From the Top

The 7th annual Richmond International Film Festival kicks off Monday.

Now in its seventh year, the Richmond International Film Festival – which starts Monday – has grown into a seven-day extravaganza that attracts filmmakers, producers, actors from all over the world. Since rebranding itself as a film and music festival, modeled after internationally acclaimed annual South By Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, RIFF has also become an attraction for musicians and music lovers. This year, RIFF will feature more than 150 award-winning films from 35 countries and up to 50 bands as well as panels and other events spread out all over Richmond. We chatted with RIFF founder and director Heather Waters ahead of the festival’s kick-off.  

You started RIFF six years ago as a Nashville native and long-time L.A. resident. Why did you choose Richmond?

Well it’s kind of a funny story that still surprises me when I think back on it. About eight years ago, I was set to move back to L.A. from Atlanta, which is where I was at the time. A few months before I had begun seeing someone who lived in Richmond, and he was a huge advocate of the city.  On my visits out, he showed me all the great things RVA had to offer. I think that’s where my love affair began with the city. He later managed to convince me to give Richmond a shot before making the move back to the west coast. It took some convincing at first as it had never been on my radar. But it started to feel like home. And once I was in, I was in. Upon moving to the area, I immediately got involved in the film and music scenes here, and started contributing to the development of those industries where ever I could. Coming from Nashville, L.A. and Atlanta, I knew we could create big things here in Richmond, too. I saw great potential in the city. I can’t imagine calling anywhere else home.

For the 2017 festival, you changed the concept to create an experience similar to Austin’s South By Southwest. Is this working out as you had planned?

Yes, last year was a big stretch for us in the expansion, but it was a huge success. We had almost 50 bands come in from around the world, all of which were incredibly talented and got the mission RIFF has to bring the film and music worlds more closely together. Having been in both industries for most of my life, I know the difficulty of finding enough opportunities where these industries cross paths. When they do, it can lead to some pretty magical collaborations. Many of last year’s artists also returned to Richmond to record new albums, shoot music videos, and have gone on to work with some of last year’s visiting filmmakers. This is really what it’s all about for me – RIFF not just bringing great talent and entertainment to the city, but also developing these industries in Virginia and being a career launcher for filmmakers, musicians, and other artists.

What are the advantages of a festival that equally promotes film and music?

Filmmakers are always in search of that perfect title song, which captures the mood and essence of their film and other music to help carry the project from beginning to end. Musicians tend to be as equally captivated with the world of film. Both of these groups also need to get their projects out there to audiences. RIFF understands this, and it’s at the heart of what we do. The festival works as a platform to bring these groups together. By the end of the festival we hope new working relationships are forged between filmmakers and musicians, and that both have a lot of new fans.  

Among the guests that you are bringing to Richmond next week is actor Danny Glover.  Where do you get this star power?

A dose of good ole fashioned fortune. I am a big fan of Danny’s, so I am thrilled he will be with us for our closing night evening at the Byrd. But it really came down to the producers of his film, Buckout Road and director Matthew Currie Holmes submitting the project for consideration.  This was the same case with all of our visiting special guests this year (Kate Bosworth, Michael Polish, Lee Aronsohn, etc.).  Once I saw that the projects were going to get into the festival, I contacted each of them with official guest invitations. Each chose to accept, and we are very honored that they did.  

The festival lasts almost one week. What are the top three must-see events?

This is such a tough question to answer as all of the films and music events are going to be spectacular in one way or another. I highly recommend coming out on opening film night on Tuesday to catch Nona with special guests Kate Bosworth and Michael Polish as that will be a special evening. Also the Ibibio Sound Machine is a phenomenal London based afro groove band that’s playing Thursday at The National (with Rodney the Soul Singer to open). Danny Glover’s evening is of course a not to be missed event, and if I can squeeze in a fourth, Thank You for Your Service. This is the documentary feature that’s showing on the afternoon of Sunday, April 29, as a part of our Military Spotlight with special guests Gov. Ralph Northam, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and more.  We have a ton of great music events to choose from and film premiers from Virginia, around the U.S. and 30 more countries. There is truly something for everyone.

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