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Richmond International Film Festival ushers Hollywood spirit into RVA

Posted at 1:58 PM, Apr 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-20 13:59:30-04

RICHMOND, Va. – Richmond’s own riff on the iconic South by Southwest (SxSW) festival – a collection of music, film and interactive conferences --gets started on Monday, April 23.

The Richmond International Film Festival launched seven years ago with short films. The scope of the event has exploded into a week-long showcase of over 150 films, more than 50 music performances, networking events, panels, (catch your breath) round table discussions, and industry mixers. Founder Heather Waters is the master conductor weaving the many elements together. The Nashville native relocated to Richmond, via Los Angeles and then Atlanta, and hasn't been resting on her laurels. The director, actress, writer and former model almost immediately got to work creating RIFF, which has grown to be one of the most successful film events in the Mid-Atlantic.

“We need this kind of film festival in Richmond,” Waters said. “It helps be a catalyst for development of artists here, while at the same time putting Richmond in the spotlight…drawing artists to the city.”

RIFF uses a submission-based model like its Texas counterpart SxSW, or the famous Cannes and Sundance festivals, where the audience views (or listens to) selections vetted by a jury of industry experts. Filmmakers and musicians note that they were an "official selection" and winners take home various awards.

Artists attend for the networking, development, and acknowledgment -- not for cash. The equal footing is meant to eliminate politics and big money and intended to launch careers.

“With the end goal being that we want to be an engine for discovering the next big wave of talent across the U.S., on the film and music side,” Waters explained.

Events like RIFF and SxSW have perhaps even more relevance amid the reshaped music and film industries, where opportunities are frequently redistributed now, coming more often from the bottom-up and not as reliant on corporate channels.

“You can put audiences closer together with musicians and filmmakers,” Waters said.

Waters started the film festival a year after she moved to Richmond


RIFF music starts with the CD release party for Richmond’s own Sound of Music recording studio co-owner and producer John Morand. Morand's producer credits include groups like  Bella Morte, Camper Van Beethoven, Carbon Leaf, Cracker, GWAR, Sparklehorse, Strike Anywhere, Susan Greenbaum, Sixer and so many more.  Morand will finally release his own CD, titled “Scott’s Addiction" at 8 p.m. on Monday.

The Hof Garden and Sound of Music Studios in Scott's Addition are the primary music venues, with music lineups each night. The Afrobeat/disco festival headliner, Ibibio Sound Machine, visits The National all the way from London, on April 26.

Richmonders also get a chance to experience national and international musicians from Brooklyn, Portland, Dallas, Omaha, Charlotte, Los Angeles, Lebanon, Canada and India. There will be folk, world and Americana, hip hop, EDM, rock, blues and jazz showcases.

Thursday night will leave your head spinning over the options at all three venues.

There's Voltage Pop Up Night Club & EDM Night starting at 9 p.m. at The Hof. This electric night of music features the Friendly Mosquito's, Posh Hammer, y0ucantst0pm3, BlackLight & Dario Bianki and special guest actor, director, and TURN: Washington’s Spies star, Samuel Roukin.  Roukin , who enjoyed hosting club nights when he was in town shooting TURN from 2014-17, will return for a performance during RIFF. Sound of Music studios hosts hip hop night starting at 8 p.m. and at the National, doors open at 7 p.m. for Rodney the Soul Singer, followed by headliners Ibibio Sound Machine.

But seriously, there are performances every night. Check out the music guide here. 


More than 150 films -- feature, documentary, short, and international -- from 35 countries will screen between the Byrd Theatre  and Bowtie Movieland, as well as the adjacent Criterion Cinema.

Opening night begins with narrative feature film Nona, starring Kate Bosworth (Blue Crush, Superman Returns, Still Alice, Heist), and written and directed by prominent filmmaker and husband, Michael Polish (Twin Falls Idaho, Northfork, The Astronaut Farmer). Nona begins in Honduras with a girl from who meets a charming boy named Hecho who promises to get her safely to America to reunite with her mother. Instead, Nona faces a perilous journey when he doesn’t deliver on that promise.

Bosworth, an actress, activist and producer will be awarded with the festival’s 2018 Founder’s Award. Together Bosworth and Polish will present the film Tuesday, April 24 at 7:15 p.m. at the  Byrd. A panel on human trafficking will follow the event.

The 2018 festival features several renowned special guests, including actor, producer and humanitarian, Danny Glover. Over 30 year in the business, his film credits range from the blockbuster Lethal Weapon franchise to smaller independent features, some of which Glover also produced. In recent years he has starred in an array of motion pictures including the critically-acclaimed Dreamgirls directed by Bill Condon and in the futuristic 2012 for director Roland Emmerich

Glover stars in the festival’s 2018 closing night film, Buckout Road, a horror thriller directed by Matthew Currie Holmes. A special discussion will take place at the Byrd with Glover, directly following the film’s screening at 5:15 p.m. Sunday, April 29. Glover will also be presented with RIFF’s 2018 Legacy Award.

In the local spotlight is VCUarts Cinema graduate Maurice Vellas, who will screen his feature film, Right Now A Moment, on Tuesday, April 24 at the Byrd. Vellas recruited friend and VCU alumni, Hyekang Shin, to produce the film. Written and directed by Vellas, the story follows Nick (played by Vellas), a college student rekindling a relationship with an old flame, and a taxi driver who makes a new friend. Vellas had the idea for the film his first semester at VCU in 2012.

Also in the Virginia spotlight are the films Utopless, Madhouse Mecca (shot in Virginia Beach), and Edge of Daybreak (shot in Petersburg), a documentary short about the re-release of a soul album made in prison in 1979 and the men who made it.

Renowned television series creator Lee Aronsohn (Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory) will present his feature documentary, 40 Years in the Making: The Magic Music Band on Thursday, April 26 at 6:30 p.m. at Bow Tie Movieland The screening will be followed by a discussion with Aronsohn about his experience making the film, his music influences and television background, and  the evolution of the film industry. Aronsohn has been writing television for years, starting with  Who’s the Boss? in 1984.

The red carpet awards ceremony is a dressy event, and begins at 8 p.m. at the Byrd on Sunday, April 29.  Then you have a year to recover until the next event-packed RIFF.


With seven days of events  – screenings, bands, panels, mixers – taking place in multiple venues, you need a game plan. Download the official event guide. 

For those who want all access, Waters recommends the VIP full access film and music package for $375 (access to all music/film/events over seven days). The next tier provides an unlimited pass for all film events, at $195 or all music events (excluding the National) for $95.

You can buy tickets at the door for each individual event, though advance tickets are recommended. There are also five-ticket music and film combination packages available for $40 each.  Click here for all options.

The best piece of advice Waters offered was to grab your friends and to be willing to try something new.

“Try going to a short film. Try sitting through subtitles,” she said. “At least one new thing every year.”