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12 years, 11 days, two awards and one executive director: RiverRun rocks again!

by Mark Burger

12 YEARS, 11 DAYS, TWO AWARDS AND ONE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: RIVERRUN ROCKS AGAIN!

“This will be the best festival we’ve ever had, and I expect next year to be better than this year.”

He’s said it before and he’ll say it again. He just said he would, after all.

Yet, each year, Andrew Rodgers has seen his vow/boast/promise come true.

This is Rodgers’ fifth year at the helm of the RiverRun International Film Festival. Previously the director of the festival, his officially designated title now is executive director — a “huge and profound difference,” he quips.

Rodgers tends not to take himself seriously, but takes the reputation and operation of the festival very seriously. This year’s event is undoubtedly the largest and most ambitious festival in its 12-year history, spanning a full 11 days from April 15 to 25.

With 51 feature films and 70 shorts from all corners of the globe, it is “the most diverse selection we’ve had yet,” he says. “Each year we make tremendous strides.”

The 2010 RiverRun International Film Festival will open this Thursday with its opening-night premiere, The Extra Man, 7 p.m. at the Stevens Center (405 W. 4th St., Winston-Salem). The latest film from the husband-and-wife writer/director duo of Robert Pulcini and Sherri Springer Berman, who earned an

Oscar nomination for their adapted screenplay of American Splendor (2003), this adaptation of Jonathan Ames’ novel features an all-star cast including Kevin Kline, Paul Dano, Katie Holmes, John C. Reilly and Celia Weston, the latter a graduate of both Salem College and UNC School of the Arts in Winston- Salem.

The screening of The Extra Man will be followed by the opening-night gala at the Millennium Center (101 W. 5 th St.). Come Friday the 16 th and the festival’s in full swing for the next two weekends, coming to a close with a day full of screenings on Sunday, April 25.

The festival, which originally began in Asheville and Brevard before making an eastward move to Winston-Salem in 2003, has thrived ever since.

Throughout the year, Rodgers attends film festivals around the world, not only to seek films for the festival but also to promote it. Since he’s taken charge of RiverRun, the festival’s reputation has grown progressively, resulting in massive increases in submitted films, and an increased awareness among independent filmmakers and distributors.

Expanding the festival to 11 days is “a big deal,” says Dale Pollock, former dean of the UNC School of the Arts School of Filmmaking and a current faculty member, as well as a member of the RiverRun board and the man most responsible for bringing it to Winston-Salem.

“It’s a goal that we had always talked about, and it’s very gratifying that we’ve been able to make it happen this year.”

“This thing used to be four days,” Rodgers says, shaking his head in wonder at its growth during his tenure, but in no way does he claim the lion’s share of credit for himself. With neither false modesty or false pride, he cites the ongoing efforts of sponsors (both individual and corporate), staff members, screeners, volunteers and, yes, even members of the media who have covered RiverRun over the years. If he seems repetitious in crediting those parties, he believes that it bears repeating.

“This simply couldn’t happen without them,” he says. Last year’s festival, at eight days, was the longest until then — and something of a test run, to see if stretching it over two weekends could be successful.

During the 2009 festival, a funny thing happened: People turned away at certain screenings that had sold out weren’t going home, and they certainly weren’t going to the local multiplex to see the latest mainstream Hollywood film. Instead, they were going to see another RiverRun film. The result was a succession of sell-outs, the most up to that time in RiverRun history.

Even during shaky economic times, RiverRun has risen to the challenge — and then some. In 2007, ticket sales totaled $53,019. In 2008, ticket sales jumped to $71,781, and last year’s tally was $85,720.

The success of RiverRun has been “rewarding beyond belief,” says Peggy Joines, the chair of the festival’s board. “We have been very, very fortunate to fill a special niche.”

For Joines, wife of Winston-Salem’s mayor Allen Joines and a RiverRun fan since Day 1, this is her second and last year as the chair, but she expects to continue her association with the festival in the years to come.

Through the festival, she says, “we have the opportunity to explore areas, ideas and cultures we’d never be exposed to otherwise.”

Events like RiverRun, says Mayor Allen Joines, “create an excitement, a buzz, an energy level … [and] add to the wonderful fabric of our community.”

MASTERS OF MOVIEMAKING

This year marks the first time that both Master of Cinema and Emerging Master awards have been presented at the same festival. Peter Bogdanovich, who earned an Oscar nomination as Best Director for his 1971 adaptation of The Last Picture Show, whose additional credits include What’s Up, Doc? (1972), Paper Moon (1973) and Saint Jack (1979) and who recently joined the faculty at the School of Filmmaking, will receive the Master of Cinema award, joining previous honorees Cliff Robertson, Ned Beatty, Pam Grier and Bill Pullman.

David Gordon Green, who graduated the School of Filmmaking in 1998, will receive the Emerging Master award from RiverRun, which was presented last year to Winston- Salem’s Ramin Bahrani (who is scheduled to attend this year’s festival).

Bogdanovich will be presented with his award following a screening of Paper Moon at 7 p.m. in Main Theatre of the ACE Exhibition Complex on the School of the Arts campus. Pollock, who interviewed Bogdanovich in the 1970s and ’80s, will moderate the Q&A with him.

“Paper Moon is an overlooked film,” notes Pollock. “In my opinion, it’s his best film.”

The film was a box-office hit and earned four Academy Award nominations, winning one for Tatum O’Neal as Best Supporting Actress. At age 10, she was (and remains) the youngest performer to ever win an Oscar. An overlooked film?

“Because most people have forgotten it,” laughs Pollock.

“Every element is perfect. Hands-down, it’s Ryan O’Neal’s best performance, and I don’t think there’s been a better pairing of father and child onscreen.”

In addition to his work as a filmmaker, Bogdanovich is also highly regarded as a film scholar and historian, having published numerous articles and books about the cinematic titans of yesteryear, including Orson Welles, John Ford, Howard Hawks, Fritz Lang, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Alfred Hitchcock and many others.

Is Bogdanovich being honored for his film work or his film studies?

“Whatever,” jokes Bogdanovich, whose other honors include a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Denver International Film Institute, a Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA) award, the William K. Everson Film History Award, honorary doctorates from Farleigh Dickinson University and Emerson College, and scores more.

All jokes aside, he says, “I think it’s for my film work,” and he’s pleased not only to be recipient of the award but also the newest faculty member at the School of Filmmaking. A series of serendipitous events found Bogdanovich making the move here.

He and Jordan Kerner, the dean of the School of Filmmaking, were working on a project that, like so many, took longer than expected to develop.

Although Bogdanovich has lectured extensively at numerous schools and universities, he had not taught a regular course since 1969 at

UCLA (a course on Howard Hawks), despite repeated entreaties. With their project on the proverbial back-burner, Kerner had another idea — and Bogdanovich was receptive.

“I’d heard awfully good things about the school,” he says, and after touring the campus last September, “it seemed like a really good fit.”

As a result, “Professor” Bogdanovich is teaching two courses this semester, one on filmmaker John Ford and the other a dissection of his own film, The Last Picture Show.

He toyed with the idea of teaching an entire series of his films, then opted to focus on what is probably his best-known, an adaptation of Larry McMurtry’s best-seller that launched the careers of Jeff Bridges, Timothy Bottoms, Ellen Burstyn and Cybill Shepherd, with whom Bogdanovich fell in love during production. The film earned eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director, and won Oscars for Ben Johnson (Best Supporting Actor) and Cloris Leachman (Best Supporting Actress).

Like those who remember Bogdanovich as one of the boy-wonder filmmakers of the 1970s, even he’s a little surprised that he’s now the grandfather of two, one from each of his daughters, Antonia and Sashy, by his first wife, acclaimed production designer and producer Polly Platt, who worked on The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon, and earned an Oscar nomination for Terms of Endearment (1983).

“It took a little getting used to,” he says with a laugh, “but so they’re cute and adorable, what am I going to do? They call me Papa. I don’t allow them to call me Grandpa. When they start calling me Grandpa, I start talking like Walter Brennan!” When reached by phone at his home in New York, Academy Award winner and initial RiverRun Master of Cinema award winner Robertson offered his salute to Bogdanovich: “Well, that’s something, isn’t it?” he said. “Bless his heart. He certainly deserves it. He’s made some very good pictures. All due congratulations, Peter.” Noting that he and Bogdanovich haven’t worked together, Robertson laughed. “I’m available. Love to work with you, Peter. It’s not too late!

Kevin Thomas, long-time film critic for the Los Angeles Times and a RiverRun juror in 2008, has known Bogdanovich since the 1960s when Bogdanovich was still a critic, prior to his meteoric rise as a filmmaker, at which point, says Thomas, “he became a star overnight.

“What always gratified me about Peter’s work was here was this critic — a really knowledgeable film historian who did important, influential film studies — who then made the transition to becoming an influential filmmaker himself. Very few people have done that to the degree of success that Peter has, particularly here in the United States. I was always deeply impressed by that.”

Thomas reviewed Bogdanovich’s 1968 debut feature Targets — giving it a rave, incidentally — and later reviewed They All Laughed (1980) and The Cat’s Meow (2001), particularly favoring the latter, a speculative Hollywood drama about the mysterious death of director Thomas Ince aboard William Randolph Hearst’s yacht in 1924.

In addition, Bogdanovich paved the way for Thomas to meet veteran filmmakers Allan Dwan (Sands of Iwo Jima, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm) and Budd Boetticher (Bullfighter and the Lady, Seven Men from Now), both of whom Bogdanovich had written about and both of whom Thomas would befriend, he said, “thereby giving me the chance to keep their names alive in the pages of the LA Times… so I’m very fond of Peter.”

Thomas also applauds the selection of Green as the Emerging Master recipient, having described Green’s 2000 feature debut

George Washington as “One of the most striking and affecting American independent films of the year, heralding the arrival of a formidable young talent in Green,” in his review for the Times.

“It speaks very highly of the school that they would nurture a talent like his, giving him the tools and encouragement and knowledge he needed to make a distinctive, original film like George Washington,” observes Thomas.

Green’s credits include the critically acclaimed art-house favorites George Washington (2000) and All the Real Girls (2003), both of which were filmed in North Carolina (the former in Winston-Salem), and the blockbuster 2008 comedy Pineapple Express. Currently he’s working on a remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 horror classic Suspiria.

Green will receive his award on April 23, following a screening of George Washington in the Main Theatre at the School of Filmmaking and a seminar moderated again by Pollock.

“It’s very significant that we’re giving the award to a past graduate,” says Pollock.

MOVIE MADNESS

Despite RiverRun’s past success, “we’re not yet where we want to be,” says Rodgers. “We’re never satisfied. In terms of growth, we’re extremely pleased to be where we are, but we’ve also got to expand our geographic reach outside the Piedmont Triad region and the state.”

Rodgers estimates that 70-75 percent of RiverRun attendees come from right here in the Triad, another 20 percent from the rest of the state, and maybe 10 percent from outside of state.

“We’d like those numbers to continue to grow while maintaining a strong local base,” says Rodgers.

Nevertheless, he says, “in terms of creativity, we’ve been able to attract some incredible films this year.”

In addition to The Extra Man, some of the more noteworthy films being screened include Bruce Beresford’s Mao’s Last Dancer; Oscar winner Tilda Swinton’s latest film, I Am Love; Brian Cox and Paul Dano in Good Heart; the French spy spoof OSS 117: Lost in Rio, a sequel to the comedy that’ was a RiverRun favorite in ’08; and Werner Herzog’s latest film, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, with a star-studded cast including Michael Shannon, Chloe Sevigny, Willem Dafoe, Brad Dourif and Udo Kier.

Showcasing the “international” side of its name, the festival is also paying tribute to the history of Mexican Cinema, which coincides with the 200 th anniversary of Mexican independence and the 100 th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution. Among the films being shown to commemorate Mexican Cinema are Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Amores Perros (2000), which earned an Oscar nomination as Best Foreign-Language Film; Luis Bunuel’s 1950 classic Los Olvidados; Alfonso Cuaron’s Y tu Mama Tambien (2003), which scored an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay; and Emilio Fernandez’ rarely-screened Maria Candelaria (AKA Xochimilco), which in 1946 became the first Mexican film to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won two awards including the Grand Prix.

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RiverRun, April 15-25, Winston-Salem

For tickets or more information about the festival, including a complete schedule of events and screenings, including periodic updates, visit www.riverrunfilm.com

Go HERE for reviews of The Extra Man; The Good Heart; My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done; Best Worst Movie; and Suck.

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