21 and done: RiverRun 2019 wraps
Despite requisite inclement weather, the 2019 RiverRun International Film Festival once again proved its popularity, as the 21st annual festival racked up 40 sold-out screenings this year – including the first in the festival’s history at RED Cinemas in Greensboro – up from last year’s record-setting 36 sell-outs.
Although specific attendance figures have not yet been tabulated, it’s clear that the festival was yet another success. “This year’s RiverRun International Film Festival was one of our biggest and best ever,” said Rob Davis, executive director of the festival. “Preliminary box-office numbers show (that) we seem to have surpassed last year, and the entire RiverRun team is gratified by the tremendous number of positive responses we have received from festival attendees.”
This year’s Master of Cinema recipients added some Hollywood star power to the proceedings, with actor/director Richard Benjamin and actress wife Paula Prentiss being presented with their awards last Wednesday, following a screening of Man’s Favorite Sport? (1964), starring Prentiss, and preceding a screening of The Sunshine Boys (1975), which starred Benjamin, at Hanesbrands Theatre in downtown Winston-Salem.
“We really feel quite honored,” said Benjamin. “We can now say that we are Masters of Cinema. We’re going to show our kids these (awards), and if they complain about anything ever again, we can just say ‘We’re Masters of Cinema!’
“We’re deeply honored,” he added. “This is a beautifully run festival, run with warmth and affection and professionalism.”
Former studio executive and current film producer Mike Medavoy received his Master of Cinema award Sunday before a screening of Raging Bull (1980) which, as he noted during the Q&A with UNCSA School of Filmmaking Dean Susan Ruskin, “was the very last picture we greenlit at United Artists.”
Ruskin, who worked with Medavoy at Orion Pictures during the 1980s, hailed him as “an enormous influence in the industry.”
The Spark award, which is given to a filmmaker whose career fast ascending, was presented this year to director Martha Stephens (a 2006 UNCSA School of Filmmaking graduate) before the screening of her latest film, To the Stars, Saturday night at UNCSA Main Theatre.
Awards for the 2019 RiverRun festival were announced and presented Sunday, the last night of the festival. In the narrative-feature category, Alice was named Best Narrative Feature and director Josephine Mackerras awarded the Peter Brunette award for Best Director. Director Sephora Woldu’s Life is Fare received the Special Jury Prize for Bold Innovation.
In the category of documentary features, American Factory (directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert), won Best Documentary Feature. Marcus Lindeen was named Best Director of a Documentary Feature for The Raft, Best Cinematography of a Documentary Feature was given to For Sama, the Human Rights award presented to Always in Season, and a Special Jury award presented to Kifaru.
In the category of Narrative Shorts, director Matt Porter’s Damage took the top prize, while director Ines Gowland’s Weaning won Best Student Narrative Short. RiverRun is an Academy Award-qualifying festival for Documentary Shorts, and director Jonathan Miller’s A Jew Walks Into a Bar was named this year’s Best Documentary Short. El Desierto (directed by Carly Jakins and Jared Jakins) won a Special Jury Prize for Cinematic Quality, and Hamama & Caluna (directed by Andreas Anuuk Muggli) won a Special Jury Prize for Social Impact.
RiverRun is also an Academy Award-qualifying festival for Animated Shorts, and this year’s Best Animated Short was Cat Days, with Game Changer receiving an Honorable Mention.
For the third year in a row, the festival has partnered with “Reel South” for the Reel South Short Award, which honors an authentically Southern documentary running 15 minutes or less. This year’s winner was As In Death, which will receive a cash prize and a Reel South digital distribution deal.
One of the festival’s most popular events, the RiverRun Pitch Fest, celebrated its eighth anniversary this year, as college students from across the state pitch their ideas for documentary film projects to a panel of judges. A Space for Me, directed by Riley Bradford and Sophia Ortiz from Elon University, won first place, with second place won by Alchemy, directed by Bridget Fitzgerald of Wake Forest University.
At RiverRun, the audience also has its say. In the category of Audience Awards, Kifaru was selected Best Documentary Feature, Alice won the Kilpatrick Townsend Stockton Re Vision and Independent Feature Film Award, and Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn? won the Overall Audience Award.
For more information, visit the official RiverRun International Film Festival website.
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. © 2019, Mark Burger.