That’s a wrap: Closing notes on RiverRun Film Festival’s 15 th year

by Mark Burger

After a whirlwind 10 days, the 15th annual RiverRun International Film Festival came to a close this past Sunday in Winston-Salem.

Although exact figures have not been determined at presstime, insiders believe that attendance for this year’s festival was, at the very least, comparable to last year’s total of 16,000+ admissions — despite some unruly weather and the last-second cancellation of 2013 Emerging Master recipient Jeff Nichols due to a family emergency, reports of sell-outs and packed theaters were not uncommon. (Nichols’ film Mud was screened Friday night at the Stevens Center to a full house.)

Following the screening of Winston-Salem and 2009 Emerging Master recipient Ramin Bahrani’s latest film, At Any Price (starring Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron), and the 2012 awards ceremony, festivalgoers convened at the Fourth Street Filling Station to exchange opinions, congratulations and, in at least one case, recriminations regarding the fabulous world of filmmaking.

Among those in attendance were filmmakers, filmgoers, volunteers, sponsors, jurors and members of the local press (well, okay, there was me). Executive director Andrew Rodgers was there, of course, joined by his wife Iana, his motherin-law, and newborn daughter Mia, who blissfully snoozed most of the time.

“I’m really pleased how it’s evolved,” said Dale Pollock of the festival. Formerly the dean of the UNCSA School of Filmmaking and currently a faculty member, Pollock was the major force in bringing RiverRun to Winston-Salem more than a decade ago and remains a member of its board.

“We’ve gotten better every year,” he said. “I think things went very well this year.”

“The films showcased at our festival reflected diverse stories from around the world, immense talent from directors — many trained in Winston-Salem — and a host of passionate projects that are the jewels of the independent filmmaking community,” added Rodgers in an official statement.

There was plenty of love shown for the 2013 RiverRun International Film Festival award-winners, with the Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP Audience Award for best narrative feature going to writer/director Kate Melville’s comingof-age comedy/drama Picture Day, which enjoyed its US premiere at the festival. (Melville was kind enough to thank yours truly for his favorable review in YES! Weekly and even asked for an extra copy of the issue, which I just happened to have on hand.)

The Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP Audience Award for best documentary feature went to TC Johnstone’s Rising from Ashes, which detailed cycling legend Jack Boyer’s experience in Rwanda aiding survivors of that nation’s genocide to create their own national cycling team.

The Altered States award for best American indie went to Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman’s Remote Area Medical, which focused on the free healthcare clinic established on the infield of the NASCAR Speedway in Bristol in April 2012.

The best narrative feature award went to Francois Ozon’s mystery thriller In the House (Dans la Maison) and Ozon was also recognized with the best screenplay award for the film. The Peter Brunette Award for best director went to William Vega for his drama La Sirga (The Towrope). Aniello Arena won the best actor award for Matteo Garrone’s dark comedy Reality and Suzanne Clement won best actress for Xavier Dolan’s romantic drama Laurence Always. Best cinematography also went to La Sirga, with Sofia Oggioni the winner. A special jury prize was award to Alain Gomis’ Tey, which stars Saul Williams as a Senagelese man on his last day.

In the documentary competition, Emma Davie and Morag McKinnon’s I Am Breathing won the best documentary feature, Ilian Metev won best director for Sofia’s Last Ambulance, the Human Rights award was given to Kalyanee Mam’s A River Changes Course, Canicula won for best cinematography (Sebastian Hofmann, Pedro Gonzalez Rubio and Fernanda Romandia) and Morgan Neville’s Twenty Feet from Stardom was awarded a special jury prize “for a well-crafted, multilayered film that inspires and entertains.”

In the shorts competition, Trois Secondes et Demie won both best narrative short and best student narrative short, Slomo won best documentary short, Unravel was awarded a special jury prize, Second Hand won best animated short, The Words in the Margins won best student documentary short, and Head Over Heels won best student animated short.

The official RiverRun International Film Festival website is