Middleburg Film Festival
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Before technology gave actors a voice on film, a musical soundtrack added the auditory color.
An Inaugural Festival of Movies and Music
The backdrop to the Middleburg Film Festival is the "horse country" of Middleburg Virginia, home to the brand new world class Salamander Resort and Spa which is owned by multi-faceted executive, philanthropist, sports team owner, founder of BET (Black Entertainment Television) and patron of the arts, Sheila Johnson, whose accomplishments and benchmarks in the motion picture industry include producing and executive producing numerous films including 2013's critically acclaimed The Butler.
As the founder and chair of the Middleburg Film Festival, Sheila Johnson described the inaugural festival as "an exciting opportunity to celebrate two of my favorite things by bringing the best in independent film right here to the town I love." Driving through Middleburg to Johnson's Salamander Resort, it does seem like there should be some sweeping musical soundtrack playing as you see people biking, hiking and horseback riding through the rolling hills, past vineyards and the historic town. Why create the Middleburg Film Festival? Johnson shared "as an avid filmgoer, film producer, and member of the Sundance Institute, I've seen over and over the power of films. I can't wait to give people from all over the world one more reason to visit this very special region. And I'm delighted that the Middleburg community will have the opportunity to experience some truly extraordinary films together."
The Middleburg Film Festival showcases dozens of films that take us across America and around the world, from South Africa and Italy to "Nebraska," the film that casts Bruce Dern as a cantankerous and broken man who is estranged from his wife and grown sons. When he believes that he's won a mail-order sweepstakes prize, his younger son (Will Forte) agrees to take him on a journey to claim the non-existent treasure. This performance won Dern the Best Actor prize at Cannes.
Another must-see is "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" starring Idris Elba. The film is based on South African President Nelson Mandela's autobiography of the same name, which chronicles his early life, coming of age, education and 27 years in prison before becoming President and working to rebuild the country's once segregated society. The movie's soundtrack features music written for the film from U2 entitled "Ordinary Love."
A curator like approach to film selection was the responsibility of a panel assembled by Johnson including Executive Director, the EMMY and Peabody award-winning filmmaker Susan Koch. Programming Director, Connie White, has been active in the independent film business for over 20 years serving on the jury of Sundance and programming some of the most well regarded film festivals.
I sat down with Johnson, who is also a well-regarded concert violinist for many years, and Koch for a discussion on the important part music plays in telling a story on film. Johnson shared "Music moves you in ways, it sets the tone of a scene'.it's a feeling ' what you hear to what you feel. It could be a funny scene, it could be a sad scene but the music that you layer on to that is really its own full out emotion'music is that critical." Johnson went on to share her discussions with Director Lee Daniels surrounding the soundtrack for The Butler when Daniels suggested "Let's see if we can get Beyonce to do this and Quincy to do that" Johnson felt the story warranted a different music approach to the score and soundtrack when she replied "Lee, that is not this kind of film. The Butler, the man, the story about Eugene Allen, it is more of a classic, let's go back to the classics, we can save two million dollars! and we can provoke that (emotional connection). I looked at the rough cut and said, the only thing we need to do, we need a theme song for Cecil (Forest Whitaker) and Gloria (Oprah Winfrey), that has got be something that is gonna pull the tears out of you'and he nailed it. That' what music does, it gets into your system, like I cannot begin to tell you. " Koch crystallized a director's and producers view of the power of music in film when she added "(music) is another character" Johnson shared her thoughts on a recent film that motivated her to purchase the soundtrack based upon the integral use of music to tell a story "The King's Speech, to me, is so brilliantly done, with the classical music' the timing as he (the King) is building up with his speech and not stuttering, the music just escalates as the his words are starting to flow even more, that's all part of it."
One of the key differentiators of The Middleburg Film Festival from other festivals in the U.S. is the attention the Middleburg Film Festival pays to music as it relates to film. "One of our Advisory Board Members said, the film composer is often neglected, in Europe, the film festivals, there are several that honor the film composer, but there are none the U.S. It was such a simple but actually such a brilliant idea and it fit so well with Sheila, given her background as a concert violinist and on the board of Carnegie Hall and other thing, but, I also thought about it as a film maker and critical the score is. I think this is another way we hope to distinguish ourselves and what you'll see in the festival our honoring Mark Isham but we also present a master class with George Clinton who was composer of Austin Powers and other films, we also have music related movies including Mussel Sholes and we are have one of the original "Swampers" performing, we wanted to say that music is really an important part of a film."
The importance of marrying the writer composers and songs to film is not only clearly understood but is a valuable revenue stream for musicians, publishers and labels as Linda Blum Huntington, owner of Emerald forest Entertainment and a local Middleburg entrepreneur shared, "The musical score, including the use of songs, plays a critically, integral part in creating the atmosphere to communicate the film. The dynamic relationship between music and picture has the power to emotionally transport an audience, successfully , to any place and any time."
Among the celebrities, directors and industry executives attending the inaugural Middleburg Film Festival are Bruce Dern star of Nebraska and renowned composer and pioneer of electronic music Mark Isham. Isham is the recipient of the Distinguished Film Composer Award to be presented at this year's festival. There will be a conversation with the cerebral and creative composer followed by him conducting the Shenandoah Conservatory Symphony Orchestra performing melodies from his array of films including Blade, 42 and others.
Isham's ability to create innovative musical palettes has earned him a Grammy, an Emmy, and a Clio. His film scores have earned Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. Recently, Isham was honored with the prestigious Henry Mancini Career Achievement Award for musical excellence and the ASCAP Award ' for Top TV Series for ABC TV's Once Upon A Time.
The powerful part that a soundtrack plays in a motion picture has psychological properties and affects, as suggested by Dr. Stuart Fischoff Ph.D. in his paper "The Evolution of Music in Film and its Psychological Impact on Audiences." Fischoff states "Emotivist theories'contend that music not only can but often does arouse emotional responses in listeners. From a music theory and from a psychomusicology perspective, two processes are central to our emotional experience of film music: polarization and affective congruence. In polarization, the specific affective character of the music moves the content of the picture, the bias or ordained thrust of the movie (or scene or sequence) toward the emotional pole communicated by the music (other than when the music is used in an ironic fashion like happy music over violence). Affective congruence refers to a type of cross-modal confirmation in which the spectator matches the score's affective components to the emotional shading of the narrative. This produces a summating effect on the listener, making the degree of emotional engagement stronger than that produced either by the music or the visual tracks alone, i.e., a true Gestalt effect." Fischoff continues "We learn to connect a piece of music with an emotional event. And, perhaps, as Gestaltists would have it, some connections, are innate. Jaws (1975)'and Psycho (1960) provide the audience with vivid, chilling classically conditioned associations. Respectively, their sheer pitch, melodic line, or atonality, create nervousness in an audience."
In line with this theory, Isham said "I create emotion through music. Whether it's high or low, anger or passion, exhilaration or death, denial or lust, motion or solitude. And when I can take a person on this journey through film or recordings, there's nothing more satisfying." Isham's musical signature is evident in his memorable scores for such notable award-winning features including the Oscar-winning film Crash, the Golden Globe winning film Bobby, and The Black Dahlia, for which Isham was awarded "Best Score" by the International Film Music Critics Association.
Mark Isham's collaborators include icons from both film and music ' Robert Redford, Tom Cruise, Brian De Palma, Jodi Foster, Robert Altman, Sting, Wil.I.Am, Sydney Lumet, and Mick Jagger. Crash director Paul Haggis stated, "I merely asked Mark Isham to completely forget everything he has ever done and reinvent himself. And he has never failed to do so." Robert Redford remarked that "Mark is a man who really lives his craft. One of the most attractive features about Mark is that he knows how to keep the music subtle, but still support the drama. Mark does that so beautifully."
If you attended this year's Middleburg Film Festival, and are reading this article, you know what a powerful combination the films, the music and the setting play in experiencing this world class festival. If you are a movie and music lover, mark October 2014 on your calendar for a visit to The Salamander Resort in Middleburg Virginia for their 2nd Annual Middleburg Film Festival. Be sure to choose some great music as the soundtrack to your trip.
Ted Kelly, Senior Music Editor: Ted Kelly, an internationally recognized digital media pioneer, brings his unique interview style, commentary and proven ear for new talent to AND Magazine. Ted Kelly’s over two decades at the forefront of music and media ranges from major market, national and international morning radio personality to executive management for some of the world’s largest media companies in New York, Washington DC and globally. As Program Director of the world's first and only global pop music channel,... (more...)