RiverRun Film Festival: Insider Tips

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RiverRun Film Festival LogoAs the City of Arts & Innovation, Winston-Salem is the proud home of the RiverRun International Film Festival, an 11-day event that shines as one of the premier film festivals in the Southeast. The 21st annual RiverRun will take place April 4-14, 2019.

Founded in 1998, the RiverRun film festival got its name from the French Broad River near Brevard, North Carolina, where the festival was originally held. The event moved to Winston-Salem in 2003. The 2017 Festival featured 151 films featuring 49 countries. RiverRun Film Festival screening venues during the 11-day Festival include a/perture cinema, Hanesbrands Theatre, UNCSA theaters, Bailey Park (outdoors) and SECCA. There is also a new location in Greensboro for a few 2018 showings: (Red Cinemas).

RiverRun Film Festival Insider Tips

We here at MyWinston-Salem.com are excited to have access to some behind the scenes info on the Festival to share with our readers!

How to Plan For RiverRun

couple perusing RiverRun brochureOnce the film lineup is launched a month prior to the beginning of the Festival, peruse the RiverRun website to get familiar with the films and start making your choices. It’s wise to use the handy printed RiverRun Film Festival Guide brochure or online film list to make your selections (and buy tickets) in advance. The list of films is a lot to sort through, so consider using the website’s tabs to search by the date you can attend, and/or your favorite genres. RiverRun staff encourages festival goers to be a little adventurous and get outside of their comfort zones: “Be prepared to take risks. Find something in a film’s description that looks interesting to you. See something with subtitles.”

Once you’ve narrowed down your list, buy your tickets early! Many sell out in advance, so be sure to go by the Stevens Center box office on Fourth Street, or over the phone to avoid third party handling fees when buying online. Keep in mind that tickets vary in price from free, to matinees at $6, and regular screenings at $12, so plan your budget accordingly for this once-a-year opportunity.

Oscar-Qualifying Festival for Documentary Shorts

In 2015, RiverRun was accredited as a qualifying festival for the Oscars® in the category of Animated Shorts in addition to their earlier accreditation for their Documentary Shorts category.This acknowledgment by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences puts our festival into a new league of excellence of which we all can be proud.

Opening Weekend

RiverRun Opening Night is the first Thursday night. Each year RiverRun offers two opening night film options to choose from –  a narrative film and a documentary.

Last year’s opening night narrative feature was American Animals, fresh from Sundance Film Festival, this innovative film shot in NC depicts the true story of four young men who mistake their lives for a movie and attempt a rare book heist.

The documentary feature for opening night was Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me. This in-depth biography of the legendary song-and-dance man Sammy Davis, Jr. is full of famous interviewees such as Sidney Poitier, Jerry Lewis, Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg and more.

The RiverRun Gala is held the final Friday of the Festival at the Millennium Center from 9 – 11:45PM. This is one of the Festival parties that is open to the public with filmmakers and film industry guests in attendance. Cash bar. Tickets are $18 and available at the door, at the Stevens Center box office, and on the website.

Spectacular Lineup

With 151 films to choose from, there is something for everyone!

2018 Special Screenings included a Master of Cinema award presentation to film editor and director Chuck Workman. Following the screening of the Paul Newman classic, The Hustler, RiverRun honored actor Piper Laurie from the film with a Master of Cinema Award. Celia Weston (last year’s Master of Cinema honoree) is back with a free discussion panel with film director Angus McLachlan to talk about communication between actors and directors for the best results. You won’t want to miss RBG a documentary about the life and legacy of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Family Day is another must-do featuring Saturday Morning Cartoons, a free screening of new animated shorts both Saturday mornings of the Festival and a free screening of Disney’s Mulan at Bailey Park, which is also celebrating its 20th year. This year, you can also enjoy a selection of films in keeping with RiverRun’s 20th anniversary from their RiverRun Spotlight: 20th Films from 20th Century Masters, including The Age of Innocence, Wild Strawberries and more. 

The Closing Night film is Hearts Beat Loud, directed by UNCSA alum Brett Haley (The Hero, I’ll See You in My Dreams), starring Nick Offerman, Ted Danson, Blythe Danner and Toni Collete. Hearts Beat Loud tells the story of an unlikely songwriting duo of father and daughter the summer before she leaves for college.

Visit RiverRun’s Website to learn more about the great film and event lineup.

Meet the Filmmakers

One of the great aspects of the Festival is the variety of directors, actors and film industry folks who come to Winston-Salem to represent their films, offer Q&A sessions following the screenings of their films, discussion panels (often free) and parties. This year, more than 100 filmmakers and industry guests will be in attendance.

Does “Sold Out” Really Mean “Sold Out”?

Even if advance tickets for a film are “sold out,” there’s a good chance you can still get in if you get there 45 minutes early and get your name on the Wait List. Fifteen minutes before show time, any empty seats are counted and sold to those on the Wait List. This also means that if you have bought tickets, be sure to be there and in your seat at least 15 minutes prior to the start time of your chosen movie or you may be out of luck (or, out of a seat, literally).

Parking for UNCSA Films

When seeing films at UNCSA, park at the Gateway YWCA and use the free RiverRun Film Festival shuttle bus. The shuttle bus runs approximately every 20 minutes so, again, plan ahead to make sure you allow plenty of time to arrive at least 15 minutes prior to your film’s start time. Enjoy!!

What is your favorite part of RiverRun?

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Kristi was born and raised just up the road in Mount Airy (a.k.a. Mayberry) and frequented Winston-Salem often growing up for school field trips, shopping, and dining. After attending Appalachian State University, and a brief stint living in Southern Virginia, Kristi returned to Winston-Salem, NC in 1999 and began her work in non-profit, public relations and writing. She and her family enjoy the convenience of living near downtown Winston-Salem. She enjoys the arts, photography and cooking. "I'm a small town girl at heart, but Winston-Salem isn't an overwhelming city. It is rich with friendly people, history, culture and has a vibrant art community and that is why I am proud to call this "My Winston-Salem!"

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Natalie Norton
Looking forward to River Run this year!
Tara Nelson
So excited for RR. Thanks for the chance to win 2 free tickets!
Whitney Frack
I love RR! Every movie I saw last year was excellent. I would love to win tickets and give them to my mom, 1. because it is her birthday and 2. because she’s never been before.
Courtney Tucker
I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never been to RR. I’ve had plans to go for the past two years and both times they fell through. Maybe I can make it to see one or two films this year.
Alex Schenker (Admin)
Hope to see you there Courtney, it will be well worth your time and you’ll have the itch to return every year (this is one of the events we look forward to most!). I would start buying tickets now, with the new Oscar designation for documentary shorts, tickets are selling fast (two of our movies have already sold out)!
I LOVE the online schedule! It’s laid out in such a beautiful manner that this almost overwhelming event is now easily navigated. Thanks for the schedule and tips!
Alex Schenker (Admin)
Glad you like the schedule Rewka, a big thanks to Kristi for putting this guide together!