The reel deal: RiverRun at 21
Last Tuesday, the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem was the place to be, as the RiverRun International Film Festival hosted the launch party for its annual festival, which takes place April 4-14.
Mayor Allen Joines, RiverRun executive director Rob Davis, and Diana Greene, the chair of RiverRun’s board of directors, all gave introductory remarks to the enthusiastic masses gathered for this yearly celebration of cinema the world over – held right here in the Triad.
This year’s festival is bursting at the cinematic seams, with 172 films scheduled, consisting of 71 feature films and 101 short films from 47 different countries. “Each of these films is reflective of our mission to engage our audiences in an exploration of new and divergent cultures and perspectives through the art of film,” Davis noted in the festival’s official press release.
“We believe in pushing boundaries, highlighting new cinematic forms, and providing a platform for filmmakers to connect directly with their audiences and have important conversations about our world and the human experience,” added Mary Dossinger, RiverRun’s program manager.
Although the press release indicated the festival had received over 1,500 submissions, the number was actually closer to 1,700 – “and we’re still getting calls,” Davis said. Indeed, RiverRun is likely still getting inquiries as you read this. “We’re thrilled that people want to be in RiverRun … [and] so pleased that we are part of this rich community.”
“I’m very honored to be a witness to a great organization,” said Greene, calling the festival “a finely honed machine. The staff is small, but they’re mighty,” she praised, earning them a (deserved) round of applause.
Recently, Joines noted, RiverRun was named by USA Today as one of the 10 most exciting film festivals in the country, and by MovieMaker Magazine as one of the top 50 festivals worldwide. RiverRun, Joines said, “works to help bring our community together in so many ways. Movies do a lot for our community.”
Opening night is April 4, and once again the festival boasts two opening-night offerings: Producer/director Jason Winer’s romantic comedy Ode to Joy (at SECCA), starring Martin Freeman, Morena Baccarin, Melissa Rauch, and UNCSA graduate Jake Lacy. As well as producer/director Tom Donahue’s documentary feature This Changes Everything (at Hanesbrands Theatre), which explores gender disparity and sexism in Hollywood, with Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Jessica Chastain and executive producer Geena Davis among the luminaries interviewed.
The closing-night film is the award-winning documentary feature Bathtubs Over Broadway (Sunday, April 14 at Hanesbrands Theatre). The film follows comedy writer Steve Young (20-time Emmy nominee for “Late Show With David Letterman”) as he embarks on a quixotic quest to locate vintage recordings marked “for internal use only,” which featured odd musical numbers and shows devoted to products and corporations not traditionally associated with musicals, including Xerox, DuPont, Ford, General Electric, and many others.
The Master of Cinema award will be presented to three screen legends: The husband-and-wife duo of Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss, and producer/former studio executive Mike Medavoy. To honor Prentiss, there will be a screening of the 1964 Howard Hawks screwball comedy Man’s Favorite Sport (5 p.m. April 10 at Hanesbrands Theatre); to honor Benjamin, there will be a screening of the classic 1975 Neil Simon adaptation of The Sunshine Boys (8 p.m. April 10 at Hanesbrands Theatre), after which they will receive their awards.
Medavoy will be honored with a screening of the Martin Scorsese’s 1980 classic Raging Bull (12:30 p.m. April 14 at UNCSA Main Theatre). Medavoy was the senior vice-president of production at United Artists during the film’s production.
United Artists is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2019, and to mark this milestone RiverRun is the first film festival to commemorate its centennial. In addition to Raging Bull, there will be a special screening of the 1915 Mary Pickford silent Little Annie Rooney (April 6 at UNCSA Main Theatre). In addition to being one of the first female film superstars, Pickford was one of the founders of United Artists, and this film has undergone a 4K digital restoration by the Mary Pickford Foundation.
The enduring legacy of United Artists is also represented by screenings of the Oscar-winning Marty (April 7 at UNCSA Gold Theatre), with special guest Fred Mann (son of director Delbert Mann); Robert Wise’s hard-hitting 1959 crime thriller Odds Against Tomorrow (April 6 at UNCSA Babcock Theatre), with special guests David Belafonte (son of producer/star Harry Belafonte) and noted author and film historian Foster Hirsch; the initial 1962 James Bond outing Dr. No (April 12 at UNCSA Main Theatre), and the Oscar-winning 1967 classic In the Heat of the Night (April 13 at UNCSA Main Theatre).
This year marks the festival’s 21st anniversary and the 16th since it made the Eastward expansion from Brevard to Winston-Salem.
Davis concluded his remarks with good humor, joking that the festival “had crossed an important milestone” turning 21. “Enjoy the festival,” he quipped, “but, please, enjoy it responsibly!”
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. © 2019, Mark Burger.
The 21st annual RiverRun International Film Festival runs April 4-14. For advance tickets or more information, call 336.724.1502 or visit the official RiverRun website: http://riverrunfilm.com/.