Meet your next (likely) Oscar contenders at Film Fest 919 in North Carolina

Scarlett Johansson, left, Azhy Robertson and Adam Driver in the movie “Marriage Story.”
Scarlett Johansson, left, Azhy Robertson and Adam Driver in the movie “Marriage Story.” Netflix

October is the traditional kickoff month for the movie industry’s awards season. Many of the year’s most prestigious films are released in late autumn and winter, so they’ll be fresh in the minds of voters for the Oscars, the Golden Globes and the industry’s other year-end events.

As such, it’s all about timing with Film Fest 919, back for its sophomore run, October 9-13, at Silverspot Cinemas in Chapel Hill. By unspooling at the very beginning of awards season, the festival is able to snag a wide range of prestige films just before they hit theaters for traditional distribution.

The festival will screen 38 movies this year, mostly drawn from the world of independent and foreign films, and will have panels and special events to mingle with people in the industry.

In its inaugural season last year, the festival’s strategy proved effective. Several award-winning films played in Chapel Hill weeks before their official release, including “Roma,” “The Favourite” and “Green Book.” Many were nominated for a slew of awards, with “Green Book” winning the Oscar for Best Picture; “Roma” winning three awards, including Best Director; and “The Favourite” star Olivia Colman winning for Best Actress.

This year should be more of the same, festival organizers say. Many high-profile films in the lineup already have garnered acclaim at the Toronto International Film Festival, the Venice Film Festival, the Sundance Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival.

They include director Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story,” starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson; “The Two Popes” with Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins; and the highly anticipated thriller “Parasite” from Korean director Bong Joon-ho, which won the Palm d’Or at Cannes.

“We have nearly all of the films that Oscar prognosticators are predicting to be among the Oscar nominees,” Claudia Puig, director of programming for the festival, tells The News & Observer. Puig is a veteran film critic, working as chief critic at USA Today for more than 15 years.

Other movies on this year’s slate include “Jojo Rabbit,” “Ford v Ferrari,” “The King,” “Clemency,” “Just Mercy” and “Pain and Glory.”

“Additionally, we are showing more foreign films covering a wider breadth of world cinema,” Puig said. “Fifteen countries to be exact.”

Just Mercy.jpg
Michael B. Jordan, left, and Jamie Foxx star in “Just Mercy” about a lawyer who hopes to free a wrongfully convicted man from death row. Jake Giles Netter Warner Bros.

Films generating buzz

In addition to giving festival goers a sneak peek at upcoming titles, the fest can improve the odds that similar films will open in the Triangle later this year, said Randi Emerman, CEO and co-founder of Film Fest 919.

“When a film plays here early at the festival, it means the theaters are going to want to play this type of film, and the distributors are going to make sure that this area is on the radar,” Emerman said.

That’s because film festivals tend to generate that elusive industry commodity called buzz, Emerman said.

“There are so many ways now for studios to get your attention, but one of the best ways is still just simple word-of-mouth,” Emerman said. “So for example, last year ‘Green Book’ played the festival then later came back in wide release and played here for weeks and weeks — because people were talking about it.”

Parasite movie
Park So-dam and Choi Woo-shik in the movie “Parasite.” The film won the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. NEON + CJ Entertainment TNS

Film Festival tickets

The ticketing process is straightforward. There are no special passes or festival packages. Buy tickets online or at the Silverspot box office at University Place mall in Chapel Hill.

Most films have at least two screenings. The opening night film is “Marriage Story,” while the festival will close out with “Jojo Rabbit,” with Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell and Scarlett Johansson.

But schedule some extra time after each film. Most of the films will feature some kind of special event or Q&A after the screening, Emerman said. Plans are still coming together, but several films will have representatives from the film in attendance — if not the director, then various actors, writers or producers. Audiences are encouraged to participate in the Q&As, so it’s a good time to get fast answers to burning questions.

On Oct. 12, festival organizers will present the inaugural Distinguished Screenwriter Award to three-time Academy Award-nominee Anthony McCarten following the showing of his new film, “The Two Popes.”

For other films, the festival has tapped some local talent to give presentations after the each screening.

“When we don’t have the filmmaker, we’re inviting academics from the local universities,” Emerman said. “We like to bring someone in and have their knowledge of the film world inform what everyone has just seen.”

That includes Ray Williams, who will attend the screening of “Rocketman,” the Elton John biopic released earlier this year. Williams, who lives in the Triangle, was John’s first manager and introduced him to longtime collaborator, Bernie Taupin.

ENTER-MOVIE-Ford V Ferrari
Matt Damon, left, and Christian Bale in the movie “Ford v Ferrari.” Merrick Morton Twentieth Century Fox

College partnership

Befitting its college town roots, Film Fest 919 is also introducing some new educational elements this year. The “Offscreen” interactive symposium will partner college students with visiting filmmakers as well as educators from several local schools, including UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke University and North Carolina State.

Rick Warner, film studies professor at UNC, said the program will give students the opportunity to learn directly from film business professionals.

“The students will have their own discussion group, will see select films together and will have the chance to interact with production personnel and actors,” Warner said.

“These are films made by some of the most innovative filmmakers on the planet, and several of them won’t otherwise come to theaters in the Triangle. This is a rare chance to see them properly on the big screen.”

Puig said the expansion of regional film festivals like 919 is good for the film community, including both makers and consumers.

“It used to be that film festivals were only in distant places like Cannes, Venice, Berlin or Toronto,” Puig said. “Now with the growth of regional film festivals in the U.S. and elsewhere, more people have the opportunity to share in the experience of seeing a wide spectrum of the best films the medium has to offer.”

Glenn McDonald is a Chapel Hill-based freelance writer.


What: Film Fest 919

When: Oct. 9-13. Showtimes vary.

Where: Silverspot Cinemas, University Place, 201 S. Estes Drive, No. 100, Chapel Hill.

Tickets: $18.50 general admission, $12.50 for students with ID. Individual tickets go on sale Oct. 2 at Silverspot.net, at the theater or through the festival website.

Info: 919-441-1685, info@filmfest919.com or filmfest919.com

From left, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Taylor Russell, Sterling K. Brown and Renee Elise Goldsberry in ‘Waves.’ A24 Films TNS


“The Aeronauts,” starring Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne and Himesh Patel

“Bacurau,” winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival

“Clemency,” starring Alfre Woodard, Aldis Hodge and Danielle Brooks, winner of Grand Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival

“Dolemite is My Name,” with Eddie Murphy, Wesley Snipes, Keegan-Michael Key and Chris Rock

“Ford v Ferrari,” starring Christian Bale and Matt Damon

“Jojo Rabbit,” written and directed by Taika Waititi and starring Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Stephen Merchant and Waititi. Winner People’s Choice, Toronto International Film Festival

“Just Mercy” starring Brie Larson, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx

“Marriage Story” starring Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern and Alan Alda

“Pain and Glory,” written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, starring Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz

“Parasite,” winner Palm d’or Cannes

“The Report,” with Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Jon Hamm

“The Two Popes,” with Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce

“Waves,” with Lucas Hedges, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sterling K. Brown

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