For the past seven years, film enthusiasts have made their way to the Middleburg Film Festival in Northern Virginia. Held in the picturesque wine-country of historic Middleburg, Virginia, the festival highlights some of the year’s most anticipated titles, and the 2019 festival was no exception.
Included in this years festival was the debut of “Willie”, the documentary detailing the life of professional hockey player Willie O’Ree. O’Ree was the first black hockey player who played in the National Hockey League for the Boston Bruins in 1957-58 and 1960-61 seasons.
In 1958, in the midst of America’s tumultuous fight to end Jim Crow and the birth of the civil rights movement, Willie O’Ree, the descendant of escaped slaves, became the first black player to skate in a National Hockey League game. What made his achievement even more remarkable was the fact that Willie had lost his right eye two years earlier after a puck hit him in the face – an extraordinary secret that only his sister knew.
Washington Capitals part-owner Shiela Johnson is the Festival’s founder and chair. She told Variety Magazine “I’m very excited about this year’s lineup.” Johnson has extra reason for anticipation over this year’s crop of films – she helped to produce one. “I became involved in the documentary ‘Willie’ through my role as one of two African American NHL owners,” she says. “My partner, Ted Leonsis, and producer Bryant McBride, reached out to me about supporting the film and coming on board as an executive producer. Willie O’Ree is the Jackie Robinson of hockey and I am honored to play a part in highlighting his inspiring story of breaking the NHL color barrier.”
Capitals majority owner Ted Leonsis, executive producer of the film, was also on hand for the debut Saturday afternoon in Middleburg.
“We want to do everything that we can to get this film to be a mass market phenomenon” – @Capitals Owner Ted Leonsis on “Willie,” the Willie O’Ree documentary that was screened Saturday at the Middleburg Film Festival. pic.twitter.com/tntj17dxBQ
— TheColorOfHockey (@ColorOfHockey) October 19, 2019
Leonsis told NHL.com, “Willie O’Ree is a historic individual and what he’s accomplished, not only breaking the color barrier in the NHL but more just how he’s become an exemplar for young people all around the globe and being an evangelist for hockey,” Leonsis said. “It was an honor just to be able to shine a light on his story … it all crescendoed here at this great film festival in Middleburg.”
— Ted Leonsis (@TedLeonsis) October 19, 2019
So far there is no information on wider distribution, or when and where you might be able to view the documentary, but we will be sure to keep you posted.
Sheila Johnson’s Day With The Stanley Cup
By Jon Sorensen
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The @nhl Stanley Cup will be on view to the general public Friday, October 18th from 4-6 pm in honor of the @williedocumentary which will be shown on Saturday morning @middleburgfilm ! Stop by and check it out. Thank you to the @nhl for your kind generosity! . . . #middleburgfilmfestival #salamanderexperience #williedocumentary #visitloudoun @townofmiddleburg #nhl