Actress Dakota Johnson and editor Clayton Davis at a previous year's Middleburg Film Festival
Dakota Johnson with Clayton Davis, awards editor at Variety, at the Middleburg Film Festival Credit: Shannon Finney

After Sheila Johnson sold BET for $2.9 billion in 2001, she built the luxury Salamander Resort & Spa on 340 acres in the quaint Civil War battlefield town of Middleburg, Virginia (population 573), where Jackie Kennedy used to ride horses. A film producer (Summer of Soul, Lee DanielsThe Butler), Johnson was on the Sundance Film Festival’s board when her friend Robert Redford suggested she start another film festival in Middleburg. Now in its 10th year, the Middleburg Film Festival is a major stop on the road to the Oscars. Seven of the past nine Middleburg Audience Award winners went on to receive Oscar nominations for Best Picture. More than 250 Oscar honorees were Middleburg movies. In short, it is the most important film festival you’ve never heard of, and anybody can go. While the Salamander is extraordinarily pricey (rooms start at $725), it’s easy to drive out for the day or stay at a nearby hotel or Airbnb. Attendees can see big names chatting about their films in small, intimate rooms, and even say hello to the stars, such as last year’s attendees Dakota Johnson or  Kenneth Branagh; you might even catch the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences president at the bar. It can cost $5,000 to attend the Telluride Film Festival, Colorado’s more famous pre-Oscar festival, but you’re more likely to see a great movie at Middleburg, where individual tickets are less than $20 and the max is $3,000 for a high rolling festival pass. The feel is very informal—you sit on regular chairs in hotel meeting rooms and other venues around town, and the screens are not Cannes-fabulous. But that’s part of the MFF’s unbuttoned charm. No film lover should miss this fest. Middleburg Film Festival runs Oct. 13 to 16 at Salamander Resort & Spa and various other locations in Middleburg. $18 for individual tickets; $125–$3,000 for various passes.

For more film recommendations, check out our calendar.