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 23rd annual RiverRun is set to take place on May 6-16, 2021, both virtually and at several outdoor screening locations across Winston-Salem and Greensboro.


Founded in 1998, the RiverRun Film Festival got its name from the French Broad River near Brevard, North Carolina, where the event was originally held. The festival moved to Winston-Salem in 2003.

The 2020 Festival was planning to feature 173 films featuring 42 countries. RiverRun Film Festival screening venues during the 11-day Festival include a/perture cinema, Hanesbrands Theatre, Reynolds Place Theatre, UNCSA theaters, Bailey Park (outdoors) and SECCA. RED Cinemas is also a popular off-site location in Greensboro for a few showings.

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 announced (about a month before the start of the festival), peruse the RiverRun website to get familiar with the films and start making your choices. It’s wise to use the online film list to make your selections (and buy tickets) in advance.

TBD on ticket sales for 2021.

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 weekday matinees at $6, student tickets at $10 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 initial 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.

This year’s opening night narrative feature is Military Wives, with Kristin Scott Thomas. This heartfelt comedy brings together a group of women, who’s partners are at war in Afghanistan, as a choral group. The story that ensues if equal parts laughter and tears for a memorable film to kickoff the festival.

The documentary feature for opening night is He Dreams of Giants. This follows after the  award-winning 2002 documentary Lost in La Mancha, that explored Terry Gilliam’s trials and tribulations in the making of the 2018 The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.

The RiverRun Gala is held the first Friday of the Festival at the Millennium Center from 9 PM – 1:00 AM. This is one of the Festival parties that is open to the public with filmmakers and film industry guests in attendance and a cash bar. Tickets are $20 and are available at the door, at the Stevens Center box office, and on the website.

Spectacular Lineup

With 173 films to choose from, there is something for everyone!

Family Day is another must-do featuring Saturday Morning Cartoons, a free screening of new animated shorts both Saturday mornings of the Festival and there was a free showing of The Goonies at Bailey Park on Saturday, March 28th at 6:30 PM.

The Closing Day film is Dream Horse, recently premiered and acclaimed at the Sundance Film Festival. The film stars Toni Collette and Damien Lewis. It is a romantic comedy about a Welsh cleaner and barmaid who set out to raise racehorses in a small village.

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?

Maybe. 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 before 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?

About The Author:

Born right here in Winston-Salem, NC, at Forsyth Memorial Hospital, Michelle is a native. At age one she moved to Virginia but after spending 30+ years moving around Virginia, Tennessee, Massachusetts, California and even Paris, France, Michelle returned home to Winston-Salem in 2004. A job at Hanes brought her here but the heart of the city has kept her here.

Her favorite things about Winston-Salem are its welcoming people who call it home, its art-centric culture, and its perfect location at the foot of the Blue Ridge mountains and a short drive to the beaches of the Atlantic. The lack of traffic is a pretty tremendous asset as well, especially since it gives her more free time to enjoy cooking and playing with her dogs, Lily and Barley. Michelle is one of the many residents of this great city who are thrilled to call this "My Winston-Salem"!

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