Richmond Talent and Musical Tributes Highlight 23rd James River Film Festival

Photo by: Brooke Marsh
Photo by: Brooke Marsh

Samuel Goodrich
Contributing Writer

One of the oldest of Richmond’s many arts festivals celebrated its twenty-third year of screening movies from a diverse range of artists over the weekend.

The James River Film Festival highlighted local talent, collaborations between critically-acclaimed artists and tributes to musicians and culture that were warmly received by the attendees.

Starting last Thursday, more than 10 films and shorts were screened at the Byrd Theatre, Gallery 5, the Visual Arts Center and the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, with many of the filmmakers showcasing their projects in person.

On Friday, director Jennifer Reeves bought three of her silent experimental art films, “Landfill 16,” “He Walked Away” and “Shadows Choose Their Horrors,” which were accompanied with music from world renowned guitarist Marc Ribot.

“Marc Ribot is a genius composer and performer,” Reeves said. “He sparks long-cemented films alive in an unpredictable and powerful way.”

Composing abstract imagery and miniscule narrative, Reeves’ films are more like art-experience pieces than traditional movies, where Reeves uses the film celluloid (which is the actual roll of film that’s projected on screen) as a canvas. Much of the imagery was composed through painting, bleaching and scratching the film – and in some instances burying the entire roll in soil.

“(Ribot) is bringing out all of these different textures with his music, and I’m bringing out different textures with the uses of chemicals and playing with black and white,” Reeves said.

Ribot and Reeves have teamed up only twice before, with screenings in New York City and Detroit. While this was Reeves’ first time in Richmond, Ribot is not new to performing in the city, having provided the soundtrack to Charlie Chaplin’s “The Kid” during a December, 2015 screening.

“I am eager to hear his performance with my films again,” Reeves said. “Each of his performances is unique and brings out different areas of pathos and beauty in the films.”

On Saturday, local director JJ McMoon presented his film “Run,” which he shot in Richmond and features mostly local actors. The project became a guerrilla action film revolving around a woman running to stay alive.

“I figured that if we’re going to do this in Richmond, it should go through my favorite spots in Richmond,” McMoon said. “But we couldn’t block off any streets so I had to plan the route and find compelling reasons for her to go this way instead of that way.”

McMoon was the only cameraman on set, and lead actress Rebecca Turner had to run 120 miles during the nine-day shoot. While production was difficult, McMoon said he was adamant about not only finishing the film, but doing the film right.

Photo by: SamuelGoodrich
Photo by: SamuelGoodrich

“You can’t get into filmmaking if giving up is a remote possibility,” McMoon said. “I would have rather died than have stopped making this movie.”

The festival wrapped up on Sunday with two tributes to rock music with a special showing of one of David Bowie’s first screen performances, “The Man Who Fell To Earth,” and a 30th anniversary showing of the cult classic short documentary “Heavy Metal Parking Lot.”

“Heavy Metal Parking Lot” captures a time in American culture where the youth were obsessed with this loud and bold sound, and was shot in the parking lot waiting line for a Judas Priest concert in the mid-’80s.

“The audiences have always been really entertained by it (Heavy Metal Parking Lot) for thirty years,” said John Hyen, one of the film’s directors. “But as it ages, it’s become more of a time capsule showing a long gone era of American music and youth.”

Accompanied by outtakes, a revisiting of the film’s subjects in “Heavy Metal Parking Lot Alumni,” a preview of the director’s’ next film “Lez Zeppelin Played Here” and a reading for an autobiography by one of the film’s subjects, this anniversary screening became an all-encompassing review of a cultural snapshot.


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