10th RiverRun film festival boasts celebrities and surprises

by Mark Burger

One month to go, and all the pieces are fitting into place: celebrities, jurors, filmmakers and, of course, movies.

With the 10th annual RiverRun International Film Festival set to unreel April 23, organizers have been putting the finishing touches on what looks to be an impressive bash.

“It’s going to be a good one,” promises executive director Andrew Rodgers, in his third year at the festival helm. “It’s a crazy and busy time of year, but I absolutely love it.”

This Wednesday night, the festival will host the festival’s launch party at the Reynolda House of American Art in Winston-Salem. It is there that Rodgers will announce the films and the celebrities expected to be in attendance this year.

All told, the festival will screen almost 100 movies April 23-28, including features, shorts, documentaries and retrospectives. Living up to the international aspect of the festival, this year’s will boast films from 26 different countries – “one more than last year,” Rodgers says.

The opening-night selection will be writer/director Daniel Barnz’s drama Phoebe in Wonderland, starring Felicity Huffman, Elle Fanning and Bill Pullman, who is expected to be in attendance and will receive the festival’s Master of Cinema award this year.

Pullman’s many film credits include Ruthless People (1986), SpaceBalls (1987), The Accidental Tourist (1988), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997), and the 1996 blockbuster hit Independence Day, in which he played the heroic US president. He also received widespread acclaim for the 2000 TNT Western The Virginian, which he directed and starred in. He’ll soon be seen in Surveillance, the latest film from Jennifer Chambers Lynch (daughter of David).

Pullman had accepted an invitation to the festival in the past, but when his shooting schedule for the NBC series “Revelations” changed, he wasn’t able to make it. He’ll be joined by writer/director John Dahl, who was once an acting student of Pullman’s and repaid the favor by casting him in The Last Seduction (1994) and last year’s You Kill Me. Incidentally, I interviewed John Dahl when he spoke at the NCSA School of Filmmaking some years back. Not only is he a talented and tenacious filmmaker, but he’s also a nice guy.

Dahl will be a juror for RiverRun’s narrative features, joining the likes of Time magazine film critic and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Jay Cocks (The Age of Innocence, The Last Temptation of Christ) and his wife, actress Verna Bloom (Medium Cool, National Lampoon’s Animal House); film critic and Wake Forest faculty member Peter Brunette; NCSA School of Filmmaking student James Sullivan; and Kevin Thomas, for 45 years the film critic at The Los Angeles Times – and, it must be noted, a great pal of mine, although not for 45 years! Kevin actually attended Gettysburg College 50 years ago with my mother and father, so he’s known my family longer than I have.

Cocks, a long-time friend and collaborator of Martin Scorsese’s will be bringing the Oscar-winning director’s personal print of the 1943 Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger classic The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, starring Roger Livesey, Anton Walbrook and Deborah Kerr, a film so controversial in its day that Winston Churchill, then the prime minister of Britain, wanted it banned. (Churchill was many things, but an astute judge of cinematic artistry evidently wasn’t one of them.)

To obtain this film is “extremely cool,” Rodgers says, “and to have Jay Cocks introduce it and do a Q&A afterward is something really exciting for us.”

Co-writer/co-producer/co-director Powell’s widow is Scorsese’s long-time editor, three-time Oscar winner Thelma Schoonmaker. Rodgers confirms that an invitation has been extended to her to participate, but as she’s involved in pre-production on Scorsese’s latest project, her schedule might not allow it.

Between now and the festival opening, RiverRun organizers will be taking a RiverRun Roadshow to cities throughout the state (Wilmington, Charlotte, Brevard, etc.), in an effort to increase awareness of the festival.

There have been persistent rumors, which Rodgers is unable to confirm or deny, that another major celebrity – one with direct ties to the city of Winston-Salem – is also to be honored with a Master of Cinema award, for his (or her) contributions to the medium.

After all, no one ever said that the festival could only give out one Master of Cinema award each festival. (Last year, there was no recipient.) And it’s indeed true that the festival organizers have been trying long and hard to land this honoree. It would truly be a foxy catch for the festival – and a well-deserved honor for the celebrity.

Can you dig it?

If, indeed, this comes through, a lot of people will.

For more information about the festival including periodic updates, visit