9 Films you need to watch at RiverRun Film Festival

By Bradley Bethel

March 28, 2017

North Carolina is a great place to be an independent film lover. In every month but December, at least one film festival is playing somewhere in the state. Emerging festivals such as Full Bloom Film Festival (Statesville) and Indigo Moon Film Fest (Fayetteville) provide their communities with unique cultural experiences. The Charlotte Film Festival is in its ninth year and has established itself as one of the great arts and culture events in the city. Our state is also home to three of the most reputable film festivals in the country: RiverRun International Film Festival (Winston-Salem), Full Frame Documentary Film Festival (Durham), and Cucalorus Film Festival (Wilmington).


What’s more, two of those festivals, RiverRun and Full Frame, overlap next week, making North Carolina perhaps the best place in the country to be for independent film in April.

RiverRun kicks off this Thursday and runs through April 9. The festival will bring thousands of film lovers and filmmakers from all over the world to downtown Winston-Salem and will screen more than 150 films of all genres. Reading through the entire list and doing some homework, I’ve identified nine I’m most eager to see. Here they are, categorized under Narrative, Documentary, and NC Stories.


Dayveon (2017)

Multiple film critics gave this coming-of-age drama positive reviews after its world premiere at Sundance in January. The film follows the title character as he deals with the aftermath of his older brother’s gang-related death, and through Dayveon’s struggles the film offers a new look at the challenges facing African American rural youth.

Screens Friday, March 31, 5:30 p.m.; Monday, April 3, 4:00 p.m.; and Tuesday, April 4, 8:00 p.m.

Fits and Starts (2017)

Wyatt Cenac stars in this comedy about a literature professor struggling to suppress the sense of inferiority he feels as his wife’s writing career flourishes. Fits and Starts comes to RiverRun less a month after its world premiere at SXSW.

Screens Wednesday, April 5, 4:00 p.m.

Tracktown (2016)

Real-life Olympian Alexi Pappas stars as Plumb Marigold in this comedy about a track star training for the Olympics. Tracktown premiered at the LA Film Festival last year, and The Hollywood Reporter called the film “a winning, winsome comedy.”

Screens Thursday, April 6, 7:30 p.m. and Friday, April 7, 10:30 a.m.


Quest (2017)

Filmed over the course of nearly a decade, Quest documents the life of a North Philadelphia couple who opens their home music studio to a neighborhood plagued by inequality. The film premiered at Sundance and was one of the most talked-about documentaries among critics.

Screens Wednesday, April 5, 2:00 p.m. and Friday, April 7, 5:00 pm and Saturday, April 8, 2:00 p.m.

Rumble (2017)

A documentary for music lovers, Rumble reveals the untold stories of Native Americans who had a profound influence on the development of rock n’ roll. The film premiered at Sundance and won the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Masterful Storytelling.

Screens Friday, March 31, 7:00 p.m.

Supergirl (2016)

Supergirl is the coming-of-age story of Naomi Kutin, an Orthodox Jewish girl who set a world powerlifting record. The film premiered in October and has captivated audiences at nearly 20 festivals already.

Screens Wednesday, April 5, 5:00 p.m. and Thursday, April 6, 1:00 p.m.

NC Stories:

Purple Dreams

After its world premiere at Full Frame, this Charlotte-based film comes to RiverRun for two screenings. Purple Dreams dives into the lives of black youth at the Northwest School of the Arts as they audition, rehearse, and perform the first ever full-length high school production of The Color Purple.

Screens Saturday, April 8, 5:30 p.m. and Sunday, April 9, 2:30 p.m.

The Ties That Bind

With its world premiere at RiverRun, The Ties That Bind tells the story of a transgender woman who comes out to her Southern family. Shot over the course of 12 years, the film follows the family as they grapple with their beliefs in the context of the nation’s culture wars.

Screens Tuesday, April 4, 2:00 p.m. and Wednesday, April 5, 5:00 p.m.

Truth Underground

Three spoken word poets in the Triangle area confront racial injustice, abandonment, and PTSD in Truth Underground. The film premiered at Cucalorus in November and recently won Best Documentary Feature at the Global Cinema Film Festival of Boston.

Screens Friday, April 7, 4:00 p.m and Saturday, April 8, 8:00 p.m.

Although I’ve narrowed my list to nine features, there are many more to see, including a number of shorts (the Caleb Caudle documentary “Home on the Road” among them). At RiverRun, you can almost never go wrong. So if you love independent film, get to Winston-Salem between March 30 and April 9, and let me know on Twitter (@BradleyBethel) which films you’re seeing.

More about RiverRun International Film Festival 

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