We’re a week out from the 12th annual installment of the Richmond International Film Festival. For the general populace, particularly cinephiles, this is a time to plunge headfirst into our shared passion for movies. Think of it as ComiCon for film nerds. If that was all it was, that’d be enough. But it is so much more. For the city, it serves as a stamp of national cultural relevance. It’s our chance to be counted amongst the legacy bastions of tastemaking—Paris, NY, LA, Toronto, Milan, Cannes. For local filmmakers, it’s a time to congregate with colleagues from all over the world and exchange notes, ideas, and visions. This is a veritable gold mine of opportunities for creatives. Networking in this industry, at this level, has not historically been robust in Richmond.
RIFF came from humble beginnings, a near Sisyphean project of Heather Waters—a producer, actor, agent, and a polymath within the field. Over the last decade, she has built the reputation and standing of this multi-day event, transforming it from a seed of hope into a standout East Coast destination for filmmakers and fans.
It’s hard to describe the impact a city’s investment in the arts can bring. Having a voice in the national and global conversation is an honor, and RVA is just clearing its throat. What worlds of wonder it contributes to the grand chorus will be our legacy as an artistic community.
Richmond has been on its cultural ascendancy for decades without a true yardstick by which to measure its success. RIFF is that yardstick. In very recent years, due to Covid and the rise of remote work, we’ve welcomed a rush of new residents from NYC, DC, Atlanta, and other cities. Regardless of your feelings about this migration, it brings a population accustomed to internationally renowned art, film, and music. Our own populace is no different in its appreciation of these things, but the quantity of opportunities we’ve had pales in comparison to those cities. This has been changing at an accelerated pace as more and more people discover the beauty, convenience, and charm of our formerly modest city.
Heather Waters has delivered an event worthy of RVA that reflects us. Her choices in accepting films, shorts, and even live band performances—taking place all over the city from September 26th to October 1st—are made with us in mind. It’s not just about what we want to see on the screen; it’s about what reflects the character of our local conversation on the arts. These festivals, RIFF being no exception, provide a look into the collective consciousness of where we are as a society. What ends up on screen, especially after many rounds of selection, indicates where our minds are at—our values, our laughter, our fears, and our loves.
In preparation for the event, I spoke to a small but potent cross-section of participating directors, producers, and actors. These conversations provided a wealth of wisdom and humanity that I was able to delve into and share. I focused on the unique qualities of each film, making them special in their own right.
If you’re a filmmaker, I hope these interviews offer a deeper perspective on crafting with purpose and clarity. I hope they provide valuable tips and ‘hacks’ for new projects, and inspire hope for those working diligently on screenplays that seem never to get done. If you’re a consumer, take this opportunity to look behind the curtain and see what bringing a film into reality entails. It’s not just about day-to-day production, but the mental fortitude required to curate a vision. Obstacles are numerous; for every movie that does get made, there are hundreds that die on the vine. Despite this, we keep making films with passion and intent, because those obstacles pale in comparison to our desires to share our visions on a silver screen.
I began my exploration by speaking with Heather Waters herself. Click through HERE to learn about her journey from Tennessee to LA, to Atlanta and New York, before finally landing here in Richmond. Her story and insights on the city and our place in the cultural zeitgeist are both fascinating and witty.
Next, I spoke to Tyler Martin, a Director, Producer, Writer, and Actor, whose notoriety skyrocketed in 2016 with his comedic YouTube series Don’t Suck. He has also written, produced, and acted in the successful NYC public staged reading of Bonded, and recently created a touching short film called Candice. Read our expansive interview HERE.
I also had the chance to catch up with Anthony Davis, a Richmond native and a film accountant for some of the biggest blockbusters of the last decade. His new short film, Yogurt Raisin, tackles nuanced controversies in racial politics. We break it all down HERE.
Lastly, I spoke with Greg Vrotsos, known for his work on Vinyl, Orange is the New Black, Mayans, and Twin Peaks, among others. His mastery of naturalism in cinema makes his short film, Situations, a must-watch. See what he has to say about crafting dialogue that feels real and spontaneous HERE.
Main photo is courtesy of Richmond International Film Festival and is from 2016.