Rollin’ with RiverRun: Winston-Salem’s film festival readies to Launch

by Mark Burger

The countdown has begun to the 2014 RiverRun International Film Festival, which will open April 4 in at various venues throughout Winston-Salem. On March 3, a private launch party will be held at SECCA (the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art), where which Andrew Rodgers, the festival’s executive director, will unveil the full list of titles being screened and the names of guests scheduled to attend.

Last year, over 140 films (encompassing features, shorts and documentaries) were screened during the 10-day festival, and this year’s total will be comparable. As always, Rodgers lauds the festival’s crack team of screeners for selecting the best of the hundreds of submissions received this year.

At the risk of sounding repetitious, “I think we’ve got an excellent line-up this year,” Rodgers said. “I know I say that every year, but again I think so!” Due to the expansion of state county sales tax, which took effect Jan. of this year, tickets have undergone a slight increase in price. Matinee tickets are now $6, regular screenings are now $12. The new tax applies not only to film screenings but concert tickets and admission to cultural sites (museums, gardens, art exhibitions, etc.). This is, however, the first increase in ticket prices at RiverRun in three years.

“It is our goal to continue to offer as many free, sponsored community screen’  ings and low-cost screenings to make RiverRun accessible to entire community,” Rodgers said.

Indeed, admission to RiverRun screenings is still less than tickets to regular, mainstream movies playing at the local multiplexes, and this year’s festival will also include a number of free screenings, including “Saturday Morning Cartoons” on both Saturdays of the festival (April 5 and 12), the dog-friendly “Fido Frolic & Film” event scheduled for April 5, a Hanesbrand Theatre-sponsored film yet to be announced, and the year-round “Films with Class” program, which combines film with local school curriculum.

The three films selected for the Films with Class program this year are Rebecca Cerese’s documentary Landscapes of the Heart, which explores the life of Southern author Elizabeth Spencer (The Light in the Piazza), who continues to write in her 90s; Mark Levinson’s documentary Particle Fever, in which six scientists attempt to unlock the secrets of the universe; and Patrick Creadon’s documentary If You Build It, which focuses on residents of an impoverished North Carolina county who established an educational program for 10 students to help turn their community around.

Films with Class, which is sponsored in part by Wells Fargo, “introduces students to films they wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity to see,” said Jane McKim, a former educator and currently the community director of the festival. “These films not only enrich and enhance school curriculum, they provoke and spark insightful dialogue which in turn contributes significantly to the learning process.”

This year also marks the first that the RiverRun festival has been recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) as an accredited festival. “This is a very big deal,” noted RiverRun board member Dale Pollock, perhaps the prime figure in engineering the festival’s move from Asheville and Brevard to Winston-Salem over a decade ago.

The AMPAS accreditation applies to documentary short subjects. Beginning with this year’s festival, the winner of the jury award for Best Documentary Short will automatically qualify for consideration by the Academy. In other words, the short that wins at RiverRun today could be the short that wins the Oscar tomorrow.

RiverRun now joins the Full Frame (held in Durham) and Nashville festivals as the only Academy-accredited ones in the South – a major distinction for the festival.

“We’ve known for years about the Academy’s accreditation process for short films,” Rodgers said, “and obviously it was a goal we’d striven for.”

The process for applying is a thorough one. Originally, Rodgers had submitted applications for the narrative short and animated short categories, but applying for documentary shorts was almost a lastminute decision – yet that’s the accreditation that was approved.

Rodgers, who also recently earned his MBA from Wake Forest University, has attended such festivals as Toronto, Chicago, Sundance and Milwaukee (where he served on the jury). In fact, it was the first day of Sundance – and the morning of the Oscar nominations – that he was informed River- Run had been approved as an Academyqualifying festival. Even more fortuitous, the Academy representative who approved RiverRun was also attending Sundance, so within hours of the announcement Rodgers was able to meet with him. “Right time, right place,” he laughed.

“We’re delighted,” Rodgers said, “and we’ll definitely be reapplying next year (for narrative and animated shorts). It adds another component to the festival, and it’s an important recognition for us.” !


The 16th annual RiverRun International Film Festival runs April 4-13in Winston-Salem. For advance tickets or ticket packages, or additional information, call 336.721.1945 or visit the official website: