Six days of cinema and music | Movies | Weekly style

The Richmond International Film Festival began 11 years ago after Nashville-born founder and producer Heather Waters made Richmond her home.

Struck by the city’s identity rich in tradition, history and beautiful locations, Waters envisioned an international competitive festival that would not only allow local talent to mingle with guest artists, but also encourage outside filmmakers to consider Richmond for their next shoot or recording location.

“For me, it was about developing the city, its talent and bringing something fun to the community,” says Waters. “Over the years, it’s been pretty cool to see the city grow through this festival and others.”

A competitive festival such as the Richmond International Film Festival (RIFF) works a little differently as it is submission-based versus shortlisting talent selected for a particular theme or broader event lineup. Both ways can be rewarding with great programming and entertainment value, but a competitive festival has the added purpose of helping a film or band get noticed or get started.

With the films, the festival may attract distribution deals for theatrical release or other streaming platforms. This often happens through awards received at big name competitive festivals such as SXSW and Sundance. “Most of the films that come to festivals like ours are premieres and haven’t been seen publicly, so it’s a treat for audiences,” says Waters. “After being accepted into the festival, they could receive laurels, and most compete for grand jury and public prizes.”

Click to enlarge

  • Courtesy of the Richmond International Film Festival
  • A crowd outside the Byrd Theater for one of the RIFF premieres.

After the films are submitted, a team of preliminary industry judges review each film and score it based on key elements such as: direction; writing; originality of concept/story; performance quality; overall quality of production and post-production; cinematography; lighting; sound; editing; color correction; and mark. From the preliminary judging, films are entered into a new round based on their score. They are again monitored by a committee to sever ties and determine final acceptances. The number of films changes each year depending on how many films will fit the time constraints available to screen at the Bowtie and Byrd Theatre.

This year’s opening night film is “Song for Hope,” the story of Ryan Anthony, hailed by critics as a trumpet virtuoso. Anthony was only 42 when he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and had just months to live. He continued to perform and teach while creating a charity, Cancer Blows, to help raise money for cancer research. On the local front, “Headwaters Down” documents a 13-day, 250-mile canoeing adventure from the headwaters of the James River to the fall line in Richmond (Style wrote about it here). “Mixtape Trilogies: Stories of the Power of Music,” the closing night film, examines the charged relationships between musical artists and their fans.

Music is an important part of the Richmond International Film Festival. During her early years as a performer, Waters was involved in both film and music and saw how difficult it can be as an artist to meet other filmmakers and musicians.

“There are not many platforms that have a specific purpose [on] bringing these artists together under one roof, but when they come together, amazing things can happen,” she says. “We wanted to be an intermediary for this kind of creative engagement to happen and provide opportunities for talent to forge new working relationships.”

This year’s festival features 21 live musical performances as well as 171 film premieres, including shorts, throughout the week. Over 1,000 musical submissions have been selected and the chosen ones will compete for top honors from the Grand Jury as well as People’s Choice Awards. This year’s lineup includes musicians from Germany, India and Belgium, as well as Los Angeles, Chicago and Brooklyn. Local favorites include Rodney the Soul Singer Stith, Tre.Charles, Al B and T-Soul.

Waters is adamant that Richmond is a great movie town.

“It’s an ideal hub because filmmaking is built on relationships, and the Richmond community, with Andy Edmunds and the folks at the Virginia Film Office, know how to do that well,” she says. “We also have great executives to work with; rich and varied locations that provide producers with the choices they seek and a growing workforce of local talent through directors, writers, crew and post houses.

Brief Q&A sessions follow most RIFF screenings, allowing audience members to hear from directors, screenwriters and others. Waters sees the festival as an opportunity for the public to support the arts as well as an event that serves the community by increasing the visibility of local artists and the City of Richmond.

“From plenty of movie premieres, to experiencing some of the latest hot music artists, to mixers, panels and parties, there really is something for everyone over the six days,” says Waters. “We love getting people to work and play together more. When we do, great things start to happen.

The Richmond International Film Festival runs June 7-12 at various locations. Tickets and more information can be found at

Comments are closed.