The River Run International Film Festival wrapped its 18th edition in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, with its narrative feature award going to Anna Rose Holmer’s The Fits, which was, in the words of the jury, “an audacious debut from a promising American talent.”

The Fits

Best documentary feature went to Mike Plunkett’s Salero, about one of the last salt gatherers in Bolivia. The jury praised that film “for its astonishing visuals, narrative acuity and ability to showcase characters that go against the grain.”

The Fits, a Venice Biennale College project that also played at Sundance, also won best actress for its impressive young newcomer Royalty Hightower.

Interestingly, there is a link between the two top winners — debutant director Holmer from The Fits also served as a producer on Salero.

The jury’s best ensemble performance went to Jackson Martin, Nick Serino and Reece Moffett in Sleeping Giant, with best director honours for Romania’s Radu Muntean for One Floor Below, who also shared thebest screenplayaward with Alexandra Baciu and Razvan Radulescu. RiverRun’s best director award is named after Peter Brunette, the late film critic and professor who was previously a contributor to Screen International.

Other documentary jury prizes were a special jury prize to Kirsten Johnson
’s Cameraperson; a humanitarian award to Geeta Gandbhir & Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s A Journey Af A Thousand Miles: Peacekeepers; and best director to Plunkett for Salero.

The audience award winners are Kerem Sanga’s First Girl I Loved (from the Altered States programme), Keith Maitland’s Tower (documentary), Petra Costa & Lea Glob’s Olmo & The Seagull (narrative) and best of the fest My Love Affair With the Brain directed by Catherine Ryan & Gary Weimberg.

Other awards were best narrative short to Philippe Lasry’s Cat; best student film to NYU’s Christopher De Las Alas’ For Ofelia; best documentary short to Alison Klayman’s The 100 Years Show and special jury prize for artistic achievement to Josh Gibson’s Journey To The Sea; and best animated short was Nina Gantz’s Edmond.

The festival, which ran April 7-17, opened with two films: Taika Waititi’s Hunt For The Wilderpeople and Norman Lear: Just Another Version Of You by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady; and closed with Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship.

Among the North Carolina features showing at the festival, one of the most topical  (given the recent furore over North Carolina’s House Bill 2), was Brooklyn-based director Hellevi Loven’s Deep Run, a powerful documentary about a trans 17-year-old in rural, religious North Carolina. Susan Sarandon serves as one of the film’s executive producers.

Special events included an acting workshop with Rosemary Harris and Beth Henley, and a crowdfunding panel with Seed & Spark’s Christina Raia.

The annual Pitch Fest for local university students to pitch their documentary short ideas saw first place and $500 go to John Gallen and Alex Faoro of Wake Forest University for their film Daddy, about a youth basketball coach who may have been using children to traffic drugs. The runner-up, Elon University’s Amory Parks, received $250 for Rebuilding, about formerly incarcerated women.

In total, the festival screened 166 films from 44 countries.

“The films showcased at our festival this year reflected diverse stories from around the world, important social issues, immense talent from both emerging and established directors and a host of passionate projects that are jewels of the independent filmmaking community,” said Mary Dossinger, RiverRun programme manager and interim co-director.

“With more than 1,500 submissions this year, our programming team had many hard choices to make to complete the programme and the juries really responded to the films we chose and said it was difficult to make their final decisions.”