Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Get out of town!

Some Charlotteans see Mecklenburg County the way New Yorkers look at the world in the famous Saul Steinberg cartoon: We’re about 80 percent of the map, with neighboring counties forming another 15 percent around our borders. Anything beyond that rim appears as a grease spot on the horizon.

That’s why I have a hard time convincing people to go to RiverRun International Film Festival, even though a tortoise like myself can reach it in 90 minutes on the highway. But it comes back to Winston-Salem April 13-22, and I’ll be up there gorging on movies. I’m a judge this year and a speaker; I’ll be on the "What the Hell Happened to Film Criticism? Part 2" panel at 2 p.m. April 22. But even if I weren’t, I’d want to attend. (Get details at:

I’m a little old for the Intergalactic Space Party, which promises "DJs...playing all the music you’d ever want to hear on your road trip to the moon." But I can still sit through four movies a day, distracted only by two meals, and enjoy every one. The 140 films offered make this the most diverse festival I know of in the Carolinas, and the convenience of screenings -- most of which take place on the University of North Carolina School of the Arts campus -- make binging easy to do.

Want documentary Oscar nominees? Kirby Dick, Frederick Wiseman and Joe Berlinger all have new films here. Want big names in features? Hong Kong action master Johnnie To brings in "Life Without Principle," about a gangster, bank officer and cop whose fates intertwine at the onset of the global economic crisis. Fred Schepisi’s "The Eye of the Storm" stars Charlotte Rampling as a woman who controls every aspect of her upper-crust life; Geoffrey Rush and Judy Davis play her kids. I look forward to a gritty new "Wuthering Heights" from Andrea Arnold, who won a short-film Oscar and has yet to hit her stride.

Two suggestions to festivalgoers: The food on campus doesn’t amount to much, and you’ll get tired of the sandwich truck (good as it is) that hangs around outside the screening area, so give yourself time to drive downtown for meals. (That takes about 10 minutes.) See a bit of Winston while you’re there, if you're less manic about movies than I: Buy sweets at the Winkler Bakery at Old Salem or check out American art at Reynolda House. And if you see me, let me know you made the long and dangerous journey north. We pilgrims have to stick together.