Monday, April 23, 2012

RiverRun: So near, yet so far away

Charlotteans seem to think of themselves as the center of a Carolinas-centric universe, so it's refreshing to go to cities that don't share that view. I spent the end of last week at RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem, which has become the most ambitious such event in either state -- and which should arouse envy in every other city, ours included.

I love short films, which virtually no one sees on big screens any more. So I judged documentary shorts, including the Oscar-nominated "Incident in New Baghdad" and "The Barber of Birmingham." We gave the prize to "Cutting Loose," a Scottish movie about a hairstyling championship with competitors from Glasgow prisons.

I saw two other shorts programs: one of late-night movies that were twisted in amusing ways, and one devoted to N.C. filmmakers. Zach Laws, a University of North Carolina School of the Arts student, contributed the ominous "Birthday Psalm" to that group; you'd recognize his bearded face if you patronize the Manor Theater, where he works when he's home from school.

Most people attended features, of course, and that's where RiverRun delivers bigger names. It had new movies from Australia's Fred Schepisi ("Eye of the Storm"), Russia's Andrey Zvyagintsev (the harrowing "Elena"), Canada's Philippe Falardeau ("Monsier Lazhar," a 2011 Oscar nominee for foreign film). You could hear audience members spilling onto downtown streets afterward, buzzing about what they'd seen and bustling into a coffee shop before the next screening.

I've tried for years to get Charlotteans to think about RiverRun, which showed more than 140 films from 25 countries before Sunday's closing party. Most of the time, the response has been a variation on "But it's 80 miles away!" (As if that were the distance to Neptune.) As I drove home through the rain down I-85, I was torn between a sense of pleasure at what I'd seen and sadness that a gem like this is so close -- but for so many of my readers, too far away.


Anonymous said...

You're right about Charlotte. It's so egocentric, it doesn't even want to admit the existence of someplace like Winston Salem, much less drive an hour to attend an event there. And unfortunately, most people in Charlotte haven't even heard of any of the films mentioned in your column. If it doesn't involve sports, banking, or partying, Charlotte isn't interested.

Anonymous said...

Look up where all the money is coming from for "state grants" for the arts and you'll find it it ain't Winston Salem. It's sleep old Charlotte. You know, the town that has the big buildings, the big banks, the big airport, the big ART MUSEUMS, the big sports teams, the big $$. Your jealousy is showing....and it isn't pretty.

Anonymous said...

RiverRun is a wonderful event. I'm happy to see that it is getting coverage outside of the Winston-Salem area.

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