“Because of our focus on giving audiences a broad collection of international voices and perspectives, we’ve seen the interest in our programs grow tremendously over the past few years,” said Andrew Rodgers, Executive Director of RiverRun. “As we celebrate our tenth anniversary, we are thrilled that audiences continue to look to us to provide exciting alternatives to the status quo found at local multiplexes. We feel that this year’s lineup, our best ever, once again raises the bar. And with the continued support of our audiences, volunteers, sponsors and supporters, we are confident that we can once again rise to the challenge!”
This year’s festival will kick off with the Opening Night screening of PHOEBE IN WONDERLAND on April 23 at the Stevens Center (405 W. Fourth St.). Director Daniel Barnz and Master of Cinema honoree Bill Pullman will both attend to introduce the film. Following the screening, RiverRun invites the public to the Sawtooth Building (226 N. Marshall St.) for the festival’s Tenth Anniversary Gala, a stylish event that promises to be the hottest ticket in town. Helen Hunt’s directorial debut THEN SHE FOUND ME will screen as the CENTERPIECE PREMIERE on April 26, and the festival’s Closing Night will feature a screening of Rupert Julian’s 1925 classic silent film THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA accompanied by the Alloy Orchestra. Another exciting component of the 10th anniversary festival is a lineup of public Conversations with veteran actors and directors, including Master of Cinema honorees Bill Pullman (April 24), Pam Grier (April 25) and directors Les Blank (April 25) and John Dahl (April 26).
NARRATIVE COMPETITION: In this year’s Narrative Competition, the heart of our annual festival, RiverRun once again showcases a prestigious collection of feature films from around the globe. In fact, for the second time in a row, we’ve only included one American film in this competition – highlighting the wealth of exciting filmmakers who live outside our borders. The ten films in this competition are eligible for the BB&T Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature.
THE AERIAL – Argentina (Dir: Esteban Sapir) – This silent, black and white film takes audiences to a city where no one can talk, except for a blind young boy and a beautiful singer. But when an evil dictator kidnaps the singer, a band of rebels journey to an old TV antenna in the mountains to thwart the totalitarian plot.
THE BAKER – UK (Dir: Gareth Lewis) – When a hitman slips up, he takes refuge in a quiet Welsh village where the townspeople mistake him for their new baker. Forced into the kitchen to keep his cover, he soon realizes he likes his apron better than his holster. But as a beautiful vet catches his eye, the locals begin to discover his true identity. U.S. Premiere
CALIFORNIA DREAMING (Endless) – Romania (Dir: Cristian Nemescu) – Set during the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, the story revolves around a train of American and Polish soldiers who are escorting important radar equipment through Kosovo. Filled with terrific passion, rage and humor, Romanian director Cristian Nemescu’s first film won the Un Certain Regard Award at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.
ERIK NIETZSCHE: THE EARLY YEARS – Denmark, Italy & Sweden (Dir: Jacob Thuesen) – Emerging director and film student Erik Nietzsche just can’t seem to fit into the world of the film industry. He struggles against the absurdities of his field – the pretension and swollen egos – as a calm observer waiting for his one shot at fame. U.S. Premiere
THE EDGE OF HEAVEN – Germany & Turkey (Dir: Faith Akin) – Through a close look at relationships that span two countries with very different cultures and customs, this beautiful and moving film examines how death affects the lives of people left behind. With masterfully interwoven storylines and a complex range of relationships, Akin’s film is at an times devastating examination of a variety of important social and political issues in our modern, global culture.
EMPTIES – UK, Czech Republic & Denmark (Dir: Jan Sverak) – This comedic look at aging stars a curmudgeonly, middle-aged literature teacher who tries other careers and meets a host of eccentric co-workers along the way. When he then tries to play matchmaker and develops a romantic interest himself, his life gets even more colorful.
ON THE ROAD WITH JUDAS – USA (Dir: J.J. Lask) – Blurring the lines between reality and imagination, this clever adaptation revolves around a successful New York businessman who leads a double life as a computer thief in the early 1990’s. Filled with irreverent charm, the film gives audiences a wonderful look into the difficulties of relationships in an era of distractions and complications.
OSS 117: CAIRO – NEST OF SPIES – France (Dir: Michel Hazanavicius) – Sent to Cairo to investigate the death of a colleague, a ridiculous French spy takes over as head of a poultry company and begins to scout for answers, but it quickly becomes clear (to us at least), that he is a complete idiot who can’t help but misinterpret the clues and alienate the people around him at every step.
TUYA’S MARRIAGE – China (Dir: Quanan Wang) – To save her family from poverty, the only option for Mongolian shepherdess Tuya is to replace her invalid husband. The parade of pretenders who then vie for her hand illustrates the contemporary Mongol struggles and cultural heritage.
WITH YOUR PERMISSION – Denmark & Sweden (Dir: Paprika Steen) – Jan’s coworkers never really liked him, but when he keeps showing up to work with injuries, his boss finally recommends he attend group therapy for victims of spousal abuse. Turns out the therapy sessions are for the abusers, not the abused, but Jan surprisingly makes friends in the class. If only Jan had known the repercussions of welcoming his new pals into his home.
DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION: While our Documentary Competition this year is full of American independent films, the stories traverse the globe. These films help create an indelible portrait of the world as a small place where we can all connect and learn from one another. The ten films in this competition are eligible for the BB&T Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature.
ALL IN THIS TEA – USA (Dir: Les Blank and Gina Leibrecht) – We follow world-renowned American tea importer David Lee Hoffman to remote regions of China on his quest to bring the best tea back to the US. Despite Hoffman’s occasionally argumentative and condescending manner, he is presented empathetically, as one small voice against a vast and complex production machine.
THE CHAMPAGNE SPY – Israel & Germany (Dir: Nadav Schirman) – Oded Gur Arie was always puzzled by his father’s frequent and spontaneous business trips, until his family moved to Paris and he learned his father’s true profession – an agent with Israel’s intelligence agency. Young Oded was forced to keep his father’s double life a secret during his childhood, but finally revealed the details of his father’s career to filmmaker Nadav Schirman.
GLASS: A PORTRIAT OF PHILIP IN TWELVE PARTS – Australia & USA (Dir: Scott Hicks) This moving documentary goes behind the curtain, through the music and into the kitchen with Philip Glass – composer of film scores including Notes on a Scandal, The Illusionist, Secret Window and The Hours as well as operas including Einstein on the Beach and Waiting for the Barbarians. This documentary provides a touching look at the sometimes isolated life of an artistic genius.
HOLLYWOOD CHINESE – USA (Dir: Arthur Dong) – Arthur Dong transverses a century of Chinese cinema through a portrait of actors, directors, writers and movie icons who have defined American feature films. He reveals their untold stories, leaving audiences with a rich and complicated picture tainted by issues of race and representation.
INTIMACY – USA (Dir: Ashley Sabin & David Redmon) – Filmed over the course of four years, this poetic documentary features a young couple following their dream of a financially secure life. That dream took the young couple away from their hometown of Santa Maria, Puebla – where they left their two-year old daughter – and into various factory jobs.
I.O.U.S.A – USA (Dir: Patrick Creadon) – Using clever animations, sophisticated graphics, man-on-the-street interviews, well-timed comic relief and a host of financial experts, Patrick Creadon’s timely documentary explains the problem of the national debt in everyday language while calling for nonpartisan solutions to the crisis.
JUMP! – USA (Dir: Helen Hood Scheer) – Following a handful of teams from around the U.S., Scheer’s debut feature captures the intensity and commitment of competitive jump rope teams. Before showcasing their innovative and impressive routines, the jumpers commit to rigorous practice schedules and enjoy the camaraderie of the other athletes.
SECRECY – USA (Dir: Robb Moss & Peter Galison) – Many documentaries introduce audiences to hidden worlds, though most are not as carefully protected as the classified government documents revealed in this elegant film. Through animation, installations, a great score and riveting interviews, audiences examine the implications of secrecy, both for the government and for us.
TORN FROM THE FLAG – USA (Dir: Klaudia Kovacs & Endre Hules) – Directors Kovacs and Hules tell the story of the Hungarian rebellion against the Soviet Union through the eyes of 29 important players, including former students, freedom fighters, Russian soldiers and Hungarian secret police. This lesser-known David and Goliath story is sparked to life through archival footage shot in 1956 by cinematographers Laszlo Kovacs and Vilmos Zsigmond.
UP THE YANGTZE – Canada (Dir: Yung Chang) – Set against the backdrop of the Three Gorges Dam, a hotly contested symbol of the Chinese economic miracle, this dramatic and disquieting feature examines life inside the 21st century Chinese dream. The Yangtze River is turned into the world’s largest mega-dam as Yu Shui says goodbye to her family to start a new job on a cruise ship.
SPECIAL SCREENINGS: From a disfigured composer to eccentric young kids and strong, independent women, RiverRun’s exclusive line-up of marquee screenings this year is truly something special. The films range from poignant star-studded dramas featuring veteran American actors, to a British independent film and a special archival screening accompanied by the world-famous Alloy Orchestra.
PHOEBE IN WONDERLAND – USA (Dir: Daniel Barnz) – This heartwarming ensemble film revolves around nine-year-old Phoebe (Elle Fanning) who struggles with seemingly uncontrollable behavioral issues. She continues to land herself in trouble at school, much to the frustration of her parents (Bill Pullman and Felicity Huffman), until she lands the lead in her school production of Alice in Wonderland, a role which helps her gain confidence and lose track of reality. The film also stars Patricia Clarkson and Campbell Scott.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA – USA (Dir: Rupert Julian) – This black and white classic version of Gaston Leroux’s French novel showcases one of the most horrific, ghoulish monsters in film history, and some elaborately grand scenes filled with hundreds of extras. RiverRun is proud to showcase this 1925 silent film, starring Lon Chaney as the Phantom, with live accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra.
SON OF RAMBOW – France & UK (Dir: Garth Jennings) – When a young boy encounters his first movie, a pirated copy of Rambo: First Blood, his imagination is blown wide open. He soon joins forces with the seemingly diabolical school bully and the two attempt to make their own action epic, devising wildly creative, on-the-fly stunts, not to mention equally elaborate schemes for creating a movie of total commitment and non-stop thrills.
THEN SHE FOUND ME – USA (Dir: Helen Hunt) – A New York schoolteacher hits a midlife crisis when her husband leaves her, her adoptive mother dies and her real mother, an eccentric talk show host, begins a relationship with one of her students’ father – all in rapid succession. With a star-studded cast including Helen Hunt, Colin firth, Bette Midler and Matthew Broderick, this film uses quirky and unconventional family relationships to explore how families are created, both by blood and by choice.
MIDNIGHT MADNESS: Don’t even think about sleep during this year’s festival! Stick with us late into the night, and you’ll be rewarded with a collection of the strangest, most horrific and funniest films we could find. We’ve filled this year’s midnight program with a wide range of randomness, including role-playing weirdoes, bubblewrap slaughter, inappropriate sexual desires and a severed head (just for good measure).
STUCK – USA (Dir: Stuart Gordon) – After a booze- and drug-filled night out, sweet nurse Brandi (Mena Suvari) meets (or should we say – runs her car into!) a middle-aged sad sack named Tom (Stephen Rea). When he becomes lodged in her windshield, we watch Brandi become scared and irrational, and increasingly desperate and monstrous.
MIDNIGHT SHORTS – RiverRun’s wildly popular Midnight Shorts program returns again this year with a vengeance featuring a fantastic collection of oddballs and outsiders. From the first frame, it’ll be clear that this bunch has strayed far from the pack. (Seriously, when was the last time you saw a story about a little girl’s pet severed head… or about wanting to have sex with God?) Like we always say, staying up late sometimes has its rewards – and this year is no different. Drink some coffee and come spend the wee hours with us.
SUNDAY SIDEBAR: In this out-of-competition program, RiverRun presents a diverse collection of contemporary perspectives and archive classic screenings. Among the half-dozen films programmed here are the 1933 version of Alice in Wonderland and the newest film by Winston-Salem filmmaker Ramin Bahrani (Chop Shop).
ALICE IN WONDERLAND – USA (Dir: Norman McLeod) – This adaptation of two Lewis Carroll’s famous Alice in Wondlerland books, complete with appearances by Charlotte Henry, W.C. Fields, Cary Grant and Gary Cooper, is generally considered the cult Alice adaptation. RiverRun audiences have the rare opportunity to enjoy this fantasy classic that has never been legally released on VHS or DVD.
CHOP SHOP – USA (Dir: Ramin Bahrani) – This is the bleak story of Alejandro, a 12-year-old Latino street orphan who lives in Queens and works illegally at one of the auto shops painting and repairing cars. Using a documentary-like style, Ramin Bahrani effectively conveys an understanding of the plight of poor immigrants in contemporary urban America.
IN THE COMPANY OF ACTORS – Australia (Dir: Ian Darling) – This documentary takes audiences into the rehearsal room where an ensemble of Australia’s finest actors, including Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving, prepare to perform the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Hedda Gabler.
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP – UK (Dir: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) – This 1943 classic drama follows the life of Clive Candy as he serves in three wars and dives into romantic relationships with three women along the way. As his life unfolds, we recognize his struggle to reconcile his sense of military honor with modern notions of war.
PURPLE STATE OF MIND – USA (Dir: Craig Detweiler and John Marks) – When Craig Detweiler and John Marks roomed together as sophomores at Davidson College, they were devout Christians. That was Craig’s first year in the faith, John’s last. After college, they parted ways, and now when they meet again, years later, their conversation captures the intimacy and difficulty of two friends trying to understand each other without compromising what each believes.
THE SIAMESE CONNECTION – USA (Dir: Josh Gibson) – North Carolina filmmaker Josh Gibson has produced a fascinating biography about the nineteenth century Siamese twins, Eng and Chang Bunker. Through passionate interviews and artful black and white dramatic scenes, audiences see how, despite their physical state, both twins lived long, productive and active lives.
SHORT FILM COMPETITION: Short films often go where full-length feature films can’t fit. They can focus on poignant topics commercial films avoid, showcase unique and groundbreaking film techniques and serve as first steps for young filmmakers. This year’s collection of 64 narrative, documentary and animated short films include three which were nominated for 2008 Academy Awards, SALIM BABA (Dir: Tim Sternberg), TANGHI ARGENTINI (Dir: Guy Thys) and I MET THE WALRUS (Dir: Josh Raskin); two from animators at Aardman Animation (the studio behind Wallace & Gromit), THE PEARCE SISTERS (Dir: Luis Cook) and OFF BEAT (Dir: Will Becher), and the latest film from veteran animator and RiverRun favorite Bill Plympton (Guard Dog and Guide Dog) with his newest short SHUT-EYE HOTEL.