Wrapping up RiverRun 2012: The sights, the sounds, the celebrities

by Mark Burger

With the announcement of this year’s award-winners, and yet another sold-out screening — this time of Fred Schepisi’s closing-night film, The Eye of the Storm — the 2012 Riverrun International Film Festival came to an end Sunday night, scoring yet another success for the hardworking festival personnel, area film fanatics and the city of Winston-Salem.

It all started on Friday the 13th — with a late-night screening of the original Friday the 13th , no less — and cruised through Sunday the 22nd , with the sell-outs starting early and not letting up. Good or bad, the Winston-Salem weather was never a factor (and, indeed, never has seemed to be during the festival’s reign here). RiverRun built it — and showed it — and the people came.

Executive director Andrew Rodgers estimated Saturday night that ticket sales for this festival were above last year’s. Of course, exact figures have not yet been tallied. Rodgers, who hadn’t been quoted a single time in this reporter’s RiverRun coverage this year (“That’s totally fine,” he told me, thereby being quoted now), said that the festival’s reputation precedes it in independent film circles.

“It’s gotten a lot easier [because of that],” he said, but equally important is the friendly atmosphere. It’s the audiences who make it work.

“We want to bring you here,” he said of the formula, “and bring guests! This is very much an audience-driven festival, and we’re hearing that more visitors are coming into town for the festival.”

Some of the sell-outs were unexpected. Although Paul Schneider was certain to be a big draw, as he was receiving the Emerging Artist Award, the preceding screening of Bright Star, a three-year-old movie, was standing room only… and who would have guessed that the screening of Smokey and the Bandit, a 35-year-old movie, would sell out, too? It certainly wasn’t because I hosted the Q&A with Hal Needham (he probably had something to do with it), although that was good fun for both of us. Whenever Hal was at a loss for a title or a name, I’d provide it. The second or third time, he looked at me, grinned and said: “You’re good, you know that?” The next day, after the career retrospective hosted by Dale Pollock — in which Hal provided his own highlight reel, no less — he couldn’t think of a film title. By this point, Hal was calling me “Mr. Encyclopedia,” and he pointed me out in the audience for the answer. (It was Sharky’s Machine, by the way). Hal’s wife Ellyn graciously told me later that my interview with him was among the best she’d read.

It’s flattering to be thought of as “a source” for information, and the steady stream of compliments about this reporter’s — and this paper’s — festival coverage was heartening, to say the least. I certainly can’t and won’t take all the credit, and it certainly must be shared with the festival’s press liaisons, who tirelessly kept the media up to date on everything taking place.

In addition to the audiences, it’s important to note the efforts of the festival’s staff, sponsors and volunteers — which is precisely what Rodgers did before every screening he introduced.

In lieu of trailers before the main feature, the festival ran filmed PSAs that paid tribute to festival volunteers, some of whom have been involved since day one. They never failed to elicit audience applause, nor did the subsequent announcements to silence cellphones and refrain from texting during the show.

On a personal note, it was a pleasure to renew acquaintance with many festival folk, some of whom I don’t often see outside of the festival, including NC Film Commissioner Aaron Syrett (understandably very excited by the success of The Hunger Games and by the upcoming Iron Man 3, both North Carolina projects) and Piedmont Triad Film Commissioner Rebecca Clark and her husband, musician Jeff Mills. It was also a pleasure to meet such up-and-coming filmmaking talents as Nate Meyer and Martha Stephens, both UNCSA graduates who hopefully have long and bright careers ahead of them (if their respective films See Girl Run and Pilgrim Song are any indication, they should), and established filmmakers Hal Needham and Fred Schepisi, both of whose work I greatly admire, albeit for different reasons. (They don’t make the same kinds of films, to say the very least.)

Not including the Emerging Artist and Spark awards, the festival’s award-winning films were:

Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP Award for Best Narrative Feature: Monsieur Lazhar (directed by Philippe Falardeau).

Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP Award for Best Documentary Feature: Chasing Ice (directed by Jeff Orlowski) Altered States Award for Best American Indie: Small, Beautifully Moving Parts (directed by Annie Howell and Lisa Robinson) Best Narrative Feature: Found Memories (directed by Julia Murat) Peter Brunette Award for Best Director: Julia Murat, Found Memories Best Actor: Mohamed Fellag, Monsieur Lazhar (Honorable Mention: Anders Danielsen Lie, Oslo, August 31st ) Best Actress: Nadezhda Markina, Elena (Honorable Mention:

Sonia Guedes, Found Memories) Best Director: Lauren Greenfield, The Queen of Versailles Best Screenplay: Philippe Falardeau, Monsieur Lazhar Best Cinematography: Lucio Bonelli, Found Memories Best Feature Documentary: The Boy Who Was a King (directed by Andrey Paounov) Human Rights Awards: Love Free or Die (directed by Macky Alston) Best Narrative Short: The Trip (A Viagem) (directed by Simao Cayatte) (Honorable Mention: They Say/”Dicen,” directed by Alauda Ruiz de Azua) Best Documentary Short: Cutting Loose (directed by Finlay Pretsell and Adrian McDowall) Best Animated Short: Something Left, Something Taken (directed by Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter) (Honorable Mentions:

Luminaris, directed by Juan Pablo Zaramella and Bottle, directed by Kirsten Lepore) Best Student Short: Against the Sea (Contra El Mar), directed by Richard Parkin Best Student Documentary Short: Where We Live, directed by Fady Hadid Best Student Animated Short: The Reality Clock, directed by Amanda Tasse (Honorable Mention: Bottle, directed by Kirsten Lepore) As always, the official website is

Photo highlights of this year’s festival will continue to be posted online.