Sheila Johnson, an entrepreneur with many talents, led the fifth annual Middleburg Film Festival that took place October 19 – 22, 2017. The festival takes place in the cozy town of Middleburg, Virginia and is intentionally ran by an all-woman team, with Johnson as the leader. From the beginning, Johnson and her team intended it to be a stop on the “road to the Oscars.”
The festival has lived up to Johnson’s dream. At last year’s festival, there were 44 Oscar Nominations among the 26 films screened. Which included, but is definitely not limited to: the Opening Night film, Lion; the Friday Spotlight film, Moonlight; and the Saturday night centerpiece film, La La Land with Best Director Damien Chazelle and Best Actress Emma Stone in attendance.
Johnson is a powerful influencer in the entertainment industry, being a co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, or BET, and having produced four documentary films: including Kicking It, which premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival; A Powerful Noise, which premiered at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival; She Is the Matador; and The Other City, a critically acclaimed portrayal of the HIV/AIDS crisis in Washington DC, which premiered at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival. She is also a former board member of the Sundance Institute.
Aside from being a force in the entertainment industry, she is a notable entrepreneur. From co-founding BET, she owns and founded Salamander Hospitality, where she manages two resorts and an inn. One of which hosts the Middleburg Film Festival. She is also the majority owner of the Washington Mystics WNBA franchise and a minority owner of the NBA’s Washington Wizards and NHL’s Washington Capitals, making her the first Black woman with a stake in three professional sports teams. She was recently awarded the lifetime legacy award by the DC Chamber of Commerce.
Susan Koch, who directs the festival along with Johnson, said, “Sheila has so much vision and drive, and when she said that she wanted to create a film festival in Middleburg, some people thought it would be impossible. Without her amazing and continuing efforts, none of this would be possible.”