A glam-rocker death hunt and other spiritual journeys form the nexus of this year’s RiverRun International Film Festival, which celebrates its third year of bringing feature films and documentaries to Western North Carolina.
In a recent interview, RiverRun’s founder/director, Gene D’Onofrio, outlined his ambitions for the festival: “My aim is to make this a three-level festival. Basically, we want to entertain people. Secondarily, we want to bring films that you wouldn’t normally see in this area, because they’re not typical box-office draws. And finally, we want to bring filmmakers here, and in doing so teach people from the professionals.”
From the looks of RiverRun’s current itinerary, it seems likely D’Onofrio will accomplish his goals. Along with a plethora of feature films and documentaries, he’s secured the participation of several respected film-industry representatives, including his son, actor Vincent D’Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket, Men in Black, The Cell).
The centerpiece of this year’s RiverRun is the North Carolina premiere of Steal This Movie, the biopic of 1960s radical Abbie Hoffman. Starring Vincent D’Onofrio (Abbie Hoffman) and Janeane Garofalo (Anita Hoffman), the film chronicles Hoffman’s tumultuous life, from his involvement in the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention to his eventual descent into obscurity. Steal This Movie plays at Brevard’s Falls Theater at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 2. At the film’s conclusion, Vincent will lead a Q&A session detailing the making of the film.
In keeping with the ’60s themes of Steal This Movie, RiverRun will present two other feature films set in that era.
Waking the Dead (Sept. 1, 8 p.m., Falls Theater) stars Jennifer Connolly and current indie heartthrob Billy Crudup. Set in the early 1970s, the film follows the story of an opportunistic politician and his idealistic activist wife, who is murdered while assisting Chilean political refugees. When Crudup’s character embarks on a presidential bid, he is plagued by encounters with his widow’s apparition.
On a relatively lighter note, RiverRun offers Final Rinse (Sept. 2, 5 p.m., Falls Theater), a low-budget crime-film spoof. The plot concerns the case of Max Block, an ex-hippie-cum-hard-boiled-detective who battles both acid flashbacks and The System in pursuit of a murderer who’s rubbing out all of Los Angeles’ poodle-haired rockers (Sebastian Bach and Joey Ramone make cameo appearances).
To keep the mood running after the credits close, RiverRun will also host a ’60s-themed street fair on downtown Brevard’s Main Street (Sept. 2, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.). Vincent D’Onofrio will be on hand throughout the day to meet with festival attendees.
Other RiverRun features include Astoria, which chronicles the lives of Greek immigrants in New York City (Sept. 2, 10 a.m., Falls Theater, and Sept. 3, 1 p.m., Asheville Pizza & Brewing Co. in Asheville); Bad City Blues, a New Orleans-based crime thriller (Sept. 2, 1 p.m., Falls Theater, and Sept. 3, 5 p.m., Asheville Pizza & Brewing Co.); and Jacks or Better, the story of a man who murders his wife in the kitchen so he can play poker in the living room (Sept. 3, 1 p.m., Falls Theater).
Documentaries include On the Road Home (Sept. 3, 7 p.m., Falls Theater), one woman’s account of her path to spiritual enlightenment. The film — which follows its heroine as she journeys from the chambers of her Episcopalian ministry to a Tibetan Buddhist nunnery — is a don’t-miss for anyone seeking a variety of interpretations of the world’s religions. Rounding out the documentary schedule are The Children of Chabannes, a touching examination of the clandestine efforts of a French village to save Jewish children during World War II; and Americanos: Latino Life in the United States, which celebrates the contributions of Latinos and Hispanic-Americans to U.S. culture — including those of Hispanic Elvis impersonator El Vez.
For those just as interested in making films as watching them, RiverRun has scheduled several workshops, all of which take place on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1. Vincent D’Onofrio will conduct a workshop on acting and producing; Michael Scott Myers (The Whole Wide World, Screenplay) will offer advice on screenwriting; and filmmaker Jay Spain leads a seminar titled “Making a Low Budget Film in North Carolina.”
The purpose of these workshops, says Gene D’Onofrio, is to prove to would-be local filmmakers — as well as the filmmaking industry at large — that North Carolina is capable of producing quality celluloid.
“North Carolina’s losing out. All the films are going to Canada,” he laments. “We want to bring everyone together, professionals and amateurs, and see if we can come up with some interesting films.” His son agrees: “There’s not a lot of festivals on the East Coast, and especially there’s no festivals in Western North Carolina. Brevard is a beautiful town, and I can’t imagine why anybody wouldn’t want to be there. It’s the perfect place to have a film festival. Anything that’s promoting the arts and helping creative people to be able to express themselves in front of an audience they might not get anywhere else, that’s a good thing.”
Though this year’s festival is relatively small compared to such mammoths as Sundance and the Santa Barbara Film Festival, Gene D’Onofrio recognizes that RiverRun is still in its embryonic stages.
“RiverRun is on the five-year plan,” he notes. “At the end of five years, that’s when I think this festival is really going to start blossoming. When I started RiverRun, I had a lot of people telling me that I couldn’t do this for less than $200,000. I agree, if you want to start at the top — but what I did was a grassroots thing. I started, the first year, with $5,000 — and I’m building all the time.”