Ahead of one of the many screenings held at the historic Byrd Theatre as part of the 2017 Richmond International Film Festival. (Photo by Kevin Johnson)
Richmond played host to an ambitious bevy of films, as this year’s Richmond International Film Festival stormed theaters across the city, screening a variety of narrative films, documentaries, and shorts. This year's fest was more movie-packed than ever, and if you couldn’t make all of the showings (you’re only human, after all), here’s a recap of some of our favorite offerings from the cinematic weekend.
"Frances Tiafoe," directed by Kirk Fraser (2016)
This short documentary is just under ten minutes long, but has the depth of films three times its length, with its captivating story of rising tennis star Frances Tiafoe. Born to African immigrants in Maryland, the 19-year-old Tiafoe has been playing tennis from a young age along with his twin brother. This short expresses the inspiring underdog route Tiafoe has taken to become one of the country's best young pro players.
"Evil’s Evil Cousin," directed by Richard Hunter (2016)
Tarantino, watch your back. Writer and director Richard Hunter proves that religion and violence can be presented together powerfully through the short film, "Evil’s Evil Cousin." Heady topics — good vs. evil, morality, faith — are brought to the forefront when a pastor, while hosting a service, must confront evil face-to-face in the form of one of his parishioners. This short is hard to look away from; every minute there is something on screen to appreciate, be it the acting and cinematography, or the compelling script and comedy/drama balance.
"Death$ In a $mall Town," directed by Mark Jones (2016)
This short from Memphis-based filmmaker Mark Jones pairs a great concept with excellent directing, putting a whole new spin on a “political thriller”. A mayor of a small rural town reflects, in a speech to his constituents, on his successes in creating famous tourist attractions out of the deaths of local heroes. Flashback scenes flash in to show just how those deaths came to help the mayor. In a Q & A after the screening, Jones noted that the next step for this short would be adapting the story into a feature-length film, as Jones thinks “the story is so expansive, and there is room for this politician to grow out into higher seats of government, which would make for an exciting story.”
"Travis: The True Story of Travis Walton," directed by Jennifer Stein (2016)
Travis Walton, a lumberjack working in the forests of Arizona in November of 1975, disappeared from his work crew while chasing after what his crew described as a “40-foot hovering disk.” What happened next began a decades-long, contentious debate between UFO groups, scientists and investigators. This feature-length documentary will interest any skeptic or believer who appreciates a well-told, mysterious story. Director Jennifer Stein captures a straightforward, true-life realism, to the benefit of the out-of-the-ordinary subject matter.
"Liberty & Slavery: The Paradox of America’s Founding Fathers," directed by A. Troy Thomas (2016)
This 85-minute documentary is both educational and fascinating, teaching the history of American slavery in the time of the First Continental Congress while revealing our nation’s founders’ personal thoughts on the issue. Presenting the ideas of former presidents and lawmakers, this film is a strong insight into the minds — and flaws — of some of America’s most respected men, and how slavery and racism would come to shape this country.
See the full list of films, directors and musicians who won 2017 Richmond International Film Festival awards here.