On Stage

Rhode Island International Film Festival Brings a World of Cinema to RI

New England's most prestigious film festival celebrates 20 years at the movies


Hollywood has its charms, but there’s no place like home. Especially when you can attend exciting premieres and experience the magic of moviemaking right where you live. The 20th Annual Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival (RIIFF) begins August 9, bringing scores of first-rate, cutting-edge new flicks to venues across our state for one whirlwind week.

RIIFF launched at the Stadium Theatre in Woonsocket back in ‘97, created and produced by the non-profit Flickers Arts Collaborative. Since then, it has ballooned in size and reputation. It’s now the largest film festival in New England. It’s accredited as a qualifier for the Oscars, the BAFTAs and the Canadian Screen Awards. And, it’s a huge draw for independent filmmakers. In the second year of the fest, Executive Director/CEO George T. Marshall recalls that the call for entries yielded 258 submissions. By 2015, that number had swelled to 5,713. This year, as of press time, he anticipates 6,000.

From the thousands of films considered, just 260 or so of the most innovative will be screened. As you can imagine, the selection process presents a challenge. George and RIIFF Programming Director Shawn Quirk watch films year-round to keep up with the volume of applications, and engage industry colleagues throughout the world to ensure that each film is seen three times by different judges.

Undaunted by the numbers, George likens the films to gifts. He explains, “Since most of the entries today are digital, it’s like having Christmas 365 days a year when we open our email. The work that is shared with us, and the trust that filmmakers place in the festival by entering our event is truly humbling.”

The high quality of this year’s RIIFF line-up, including features, shorts and documentaries, makes it hard to distinguish highlights. If you want to catch everything, more power to you – and there is a pass option that grants you unlimited access to all screenings. If you have less time, here are a few premieres to prioritize: Last Days of Summer, a suspense about a married man’s infatuation with the girl next door; Some Freaks, the love story of a one-eyed adolescent and the overweight object of his affection (directed by Brown alum Ian MacAllister-McDonald); Load, a 16th century, New World adventure involving a Tameme Indian man and a Spanish noblewoman; A Year in Port, a documentary about wine-making in Portugal’s Douro Valley; Mercy, an edge-of-your-seat thriller about a family with dark secrets (directed by local filmmaker Chris Sparling and starring Brown alum Tom Lipinski).

“Every year we try to make the experience for our audiences one that engages, entertains and educates,” reveals Shawn. “All the films featured at RIIFF are programmed thematically, and when festival-goers attend multiple screenings at a time, it’s only then that they start to see how these different shorts and feature film packages complement one another and form a larger narrative of cultural diversity and acceptance. Our goal is not only to expose our audiences to vanguard films, but to also create a platform for dialogue, discussion and cultural engagement.”

If it’s your first time attending RIIFF, expect to sit through the end credits (standard festival protocol), feel free to applaud if the film so moves you and try to stick around for the illuminating Q&A sessions offered after each screening. Keep your eyes peeled, too. “You might be sitting next to a filmmaker, cast or crew member, or even a celebrity,” George suggests. “You may be the one to discover the next Spielberg, Lucas, Abrams or John Lasseter.”

In addition to all the fine films, RIIFF events abound. Between opening night at the Vets and the two big block parties on closing night, you can enjoy walking tours with the RI Historical Society, an animation retrospective, filmmaker seminars, an LGBTQ symposium, special screenings in Newport and the Roger Williams Park Botanical Center, a jazz concert at the Hotel Providence, a music documentary series at the AS220 Black Box, an interactive scavenger hunt in Providence, a presentation of the 1969 Elvis Presley classic The Trouble With Girls (with his co-star Marlyn Mason in attendance) and more.

20th Annual Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival
Various venues and times, August 9–14

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