Following a successful late January trial run in Danville, Va., the Twin Rivers Media Festival returns to Western North Carolina for its 23rd annual season Friday, Feb. 17, and Saturday, Feb. 18, at the Flood Gallery Fine Art Center in Swannanoa. All screenings and events are free and open to the public.
A veteran film festival organizer dating to the mid-’80s in New York, Carlos Steward saw the potential for a permanent event in the Asheville area and started Twin Rivers in 1995. The festival focuses on independent features and short documentaries, dramas and animated films. In the subsequent two-plus decades, Steward has adapted to the array of technological changes and is thankful he no longer has to adhere to the old ways.
“It used to be 16 mm or 35 mm films, and we’d be running projectors and changing reels. Then it was VHS, and everybody wanted those back, so we had to return everything, and it was always a hassle to make sure everything got in the right envelope,” Steward says. “With DVD, nobody wanted them back anymore, and this year, most entries were downloaded. It’s great, and it’s gotten better and better, both for filmmakers and the festival.”
The primarily digital submissions make it significantly easier for his judges — a diverse set of filmmakers and cinephiles ranging from Asheville to Istanbul — to view the works. Twin Rivers received close to 450 entries for the 2017 edition, a number Steward says is pretty typical for the festival. Of those candidates, around 40 films were selected to play at the inaugural Danville screenings, and just shy of 30 will be shown at the Swannanoa event, representing a “Best of the Fest” program.
“We try to select films more in line with our mission: supporting younger filmmakers and emerging filmmakers,” Steward says. “Those are the people who need support now and probably will be the major filmmakers of the future.”
Similar to the festival’s judging panel, Twin Rivers’ offerings are international. Films from Spain, Bulgaria, Russia, Iran, France, Uruguay, Brazil, the United Kingdom, the United States, Argentina, Palestine, Sweden, Italy, Germany and Malaysia comprise the schedule.
The Flood Gallery and the Twin Rivers Festival were formerly housed in the Phil Mechanic Studios in Asheville’s River Arts District. When the building was sold last year, Steward moved his operations — including the World Cinema screenings he curates and hosts each Friday — to a building a few lots up U.S. 70 from the former Tarwheels Skateway. The new Flood Gallery has a screen that measures roughly 10 feet from corner to corner and seats 75, an intimate combination that Steward believes is an excellent fit for the festival’s offerings.
“With short drama, those are the filmmakers who are trying to hone their skills on storytelling before they go off and make a feature film. So, you end up with really outstanding short drama every year. Sometimes they even get major actors to kind of volunteer their time,” Steward says. “The animation is always really edgy and fun to watch. And the documentaries, of course, we like as well, because what we show are things Ashevilleans would like — the causes and the political side.”
As strong as the briefer works are for the 2017 festival, Steward is quick to highlight the pair of feature-length films that bookend the schedule, beginning with Canadian director Dan Zukovic’s Scammerhead on Friday. The global noir about a business hustler whose risky investments get him in trouble with the mafia was shot in 30 different countries. Also noteworthy is Money from Spain’s Martín Rosete, screening Saturday, which follows two wealthy businessmen about to get away with $5 million in dirty money until an uninvited house guest complicates matters.
“Usually, features are a little tougher for emerging filmmakers,” Steward says. “But this year, they are outstanding.”