Film Fest 919 will return to Chapel Hill in October featuring ‘King Richard,’ ‘Spencer,’ and ‘C’mon, C’mon’

By Zach Goins

September 30, 2021

North Carolina’s premier film festival, Film Fest 919 has announced the lineup for its fourth year of festivities in Chapel Hill. This year’s week-long festival will take place from Monday, October 18 to Sunday, October 24 with an opening night screening of King Richard, the Will Smith-led bio drama about the life of Richard Williams, the father of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams. Another highlight will come with the festival centerpiece and Telluride Film Festival darling, C’mon, C’mon, screening on Thursday, October 21. The black-and-white drama stars Joaquin Phoenix and marks his first role since his Oscar win for Best Actor in Joker. The festival will come to a close on Sunday, October 24 with Spencer, the long-awaited Princess Diana biopic starring Kristen Stewart. The actress is already garnering high praise for her transformation into the Princess of Wales, and Stewart is expected to enter awards season as a heavy favorite to win Best Actress.

Film Fest 919 in 2019 via Facebook

Of course, other awards-season highlights will be mixed in throughout the festival as well, including Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, Celine Sciamma’s Petite Maman, Sean Baker’s Red Rocket, and more.

Last year, the festival was forced to adapt amidst the pandemic, utilizing two outdoor venues in Chapel Hill to allow for adequate safety measures. That tradition will continue into 2021, even though the festival will also be moving back indoors. This year’s event will hold screenings at both the Silverspot Cinema indoor movie theater, as well as the outdoor Drive In at Carraway Village, both located in Chapel Hill. The two venues will allow moviegoers to choose which environment best suits their needs. While last year’s festival stretched two weeks due to the limited screens at the outdoor venues, in 2021, the film festival will span six days from Monday, October 18 to Sunday, October 24. 

A screening of ‘Spencer,’ the long-awaited Princess Diana biopic starring Kristen Stewart will close out Film Fest 919.

If the past is any indicator, awards predictors should have their eyes set on Film Fest 919, considering each of the festival’s three previous lineups have 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 Nomadland in 2020. This year’s slate looks to continue on that prestigious tradition, as both Spencer and King Richard are early favorites to produce the Best Actor winners, with hopes of earning a shot at Best Picture, as well. 

The festival will not only be screening films, but will also be honoring the talent. This year’s Spotlight Award will be presented to 12-time Oscar nominee and Grammy Award-winning songwriter, Diane Warren, during the festival’s opening night. The evening will include a conversation with Warren 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 also be screened at the festival.

Check out some of the films screening at this year’s Film Fest 919 from Monday, October 18 to Sunday, October 24. 

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.

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. 

Catch the Fair One – USA

Written and directed by Josef Kubota Wladyka

Kaylee “K.O.” Uppashaw, a mixed Indigenous boxer, prepares for a championship fight. A boxer struggling to pick up the pieces of her life. After her shift working at a diner, Brick (her trainer) 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. Her strength and determination are tested as Kaylee fights the real fight of her life– to find Weeta and make her family whole again.

C’mon, C’mon – USA 

Written and directed by Mike Mills

Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Woody Norman, Gabby Hoffman

Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) and his young nephew (Woody 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.

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.

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.

King Richard – USA (Opening Night)

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 shinep– 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. 

Koati – Mexico 

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.

Mass – USA

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 and Dowd, Isaacs and 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.

Oleg: The Oleg Vidov Story – USA

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. 

Passing – USA/UK

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 (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.

Petite Maman – France

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.

Red Rocket – USA (Distinguished Screenwriter Award) 

Directed by Sean Baker; written by Baker and Chris Bergoch

The audacious new film from writer-director Sean Baker (The Florida Project, Tangerine), stars Simon Rex in a magnetic, live-wire performance. Red Rocket is a morbidly funny, raw, and humane portrait of a uniquely American hustler and a hometown that barely tolerates him.

Spencer – UK/Germany/Chile (Closing Night)

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. Director Pablo Larraín and screenwriter Steven Knight ingeniously weave a narrative that stays scrupulously close to known historical fact with a gloomy, dream-like fairytale gone wrong. 

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain – UK

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).

The French Dispatch – Germany/USA

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.

The Hand of God – Italy

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.

The Lost Daughter – USA/Greece

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.

The Mustangs: America’s Wild Horses – USA

Directed by Steven Latham, Conrad Stanley

The Mustangs: America’s Wild Horses is a feature documentary about the more than 80,000 wild horses on our federal lands and 50,000 in government in the U.S. Executive produced by Robert Redford, Patti Scialfa Springsteen and Jessica Springsteen, the film also features songs by Bruce Springsteen, Emmylou Harris, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and an original song written by 2021 Film Fest 919 Spotlight Award-winner, Diane Warren. The Mustangs takes audiences on an odyssey throughout the country to places few people have seen, understanding why the protection of our wild horses and our public lands are worth fighting for.

The Novice – USA

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. 

The Worst Person in the World – Norway

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. 

Check out the full lineup of films at Film Fest 919 and information on tickets to the screenings.


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