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Riverrun reaps a pair of prestigious grants

by Mark Burger

Christmas has come early for the RiverRun International Film Festival, thanks to a pair of grants recently bestowed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the National Endowment of the Arts, respectively.

The Academy Foundation, which is the cultural and educational component of the academy, annually distributes more than $1 million to film scholars, cultural organizations and film festivals throughout the United States and abroad, as well as presenting the academy’s public screenings and other programs during the year. Since its establishment in 1999, the Academy’s Festival Grants Program has bestowed 277 grants totaling $4.85 million. This year, the academy gave $445,000 to 25 film festivals during the 2012 calendar year, with RiverRun the beneficiary of a $15,000 grant.

According to academy rules, a film festival must have at least a five-year history in order to be eligible for applying for funding through the academy, and a festival is not allowed to receive funding in successive years. This marks RiverRun’s second academy grant, the first having been bestowed in 2006. The financial grants are designed to help make festival events more accessible to the general public, provide greater access for minority and less-visible filmmakers, and strengthen the bond between the filmmakers and the public audience.

“In addition to providing a welcome boost to our bottom line, these grants… also represent a nice recognition of RiverRun’s growth into a mature, nationally-recognized arts organization,” said Andrew Rodgers, the festival’s executive director. “As we’ve grown, our regional focus and core values have remained the same, but we’ve been able to expand the scope of our mission to reach even more people.”

In addition, said Rodgers, “we certainly don’t want to diminish the importance of our other — in fact, much larger — areas of support. While they are very highprofile gifts and mean a lot to our organization, RiverRun’s continued growth depends almost entirely on the continued generosity of individuals and businesses right here in the community. It is only because of the support of people in Winston-Salem and the Piedmont Triad that we’ve been able to accomplish what we have so far.”

“The RiverRun International Film Festival is one of this city’s cultural centerpieces,” said Milton Rhodes, the president and CEO of the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, in a statement. “The Arts Council saw its potential early on and has provided substantial operational suppot funds over the years.

This has been a good investment as we have seen it grow in size and prestige. RiverRun has helped put Winston-Salem on the map in the world of filmmaking, and we are delighted that the academy… has recognized its good work. In addition to being a great honor, the grant will mean that RiverRun programming will be even stronger in 2012.”

The NEA awarded $10,000 to support River- Run’s year-round Films with Class educational outreach program. The festival presents free film screenings for students at participating schools in the community throughout the year and during the run of the annual festival. Films with Class offers thousands of students the opportunity to experience and understand world diversity through cinema. The festival works with teachers and educators to find ways to bring acclaimed films into the classroom as a viable educational component.

The Films with Class program, which is also supported by Wells Fargo and a grant from the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, has visited dozens of schools and entertained thousands of students throughout Forsyth County since 2009.

RiverRun isn’t the only North Carolina film festival to have received academy and NEA grants: Both the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival (Durham) and the Cucalorus Film Festival (Wilmington) were awarded Academy grants of $20,000 and $10,000, respectively. The NEA awarded the Center for Documentary Film Studies $25,000 to support the next Full Frame festival, while Cucalorus received a $10,000 grant. The Light Factory (Charlotte) also received a $10,000 NEA grant.

Christmas also came early for executive director Rodgers, a life-long fan of the St.

Louis Cardinals, when the team won the World Series last month. “I’m very proud of my St. Louis Cardinals,” he proclaimed. “The Cardinals have proven once again that they are one of the greatest teams in history.”

He also made a crack about the Cardinals beating my Philadelphia Phillies in the first round of the playoffs, but that has been excised for taste, tact and my continued grumpiness.

Next year’s RiverRun festival will mark its 14th and is scheduled to run April 13-22, 2012.

It is, of course, far too early to know what films will be screened, but Rodgers said there will be plenty of good movies to choose from.

“So far this year, RiverRun has sent folks to Sundance, Toronto, Hawaii, Denver and the AFI (American Film Institute),” he said. “We’re still a long way off from knowing what we’ll be able to show at RiverRun in the spring, although what we’ve seen so far has given us a lot to think about and consider.”

The official AMPAS website is www.Oscars.org, the official NEA website is www.arts.gov, and the official RiverRun International Film Festival website is www.riverrun.com.

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