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Gettin’ ready to roll along with RiverRun

by Mark Burger

“I’m ready for RiverRun. Are you ready for RiverRun?”

So spake Andrew Rodgers, executive director of the RiverRun International Film Festival, whch hits Winston-Salem this year April 23-28. Although the festival is still two months away, Rodgers has been hard at work planning and preparing for it. Last month he attended the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, seeing the films and spreading the word about RiverRun.

The year’s RiverRun will be special, because it marks the festival’s 10th anniversary. The festival was started in Brevard, then moved to Winston-Salem six years ago. This is Rodgers’ third year as executive director and his fourth overall.

“I think RiverRun has grown to become one of the Triad’s keystone cultural events,” he says. “We still think there is a lot of room to grow, of course, but we are all very excited about the accomplishments we’ve had and the growth we’ve experienced in the last few years.”

He pointed out that film submissions and ticket sales have increased steadily. Over the last few months, he estimates that he himself has watched between 300 and 400 movies that were submitted to the festival. Boy, are his eyes tired!

Actually, not too much. The overall quality of the films being submitted, he reports, has also increased. If anything, there are too many to choose from – “which is not a bad thing at all,” he says with a laugh.

Dale Pollock, the co-chairman of the RiverRun board and the former dean of the NCSA School of Filmmaking, was one of the principal engineers in the festival’s eastward move. Even in the earliest stages of bringing it here, he had the distinct feeling that RiverRun would be a hit with local audiences.

“To what degree, initially, we weren’t sure – but it’s quite clear we’ve become a vital part of the artistic community,” Pollock says.

He too is excited by the potential for this year’s festival, and its possibilities for the future. “This is by far out strongest year of narrative features,” promises Pollock. “From all accounts, the submissions have all been outstanding.”

“We fully expect this year’s festival to set all new records,” says Rodgers. “We’re very pleased with our position in the film community today, but we’re also eager to keep pushing the envelope and grow RiverRun’s influence around the country. And with the continued support of our local businesses and audiences, I think we can do it!”

Evidence of the festival’s increased visibility came last year at the 4th annual International Film Festival Summit in Last Vegas, where Rodgers was honored with the Excellence Award for his contribution to independent film.

The 2008 festival will consist of almost 100 films – 30 features and 70 shorts (more or less) – which will be screened at such venues as the Stevens Center, the Sawtooth Center, the Garage, Reynolda House and the ACE Exhibition Complex at the NCSA School of Filmmaking.

The screening schedule won’t be announced until next month, although Rodgers hints that there may be some announcements made before then.

There’s also the Master of Cinema award, which was given to Cliff Robertson in 2005 and Ned Beatty in 2006. None was given last year, but both Rodgers and Pollock confirm that a deserving honoree is being sought for this year’s festival.

Of course, there will also be parties, seminars and panel discussions – something for every film fan. And, of course, YES! Weekly will be there, covering it all.

For more information about the festival, see riverrunfilm.com.

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