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Riverrun International Film Festival celebrates downtown digs

by Mark Burger

During the early years of the RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem, it occupied a small office on the first floor of the Chatham Building on 4 th Street.

Now, after years of sustained success, the festival has returned to the Chatham Building — only this time it occupies an entire series of offices on the first floor, adjoining the a/perture cinema, a mini twin-plex that will screen independent and foreign films throughout the year, as well as being one of the festival’s primary venues in 2010.

“This is where we began,” said Andrew Rodgers, the executive director of the festival. “We’ve come full circle, and in so much a bigger way.”

Celebrating both its success and the holiday season, the festival opened its doors and cracked open the bubbly for a party last week.

Some of the local luminaries on hand included actor/playwright Angus MacLachlan; Richard Emmett, one of the region’s foremost entertainment impresarios; Rebecca Clark, director of the Piedmont Triad Film Commission; Karen McHugh, general manager of the Children’s Theatre of Winston-Salem; John Gates, the esteemed former writer at the Winston-Salem Journal and the Arts Council’s liaison with the festival (and one of this reporter’s favorite folks); Rodgers’ new bride, Iana; and several members of the UNCSA School of Filmmaking faculty — many of whom were also celebrating the end of the semester.

“The hors d’oeuvres are delicious and the new digs are beautiful — or will be when they’re finished,” joked Renata Jackson, who teaches cinema studies at the School of Filmmaking and has been a festival supporter since it first came to Winston-Salem. As a devotee and teacher of independent and world cinema, she’s delighted that the festival has become a major cultural component of the City of the Arts.

Her sentiments were echoed by fellow faculty member Dan McKinny, who teaches directing at the School of Filmmaking and, along with wife and fellow faculty member Laura Hart McKinny, is also a familiar face at RiverRun screenings and events. “I go to the movies and the parties, and I can’t wait,” he said with a smile.

Peggy Joines, the wife of Winston- Salem mayor Allen Joines, has been a member of the RiverRun board for six years and its chair for the last two. This will be her final year on the board, and she intends to go out on a high note.

Both Rodgers and Joines expressed their gratitude for the ongoing support of sponsors, donors and, of course, audiences. “A festival can’t survive unless it has an active constituency,” Rodgers noted.

Both also gave a special nod to the RiverRun staff and its “army” of more than 300 volunteers.

“Without them, everything would grind to a halt,” said Rodgers. “We’ve grown a phenomenal amount over the last few years, and they’ve been right there with us.”

Next year’s festival will mark the 12 th since it was founded in 1998 and the seventh since it moved from Brevard to Winston-Salem.

Dale Pollock, the former dean of the School of Filmmaking at UNCSA and a current faculty member, was the principal figure in engineering RiverRun’s eastward move and remains a member of its board.

“It’s incredible to look back and see how far RiverRun has come,” he marveled.

The 2010 RiverRun International Film Festival will be “bigger and better,” quipped Rodgers. It will definitely be bigger, running a full 11 days (April 15-25, 2010).

“[It’s] a big step for us,” Rodgers said in a statement issued when the expansion was first announced. “It’s something that we’ve talked about for a long time. Based on the feedback we receive from our audiences and supporters each year, we like to make adjustments so that our festival fits the needs and wishes of the community. With that in mind, this move to a longer festival — which should allow more people to attend our films and events — is an experiment that we hope will become permanent.”

Prior to the 2009 festival, there was some concern that the economy would have an impact on the festival. It did, but hardly a negative one. Ticket sales for the festival were $85,720, an all-time high. The 2009 festival, which ran a full eight days (an expansion over the previous year), saw more sell-outs than ever before, surpassing all hopes and expectations, and giving Rodgers and the festival the encouragement to further expand.

“We’ve been very fortunate to receive continued support from our audience as we expanded the size and scope of the festival,” said Rodgers.

With that in mind, advance ticket packages are already on sale. For $100, the bearer will receive a booklet of 14 stamps — each one good for a screening. Additional packages will be made available as the festival draws closer but, as Rodgers advised: “Get your tickets early!” In addition to the a/perture cinema, which is in the final stages of construction and is scheduled to open early next year, the festival will retain many of its same venues, including the Stevens Center, the School of Filmmaking’s ACE Cinematheque Complex on the UNCSA campus, the Reynolda House Museum of American Art, and The Garage.

For more information, visit the official RiverRun website: riverrunfilm.com.

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