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Lee Daniels prepares to talk to the audience at the Middleburg Film Festival. (Photo credit: Middleburg Film Festival)

On a crisp fall day at Salamander Resort and Spa, several dozen people were seated in the well-appointed library, eagerly awaiting the arrival of Academy Award-nominated director, Lee Daniels.

The acclaimed director of such hit films as “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” “Precious” “Monster’s Ball” and now co-creatorof the blockbuster FOX television series, `Empire,’ was among the Hollywood celebs and power brokers in attendance Oct. 22-25 at the 3rd annual Middleburg Film Festival.

The four-day event welcomed film aficionados from all over the country and beyond, who sampled a well-curated selection of narrative and documentary films. The movies, which included possible Oscar contenders, festival favorites, foreign films, regional premieres, and both narratives and documentaries, were screened in an intimate theatre environment, complemented by “insider” chats with renowned actors and filmmakers.

Celebrity guests ranged from supermodel Beverly Johnson, to actress Meg Ryan, who made her directorial debut.

Held in the historic town of Middleburg, Virginia, a wealthy enclave of estates, horse farms and wineries about an hour’s drive outside of Washington, D.C.—festival attendees were able to experience the beautiful natural landscape, food, and wine.

Daniels is a longtime supporter of the festival, and his appearance at the event was akin to that of a rock star. Adoring fans (many of them Black women) showered him with affection and applauded enthusiastically when he arrived, asked to take selfies, and he graciously obliged.

“It’s a trip, but it’s a lot of fun,” said Daniels of his tremendous success. “I’m really am in the bubble. … I don’t pay attention to it.”

Sporting casual attire punctuated by a pair of Gucci designer loafers, the youthful 55-year-old began his talk by joking with the audience that his shoes (complete with kangaroo fur trim) were intended for his `Empire’ character, Lucious Lyon, but he decided to keep them for himself.

Yet Daniels doesn’t give the impression of being vain or frivolous. The filmmaker seems full of heart, which he unabashedly wears on his sleeve. And during a wide-ranging discussion on Saturday that covered his art, sexuality, and parenting, he was warm, refreshingly candid, and full of humility and humanity.

“My contribution is my life,” said Daniels, who said his work was often rooted in “really painful” experiences, including being a gay man who once struggled for acceptance, seeing multiple friends die of HIV/AIDS, and drug addiction. “With anything I do, I find myself giving my soul to it,” he said.

In 2013 he released the critically acclaimed box office smash “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” an epic drama that tells the story of Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), a Black butler who served at the White House during seven presidential administrations between 1957 and 1986. The film, released by the Weinstein Company, held the number one box office spot for three consecutive weeks, and has to date grossed more than $175 million worldwide.

And “Precious,” adapted from the New York Times-bestselling novel “Push: A Novel” by Sapphire (a.k.a. Ramona Lofton) was nominated for six Academy Awards. They included nods for Daniels in the category of “Achievement in Directing” and “Best Motion Picture of the Year, and wins in the categories of “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role” and “Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay.”

Meantime, “Empire,” which debuted in 2015 tells the story of a Black family dynasty set against the backdrop of the record industry and hip-hop. Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson star, with Timbaland producing the show’s original music. It’s become the highest rated entertainment show on broadcast television, drawing 17 million viewers for last season’s finale.

Still, Lee told the crowd that fame and accolades didn’t always translate into happiness for him. He shared that on the night Halle Berry won her groundbreaking Oscar for “Monster’s Ball,” that instead of celebrating with the cast, he was off “smoking crack” because he didn’t feel “worthy.”

Today, however, Daniels is sober. He’s a proud father of two (raising the children of his brother who is incarcerated) and devoted to their family unit. “I gotta my kids on track, making sure they’re okay,” noting that his son is a college student in D.C., and his daughter attends a school in Paris. “I live for them, everything I do is for them.”

Daniels also recently signed an overall development deal with Fox television, where he will continue to create develop, write, direct and supervise new projects under his Lee Daniels Entertainment banner. His first project under the deal will be “STAR,” a show centered around three women in a musical group in Atlanta. He will next start shooting “The Untitled Richard Pryor Biopic” for the Weinstein Company.

He plans to continue to shake up audiences with characters who tell the truth about the many facets of the human condition.

“My artistry is the same as my person,” he said, noting he is “a better man” but not a “perfect man.” “I’m still growing,” he said.