The Triad’s RiverRun International Film Festival opens this week. This year it’s celebrating a quarter century showcasing films from around the world.
RiverRun got its name from the French Broad River near Brevard, North Carolina, where it began in 1998. The festival struggled there financially but remained until 2003.
That year former film producer and then-UNC School of the Arts Dean Dale Pollock brought RiverRun to Winston-Salem. Pollock says it was a hard sell.
"People warned me this would not be a film festival town; that people didn’t appreciate films; people didn’t particularly like films; nobody would be interested in going to a film festival," says Pollock.
Eventually, the inaugural season was launched, but barely. Pollock says flying by the seat of their pants, they booked the first film at 10 in the morning at the Stevens Center with a seating capacity of more than 1,300.
"I think there were maybe five people there," he says. "And the director was up in the projector booth. And I went up and I thought he was going to strangle me. He said, ‘You call this a film festival? You have five people down there! Are you crazy?’ And I remember saying there’s nowhere to go but up."
And up it went. From just over a couple dozen short and feature films and lackluster attendance, this year’s festival features 174 films representing 34 countries.
Executive Director Rob Davis says in celebration of 25 years, RiverRun will host several world premieres.
"We have the last film in which Peter Fonda appeared called The Magic Hours," says Davis. "And then on the documentary side, we have one called The Great Divide which looks at the gun debate currently going on in the country. So, it’s four world premieres and that’s extra special anytime, but especially in our silver anniversary year."
The ten-day-long RiverRun International Film Festival opens at theaters across Winston-Salem on Thursday.