Right around this time every year, we usually produce an editorial with a headline along the lines of “Bring on the RiverRun fun.” The annual RiverRun International Film Festival has become such an ingrained part of the City of Arts and Innovation, so essential to our community life, such a contributor to our economic health, so eagerly anticipated by thousands of film-goers, that writing about it is a pleasure.
But this year is different. Among the many other disruptions brought on by the coronavirus, officials with the film festival announced Friday that this year’s festival, originally scheduled for March 26-April 5, was canceled.
“The entire RiverRun team had worked tirelessly on what was shaping up to be one of our best festivals ever,” Rob Davis, executive director of the festival, said in a statement. “We are saddened for the filmmakers and creators who we had looked forward to celebrating, but the health and safety of our community must be the priority.”
It was a difficult and painful decision, we know, for the staff and volunteers who put this extraordinary program together. And we know that its loss is mourned by the fans and film aficionados who planned to attend, many of whom had already purchased tickets.
But given the nature of the virus and the risk of public gatherings, it was the right decision.
It’s all the more disappointing after examining this year’s program schedule, released just last week. Along with the many panels, awards, competitions and other adjacent activities, there was to be a special spotlight on Rod Serling, best known as the writer and producer of the classic TV series “The Twilight Zone,” but also recognized as an award-winning screenwriter. Films in which he was involved would have been screened and one of his daughters, Anne Serling, would have traveled here to tell audiences about her father.
This would have been the festival’s 22nd consecutive year, and was planned to include 77 feature-length films and 96 shorts — comedies, dramas, documentaries — from 42 countries.
Those who bought advance tickets can request a refund or turn their purchase into a donation to RiverRun.
And all is not lost. Organizers hope to schedule mini-fests later in the year that will allow film-goers to see some of the selections. They should be well-attended.
There was another blow to film buffs last week when Aperture Cinema, the multi-screen nonprofit theater in downtown Winston-Salem, announced that it would close immediately and remain closed through at least April 3 — or “until we know that it is safe to gather audiences together for the art of film,” Lawren Desai, executive director and curator of the theater, said. “All scheduled special event programming and regular film screenings during this time are now canceled or postponed.”
These are hard times for local residents who appreciate the entertainment value and intellectual and emotional stimulation that comes from today’s premier art form. There are alternatives, but nothing equals the big screen when it comes to delivering impactful drama and comedy — nor is there anything like being part of an audience for the shared experience of film-going.
Our best wishes to those who bring us the movies. We’ll see you on the other side of the storm.