago, is possibly alive and circulating in a trafficking network. He tells her a time and place to plug herself into this dangerous world in hopes of finding her sister. Kaylee agrees and sets off on a dark and treacherous journey. Her strength and determination are tested as Kaylee fights the real fight of her life—to find Weeta and make her family whole again. 
Tribeca Film Festival winner Audience Award.

Written and directed by Mike Mills
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Woody Norman, Gabby Hoffman

Johnny (Phoenix) and his young nephew (Norman) forge a tenuous but transformational relationship when they are unexpectedly thrown together in this delicate and deeply moving story about the connections between adults and children, the past and the future, from writer-director Mike Mills. 
Telluride Film Festival

“FLEE” Denmark, France, Sweden, Norway, United States, Slovenia, Estonia, Spain, Italy, Finland
Written and directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen

“Flee” tells the story of Amin Nawabi as he grapples with a painful secret he has kept hidden for 20 years, one that threatens to derail the life he has built for himself and his soon to be husband. Recounted mostly through animation to director Jonas Poher Rasmussen, he tells for the first time the story of his extraordinary journey as a child refugee from Afghanistan. 
Sundance Film Festival, Winner Grand Jury; Annecy International winner Best Feature, Original Song and Gan Foundation Award

“HUDA’S SALON” Egypt, Netherlands, Palestinian Territories
Written and directed by Hany Abu-Assad

Reem, a young mother married to a jealous man, goes to Huda’s salon in Bethlehem. But this ordinary visit turns sour when Huda, after having put Reem in a shameful situation, blackmails her to have her work for the secret service of the occupiers, and thus betray her people.
Toronto International Film Festival.

Directed by Geeta Malik

When college freshman Alia returns home for the summer, she discovers secrets and lies in her parents’ past that make her question everything she thought she knew about her family.
Tribeca Film Festival

Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, written by Zach Baylin
Starring Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, Tony Goldwyn, Jon Bernthal

Armed with a clear vision and a brazen 78-page plan, Richard Williams is determined to write his daughters Venus and Serena into history. Training on Compton, California’s abandoned tennis courts – rain or shine – the girls are shaped by their father’s unyielding commitment and their mother’s balanced perspective and keen intuition, defying the seemingly insurmountable odds and prevailing expectations laid before them. Based on the true story that will inspire the world, KING RICHARD follows the journey of a family whose unwavering resolve and unconditional belief ultimately delivers two of the world’s greatest sports legends.
Telluride Film Festival 2021.

Directed by Rodrigo Perez-Castro
Starring Sofia Vergara, Joe Mangianello, Eduardo Franco

Koati is an animated film starring three unlikely heroes: Nachi, a free-spirited coati; Xochi, a fearless monarch butterfly; and Pako, a hyperactive glass frog, who embark on an exciting journey to prevent a wicked coral snake named Zaina from destroying their land of Xo.  
Eduardo Franco and producers Melissa Escobar and Anabella Sosa-Dovarganes will attend.

Written and directed by Fran Kranz
Starring Ann Dowd, Martha Plimpton, Jason Isaacs, Reed Birney

Years after an unspeakable tragedy tore their lives apart, two sets of parents (Birney & Dowd, Isaacs & Plimpton) agree to talk privately in an attempt to move forward. In Fran Kranz’s writing and directing debut, he thoughtfully examines their journey of grief, anger, and acceptance by coming face-to-face with the ones who have been left behind. 
Sundance Film Festival; San Sebastian International Film Festival Winner, Youth Jury Award

Directed by Nadia Tass
Features Joan Borsten, narrated by Brian Cox

Based on his soon-to-be published autobiography, “Oleg” reveals the incredible life story of Oleg Vidov.  Born in communist Russia to a schoolteacher, by the age of 25, Oleg had become one of the Soviet Union’s most celebrated actors of his time. However, no amount of fame could save him from the political system that tried to control his life. He married into General Secretary Brezhnev’s inner circle only to wind up blacklisted, threatened with death, and forced to defect to the West. Reinventing himself in Hollywood, his efforts to counter anti-Russian stereotypes were attacked by the same forces that ruined his career decades earlier.  Finally, in October 1991, with Oleg’s fears of persecution calmed by the rise of perestroika, he returned to Moscow to star in a Danish film. Then, two months later, on Christmas Day 1991, President Gorbachev resigned from office and the USSR collapsed.  
Joan Borsten will attend.

Written and directed by Rebecca Hall
Starring Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, Alexander Skarsgård, André Holland, Bill Camp

Marking Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut, PASSING is adapted from the celebrated 1929 novel of the same name by Nella Larsen, telling the story of two Black women, Irene Redfield (Tessa Thompson) and Clare Kendry (Academy Award® nominee Ruth Negga), who can “pass” as white but choose to live on opposite sides of the color line during the height of the Harlem Renaissance in late 1920s New York. After a chance encounter reunites the former childhood friends one summer afternoon, Irene reluctantly allows Clare into her home, where she ingratiates herself to Irene’s husband and family, and soon her larger social circle as well. As their lives become more deeply intertwined, Irene finds her once-steady existence upended by Clare, and PASSING becomes a riveting examination of obsession, repression and the lies people tell themselves and others to protect their carefully constructed realities. 
Sundance Film Festival, Grand Prize nominee.

Written and directed by Celine Sciamma

Nelly has just lost her grandmother and is helping her parents clean out her mother’s childhood home. She explores the house and the surrounding woods. One day she meets a girl her same age building a treehouse. 
Berlin Film Festival, Telluride, Toronto Int’l. Film Festival; San Sebastian Winner Audience Award

Directed by Sean Baker; written by Baker and Chris Bergoch

The audacious new film from writer-director Sean Baker (“The Florida Project,” “Tangerine”), starring Simon Rex in a magnetic, live-wire performance, Red Rocket is a darkly funny, raw, and humane portrait of a uniquely American hustler and a hometown that barely tolerates him. 
Cannes Film Festival; Deauville Film Festival Winner, Jury and Critics Awards. Chris Bergoch will attend.

“SEE FOR ME”Canada
Directed by Randall Okita
Starring Jessica Parker Kennedy, Laura Vandervoort, Kim Coates

When blind former skier Sophie cat-sits in a secluded mansion, three thieves invade for the hidden safe. Sophie’s only defense is army veteran Kelly. Kelly helps Sophie defend herself against the invaders and survive. Tribeca Film Festival.

Directed by Pablo Larrain
Starring Kristen Stewart, Sally Hawkins, Timothy Spall, Jack Farthing, Sean Harris

On Christmas weekend in 1991, the marriage between Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, nèe Diana Spencer, spirals apart. And we get to watch. Director Pablo Larraín and screenwriter Steven Knight ingeniously weave a narrative that stays scrupulously close to known historical fact with a dark, dream-like fairytale gone wrong, a mashup of the official history, SNOW WHITE and THE SHINING. The film’s power emerges directly from the fearless and deeply committed performance of Kristen Stewart, imagining Diana mercurial and haunted, while Sally Hawkins, Timothy Spall and Sean Harris play the royal staff torn between their obligation to help control Diana and their desire to support her. The score, from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, ingeniously combines chamber music, jazz and pop. Following his films NO, NERUDA and JACKIE, Larraín continues an inspired string of alternative histories of essential moments.  
Venice, Telluride, Toronto Film Festivals

Written and directed by Will Sharpe
Starring Claire Foy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sophia Di Martino

The extraordinary true story of eccentric British artist Louis Wain (Benedict Cumberbatch), whose playful, sometimes even psychedelic pictures helped to transform the public’s perception of cats forever. Moving from the late 1800s through to the 1930s, we follow the incredible adventures of this inspiring, unsung hero, as he seeks to unlock the “electrical” mysteries of the world and, in so doing, to better understand his own life and the profound love he shared with his wife Emily Richardson (Claire Foy).
Telluride, Toronto International Film Festival

Written and directed by Wes Anderson
Starring Benicio Del Toro, Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Christoph Waltz, Timothee Chalamet, Elisabeth Moss, Frances McDormand

“The French Dispatch” brings to life a collection of stories from the final issue of an American magazine published in a fictional 20th-century French city. 
Cannes Film Festival 2021.

Written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino

From Academy Award-winning writer and director Paolo Sorrentino (Il Divo, The Great Beauty, The Young Pope), comes the story of a boy, Fabietto Schisa, in the tumultuous Naples of the 1980s, full of unexpected joys such as the arrival of football legend Diego Maradona, and an equally unexpected tragedy. Fate plays its part, joy and tragedy intertwine, and Fabietto’s future is set in motion. Sorrentino returns to his hometown to tell his most personal story, a tale of fate and family, sports and cinema, love and loss
Venice Film Festival, Winner, Pasinetti Award for Best Film; Winner of Marcello Mastroianni Award for actor Filippo Scotti

Written and directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal
Starring Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Peter Sarsgaard, Ed Harris

Alone on a seaside vacation, Leda (Olivia Colman) becomes consumed with a young mother and daughter as she watches them on the beach. Unnerved by their compelling relationship, (and their raucous and menacing extended family), Leda is overwhelmed by her own memories of the terror, confusion and intensity of early motherhood. An impulsive act shocks Leda into the strange and ominous world of her own mind, where she is forced to face the unconventional choices she made as a young mother and their consequences. This is Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut, based on the novel by Elena Ferrante. 
Venice Film Festival 2021, Winner Best Screenplay Award; Telluride

Directed by Steven Latham, Conrad Stanley

“The Mustangs: America’s Wild Horses” is a feature documentary that is executive produced by Robert Redford, Patti Scialfa Springsteen and Jessica Springsteen. The film features songs by Bruce Springsteen, Emmylou Harris, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and an original song written by Diane Warren and performed by Blanco Brown. “The Mustangs” takes audiences on an odyssey throughout America to places few people have seen or even know about. There are more than 80,000 wild horses on our federal lands and more than 50,000 in government. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Philipps says, “The wild horse is so ingrained in the American imagination that even for those who have never seen one know what it stands for: fierce independence, unbridled freedom, the bedrock ideals of the nation. From car ads to high school mascots, the wild horse – popularly known as the mustang – is the enduring icon of America. But in modern times it has become entangled in controversy and bureaucracy, and now its future is in question.” This film will make you fall in love with America all over again and understand why the protection of our wild horses and our public lands are worth fighting for.

Written and directed by Lauren Hadaway
Starring Isabelle Fuhrman, Amy Forsyth, Jonathan Cherry

Isabelle Fuhrman plays Alex Dall, a queer college freshman who joins her university’s rowing team and undertakes an obsessive physical and psychological journey to make it to the top varsity boat, no matter the cost. Intent on outperforming her teammates, Alex pushes herself to her limits—and beyond, alienating everyone around her in the name of success. Furhman’s fierce lead performance collides with Lauren Hadaway’s bold direction and dynamic editing, creating a visceral window into a cutthroat world. Stylish cinematography and a seductive soundtrack complete the experience, evoking the romance and danger of falling in love; the attraction, the drama and the fallout. This unapologetic debut from Hadaway, based on her personal experience as a competitive collegiate rower, heralds a bold new voice in queer storytelling. If you liked Whiplash, this one’s for you. 
Tribeca Film Festival Winner Founders Award, Best Actress and Best Cinematography.

Written and directed by Joachim Trier
Starring Renate Reinsve, Anders Danielsen Lie

Julie (Reinsve) is restlessly cycling through career paths, relationships and the taxing realities of existence. As she goes hurtling into her 30s, she’s left wondering: when will life really begin, and what is her true purpose? Framed around Julie’s delightful indecisiveness, we follow four years of ups and downs, featuring two important relationships and a handful of what ifs. This darkly comedic journey from director Joachim Trier (LOUDER THAN BOMBS, HIFF 2015) is a biting take on romantic comedy in the modern age.
Cannes Film Festival 2021, Winner Best Actress for Renate Reinsve

Festival passes are still available, and individual tickets will go on sale October 11, available at

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Zach Goins View All

Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, 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

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