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The Richmond International Film Festival (RIFF), brings more than 135 award-winning film premieres from 20 countries, plus panels, 35+ bands, mixers, and daily events at venues across Richmond, Virginia. The festival kicks off Tuesday, April 21st and concludes Sunday, April 26th.

“The films, symposium panels, music and party events RIFF brings this year I think will engage and inspire our audiences in unique ways. We are so honored to have the line-up we do for 2020, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the city and country. The 2020 lineup will make you laugh, cry, and provoke new thought and perspectives as only art can do– and through our collective vision and efforts, we hope it brings the community together in new ways. This is why we love doing what we do.” -Heather Waters, RIFF Founder & Producer.

A few notable film highlights for 2020 include:

THE ORPHANAGE: (Narrative Feature, Tajikistan/Afghanistan) In the late 1980’s, 15-year-old Qodrat lives in the streets of Kabul and sells cinema tickets on the black market. He is a big Bollywood fan and he daydreams himself into some of this favorite movie scenes. One day the police brings him to the Soviet orphanage. But in Kabul the political situation is changing. Qodrat and all the children want to defend their home. Directed by Shahrbanoo Sadat (Wolf and Sheep). Sadat is was the youngest ever selected at the Cannes Cinefondation Residence Program in 2010 where she developed Wolf and Sheep, which won the main award at Director’s Fortnight. The Orphanage is the second part of the pentalogy, five films based on an unpublished autobiography.

VICTORIES PLACE: (Narrative Feature, France) A touching story where two worlds collide. In this drama/comedy, Bruno is a forty-something divorced man slowly falling apart in Paris after losing his job. When a gang of gypsies steal his cell phone, it’s the last straw for him. Determined to save his last remaining connection with a world that escapes him, he traces back his phone to Gagic, the youngest kid of the gang. Against all odds, they develop a relationship as each one of them has something to learn from the other. Gagic teaches Bruno how to survive in today’s cruel society while Bruno tries to convey his experience and knowledge. Together, they form a team ready to face the world. Directed by Yoann Guillouzoulic and stars Guillaume De Tonquedec and Piti Puia.

WE RISE UP: (Documentary Feature, US) The world is in the midst of a tremendous period of transition and our current models aren’t adequate to support the future that is quickly emerging. At this critical inflection point, WeRiseUP asks a fundamental question: What is success? Through an intimate inquiry with leading business, entertainment, and thought leaders, along with voices of global citizens from all walks of life, the film explores new personal, systemic and collective models of success, prosperity, contribution and what it will take for humanity to create a thriving future. Directed by Michael Shaun Conaway and stars His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Prince EA, Moby, John Mackey, Michael Franti, Deputy Secretary, General of the United Nations, Richard Branson, Dwight Howard, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, DJ Spooky, Tom Chi, Peter Thomson, 71st Session President of the United Nations General Assembly, and more.

CAN ART STOP A BULLET: William Kelly’s Big Picture (Documentary Feature, Australia) William Kelly, widely considered the social conscience of Australian art, once said “Art can’t stop a bullet, but it can stop a bullet from being fired.” Can it? Filmed on five continents, with contributions from over 20 artists, thinkers and activists, this documentary explores the power of art to influence the violence in our world. The film documents the creation of Kelly’s monumental artwork “Peace or War/The Big Picture.” It is a tapestry of history and art, drawn from major artworks and photos from the defining conflicts of their times. Through Kelly’s drawings, the audience is transported to the concentration camps of the Third Reich, the bombing of Hiroshima, “the troubles” in Ireland, the race riots in the US and Pol Pot’s Year Zero. Interwoven with archival footage of these cataclysmic events, the audience is invited to visit anti-war and anti-gun demonstrations today, events that call for similar injustices to be stopped. The film is a parallel work to Kelly’s enduring masterpiece, unfolding to create the “Big Picture” in documentary form. Directed by Mark Street and stars William Kelly, Martin Sheen and many others. Special Q & A with William Kelly to follow the film.

THINGS I DO FOR MONEY: (Narrative Feature, Canada) In his 11th feature film, award-winning filmmaker Warren P. Sonoda (Trailer Park Boys, Coopers Camera, 5ive Girls) brings his most personal and daring film to date, Things I Do for Money. His desire to reconnect with his Japanese-Canadian roots coupled with an idea to explore genre-mash ups, creates a crime/caper/classical-cello movie with a cultural twist. At the centre of this maelstrom are newcomers Theodor and Maximilian Aoki, who not only star in the film, but also compose and perform the entire original score together on their cellos. The film centers on Eli and Nick Yaguchi, two Japanese-Canadian cello-playing brothers from Hamilton, Ontario who inadvertently steal a bag of money and all the woes that go along with it from a lethal Vancouver hit man. Through a confluence of events and massive bad luck, they also have to save their father’s life, steal an $8 million dollar painting and fight for their lives to get into a prestigious music conservatory. Along the way they discover that everyone has a price and that family never bails on family, no matter the cost. Directed by Warren P. Sonoda and stars Theodor and Maximillian Aoki.

POWER OF SOUL: (Documentary Feature, Germany) The Power of Soul is a musical legacy. In this feature, the filmmakers have accompanied the greats of Funk and Soul over a ten-year period. Stars like Joss Stone, rap legend Kurtis Blow and the hip hopper from The Pharcyde have their say. Each pays tribute to the Godfather of Soul, Mr. James Brown, who was a legend during his lifetime. Directed by Marc Fehse and Produced by DJ Pari. *Special Guests forthe film premiere at the Byrd Theatre along with music tribute performances to take place during the Legends Spotlight music performance at Hardywood Craft Brewery.

A SOUL JOURNEY: (Documentary Feature, UK/Italy) Accompanying the film above in this year’s Legends Spotlight is A Soul Journey. Every year, in the last 30 years, some of the greatest Soul and R&B artists have performed at Porretta Soul in Italy — the most prestigious festival in the world for this music. A Soul Journey is a film narrating some aspects of the intricate and delicate lives of these artists, and in particular, the artistic, human and emotional journeys to perform in such a small village in the Italian mountains. Featuring Otis Clay, Solomon Burke, Rufus Thomas, Bar Kays, William Bell, and many more. Directed by Marco Della Fonte.

TEAM MARCO: A New Family Film: (Narrative Feature, US) Screen time alert! Marco, 11, is obsessed with his electronics, his iPad, his Xbox, his VR headset and hardly leaves the house. But when his grandmother dies and his grandfather moves in, Marco’s life is turned upside-down and he’s forced to go play outside. Nonno (his Grandpa) introduces him to bocce, the world’s oldest game, and to the neighborhood crew of old Italian men who play daily at the local court. With sport, laughter and love, Marco finds connection to other people ‘in real life’ and rounds up a team of neighborhood kids to take on his grandfather and his pals. Directed by Julio Vincent Gambuto and stars Owen Vaccaro (The House with a Clock in its Walls, Daddy’s Home 1 and 2); Louis Cancelmi (The Looming Tower, Billions) and Anthony Patellis (Tony n Tina’s Wedding).

BREAKING THE CHAIN: (Documentary Feature, Virginia). It’s a fate far worse than death for countless animals: a life sentence of isolation and deprivation, without love, respect, or even basic care. Their only hope is the Community Animal Project, a dedicated field team fighting on the front lines against a national epidemic of animal overpopulation and neglect. Executive Produced by Anjelica Huston (Waiting for Anya, John Wick: Chapter 3 Parabellum, Isle of Dogs, Prizzi’s Honor).

GUTMAN’S ALTERNATIVE: (Narrative Feature, Latvia) NKVD arrested the captain of the Soviet army Gutman. He is accused of cowardice, betrayal and treason – the USSR. He is waiting for execution. Responding to questions from the NKVD investigator, Gutman recalls what happened to him a week before his arrest – he could not shoot at his childhood friend, now officer Wafen SS, he forbade shooting prisoner legionnaires, he met his first love and series of the different events, revealing the real reasons and characters which help to remain a human being in the war. Realizing his death by firing squad is inevitable, at the end of the interrogation, he accused the Soviet authorities of the Latvian inhabitants’ genocide. Directed by Aleksandrs Mirskis.

WEEDIATRICS: A Covert Medical Mission: (Documentary Feature, US) Weediatrics: A Covert Medical Mission follows the stories of desperate parents across the United States on their dangerous quest to attain and provide illegal substances to their children suffering with extreme medical needs. Conventional medicine hasn’t been able to help these children and parents refuse to give up. With the state-by-state legislation of marijuana not addressing children’s needs, some parents are deciding to smuggle medicinal marijuana home to their kids. With kids ripped from their houses like the Selva’s in California the stakes parents face are real. With the help of Jason Cranford, a botanist who is one of the leading medical cannabis caregivers for kids in the country, loving and fearful parents test the boundaries of the perplexing legal system surrounding medical marijuana regulation in the United States. Weediatrics gives an inside look into the underground network of covert parents who are fighting for their kids’ lives all while keeping their treatment hidden from doctors, teachers, and law enforcement. Directed by John Ehrhard.

BAD ART: (Narrative Feature, US) In Bad Art, five art world archetypes show up to a female artist’s studio to buy a painting they’ve never seen (that may or may not exist) engaging in a hilarious debate about commerce, value, and identity. Directed by and stars Tania Raymonde (Without You, Cell Division, Goliath).

EXIT 5: (Narrative Feature, Saudi Arabia) Sara is a 26-year-old girl living in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia with her conservative mother and father Ahmed. They keep comparing her to her Cousin Mai who is younger, about to be married and has graduated from university. Which is everything she is not, older, still in university and divorced. Haifa and Dana, her friends from university, are the only ones that don’t judge her rebellious behavior like smoking in public and going to parties. But even her friends don’t know all of her secrets and what is to come. Directed by Khaled Nadershah.

Special Virginia Spotlight Films & Series

THE MAGIC SHED: (Episodic Television Series, Comedy, Virginia) Welcome to a place that bends time and space…where fact is fiction and color has taste. Meet Carl and Ricky, adult children who still dream of slaying a monster with a hideous guitar solo. Jobs, responsibility, life get lost in their minds as past, present, and future all meet in the Magic Shed. Produced by Richmond’s premiere production studio, Tilt Creative + Production and directed by Andrew Carnwath. *Exhibit and extended Q & A and with cast and crew to follow the series premiere.

DIGGING FOR WELDON IRVINE: (Documentary Feature, Virginia) “What happens to a dream deferred?” Langston Hughes’ cautionary prose has been the stimulus for some of the most important artistic offerings of the 20th century. Chiefly among them, the civil rights anthem “Young, Gifted and Black,” written by prolific musician-composer-playwright Weldon Irvine. In the wake of his untimely death, a focused, contemporary reflection upon his life reveals the astounding irony that Weldon Irvine would come to be one of music’s most quintessential examples of Hughes’ examination. Digging For Weldon Irvine explores the enduring legacy of a man deeply vital to the culture of black freedom expression, yet is somehow overlooked within that very lexicon. Director Victorious DeCosta brings befitting and timely examination to the life and legacy of Weldon Irvine, whose work drew appreciation from the likes of Freddie Hubbard and Nina Simone to Mos Def and Q-Tip. *Exhibit materials to accompany the film premiere at the Byrd Theatre along with music tribute performances to take place during the Legends Spotlight at Hardywood Craft Brewery.

RIFF 2020 Vision Symposium Films, Panels & Special Guests

New this year, RIFF expands to bring a full day symposium of films that center on societal and community issues that impact Richmond, Virginia and cities across the nation. This special programming selection will take place at the Byrd Theatre on Thursday, April 23 and following the film premieres will have roundtable discussions, panels, and extended Q & A’s. Spotlights addressed in this program include: Human Trafficking, Juvenile Justice, Mental Health, Adult Incarceration & Program Rehabilitation, Advocacy, Civic Participation & Community Awareness, and more. A few of the films included are:

16 BARS (Documentary Feature, Virginia) 16 Bars is a feature length music documentary that offers a rare glimpse at the human stories — and songs — that are locked away in our nation’s jails and prisons. The film follows three inmates at the city jail in Richmond, Virginia and one former inmate who was recently released and is struggling to adapt to life on the outside. All are a part of a unique rehabilitation effort that involves writing and recording original music. In the jail’s makeshift recording studio, they collaborate on an album with a Grammy-winning recording artist, Todd “Speech” Thomas, from the iconic activist hip-hop group Arrested Development. As the creative process unfurls, each of these men must unearth painful elements of their pasts, which hold the key to a new chapter in their lives. The film is set in Richmond Virginia, the former seat of the confederacy, where the legacy of systemic racism, a spiraling opioid crisis, generational poverty, and a lack of mental health services have entrapped many of its citizens in a cycle of incarceration, making the city itself a unique case study for rising recidivism rates in the U.S. at large. With the U.S. locking up more of its citizens per capita than any other nation on the planet, the music of the film serves as rare testimony to the raw and messy truth behind the criminal justice system’s revolving door. Directed by Samuel Bathrick.

THE ZEN SPEAKER: Breaking the Silence (Documentary Feature, US) As a prominent public speaking coach and former political fundraiser, Amy Ayoub always encouraged her clients to be authentic and to share their personal stories painfully aware that she wasn’t ready, yet, to tell her own. Then, in 2012, she learned about Nevada Assembly Bill 67, a bill designed to fight sex trafficking. The Zen Speaker: Breaking the Silence charts Amy’s transformational journey from a tumultuous childhood in Las Vegas to her emotionally wrenching testimony before the Nevada State Legislature in 2013. A personal portrait, the film explores the emotional and physical devastation associated with sex trafficking; being a survivor; public vs private personas; and finding one’s voice in unexpected ways. Directed by Robin Greenspun. “What became clear to me in the making of this film is that the fear and shame which accompanies traumatic events in our lives are as destructive as the trauma itself. I hope that Amy’s story of overcoming the fear and shame associated with her trauma guides others, no matter what their trauma, and helps shed light on the horrific issue of human trafficking. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to bring Amy’s story to RIFF!” – Robin Greenspun, Producer & Director

ILLEGAL (Documentary Feature, US) Illegal chronicles the miraculous journey of Salvadoran immigrant Laz Ayala’s life or death path to U.S. citizenship, the challenges of present-day immigration, and his mission to humanize immigrants and reform immigration for the benefit of all. The film begins as Laz journeys back to his childhood home in El Salvador. He recounts his arduous path north on the Pan American Highway with his father and brother where at any moment they could have been discovered and turned back… or killed. Laz’s life is a story of struggle, determination, and hope for a brighter future for immigrants, the industries that rely upon them, and our entire country. Directed by Nick Alexander.

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