Film Fest 919 movie festival in Chapel Hill NC: lineup, tickets

Princess Diana died 24 years ago, but the world’s fascination with her endures.

That’s especially evident in pop culture, with the most recent season of “The Crown” to the bizarre “Diana: The Musical,” both on Netflix.

But there’s more Diana on the horizon in the form of “Spencer,” which is drawing Oscar buzz for star Kristen Stewart (the “Twilight” trilogy) before the film even hits theaters. While it’s set to open in the United States on Nov. 5, it will be screened in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, two weeks before then as part of Film Fest 919.

The festival is Oct. 18-24, at the Silverspot Cinema and Drive-in at Carraway Village with “Spencer” scheduled to close it out on Oct. 24. In addition to film screenings, there will be conversations with filmmakers and a laser tribute show to award-winning songwriter, Diane Warren, as well as an appearance by Warren herself.

The film festival, in its fourth year, takes full advantage of its slogan: “Catch the films before they catch on.” In addition to “Spencer,” the festival also will screen “King Richard,” starring Will Smith as the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, and “C’mon C’mon” starring Joaquin Phoenix as an uncle with a “transformative” relationship with his nephew. Like “Spencer,” those two films aren’t expected to be released for mainstream audiences until November.

“The fact that we’ve got this caliber of films so young — we’re only four years old — is an achievement,” said Carol Marshall, who co-founded the festival in 2018 with Randi Emerman after years of working in the film and entertainment industry.

Many films screened at Film Fest 919 go on to earn Oscar nominations and other industry awards, including “Roma,” “Marriage Story” and “Ford v Ferrari.” Many win the top prize: the Best Picture Academy Award. “Green Book” (2019) and “Nomadland” (2021) both took home Best Picture trophies after screening at the North Carolina festival.

“We set a pretty high bar for ourselves,” Marshall told The The News & Observer in a phone interview. “We curate it ourselves rather than accept submissions.”

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Will Smith stars as Richard Williams in “King Richard,” the father of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams. The film is set in the late 1980s and 1990s. Warner Bros.

Drawing on their connections, Marshall and Emerman focus on movies that have premiered or won awards at key film festivals — Cannes, Telluride and Sundance, for example.

“These festivals launch these films for buyers,” Marshall said. “They set the stage in the fall for what the potential contenders are. Not all will be contenders, but they should be. … We’re more of a showcase.”

Indeed, the awards are nice, but Marshall and Emerman want Film Fest 919 movies to tell extraordinary stories and have something else noteworthy about them, such as being directed by women, or addressing social issues.

Marshall said they want the films to connect with audiences, allowing them to be part of the cinematic conversation before the rest of the world.

“It won’t be like Sundance, but we don’t want to be a Sundance,” Marshall said. “But people in Sundance get to see firsthand and early what the fuss is about. They get to be part of the conversation.”

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“C’mon, C’mon” stars Joaquin Phoenix and Woody Norman as an uncle and nephew who forge a closer bond while on a road trip. Tobin Yelland

Honoring the people behind the films

Festival organizers also like to recognize those who work “below the line” in the film industry, people like screenwriters, visual effects producers, directors and songwriters.

This year, they will present the Spotlight Award to Warren, who has written hits like “If I Could Turn Back Time” (Cher), “Because You Loved Me” (Celine Dion) and “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” (Aerosmith). She has been nominated for 12 Academy Awards for Best Original Song. The award, discussion with Warren and laser show set to her songs is scheduled Oct. 18.

“She’s written for everybody,” Marshall said. “You look at her discography, it blows you away. … Watching her process in songwriting is astounding. She writes something every day.”

She has a song, “Never Gonna Tame You,” included in a film that will be screened at Film Fest 919, “The Mustangs: America’s Wild Horses,” a documentary executive produced by Robert Redford, Patti Scialfa Springsteen and Jessica Springsteen.

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Songwriter Diane Warren poses for a portrait Aug. 18, 2021, in Los Angeles. Film Fest 919 is presenting its Spotlight Award to Warren, who has written hits like “If I Could Turn Back Time” (Cher), “Because You Loved Me” (Celine Dion) and “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” (Aerosmith). There also will be a laser light show set to her music. Chris Pizzello Invision/AP

On Oct. 22, the festival will present the third annual Distinguished Screenwriter Award to Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch, who are behind the film “Red Rocket,” which screened at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. Bergoch came to the first Film Fest 919 for a showing of “The Florida Project,” which he co-wrote, and has attended every festival since then.

The Rising Star Award will be given to Eduardo Franco, who has appeared in the film “Booksmart” and the TV series “Stranger Things.” He co-stars in the animated “Koati,” which will screen at the festival.”

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“Red Rocket” stars Simon Rex as a washed-up porn star who returns to his hometown. It was written by Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch. A24

COVID-19 adaptations

Last year during the pandemic, festival organizers figured out how to adapt by building a drive-in theater in northern Chapel Hill, off Interstate 40.

This year, the festival will take place there as well as at Silverspot Cinema at University Place. Organizers are requiring attendees to show proof of COVID-19 vaccine before attending Silverspot shows. Vaccination status won’t be required at the drive-in as movie-goers will be in their own cars.

Masks will be required at all indoor events.

Some discussions or introductions with filmmakers will be pre-recorded.

Despite the pandemic, Marshall said organizers are happy with the lineup of films they’ve produced and hope those hungry for good movies — and those who want to be part of the films’ journeys’ — come see them. Audiences will have the chance to vote for their favorite film.

“There’s so many great films,” she said. “It gives you a chance to step outside your world. There are some really amazing journeys along the way.”


Individual tickets and movie passes are on sale for the festival. Go to filmfest919.com for details.

This story was originally published October 12, 2021 10:22 AM.

Features Editor Jessica Banov oversees coverage of entertainment, the arts, food and dining for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. She is the Mid-Day Breaking News Editor for the Southeast region.

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