‘RiverRun’ offers opportunities for WFU film students to shine

WFU film


  • Movies and short films from current students, faculty and alumni will be featured in the 2024 RiverRun International Film Festival.
  • Representatives of RiverRun and WFU's film studies program praise the collaboration between the festival and the University.
  • The festival provides a showcase for aspiring and experienced filmmakers to reach a wider audience.

The University is well-represented at this year’s RiverRun International Film Festival. Films with Wake Forest ties include a narrative feature, a feature-length documentary and eight narrative and documentary shorts.

2024 RiverRun film festival

The 26th RiverRun International Film Festival runs April 17 to 28 at various venues in Winston-Salem and Greensboro, with screenings of almost 200 short films and features from more than 50 countries, as well as panel discussions and special events.

Information on tickets and more details on screenings during RiverRun can be found at riverrunfilm.com.

“We’ve had a long and valued relationship with Wake Forest University in terms of including films from students, faculty and alums, and also through having representation on our Board of Directors over the years,” said Rob Davis, executive director of RiverRun. “In addition to the film studies program, we also maintain a wonderful relationship with Wake Forest’s documentary film program and collaborate with them often on one of our free educational panels during the festival.”

Communication professor Woody Hood, the director of Wake Forest’s Film & Media Studies Program, is happy that his students have an opportunity to see their work shown at the festival.

“Beyond building resumes for our students and graduates, these film screenings at RiverRun give them the opportunity to connect with other American independent filmmakers and showcase superb filmmaking outside of the Hollywood sphere,” he said. “It’s wonderful that RiverRun specifically highlights North Carolina makers in a pointed way.”

As part of this year’s festival, Wake Forest and RiverRun are working together on “Editing the Documentary: A Conversation with Kate Amend,” which will be hosted by documentary film faculty member and filmmaker Peter Gilbert. That free panel will be held Saturday, April 27 at 4 p.m. at the Milton Rhodes Center in Hanesbrands Theatre.

“Amend is the foremost editor working in documentary film today and just recently received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Cinema Editors,” Davis said.

Professor of Communication Mary Dalton, one of the founder’s of the University’s film studies program, said, “RiverRun is a terrific festival. It’s an honor for anyone at any level of professional development to have a film included in the program.”

“For current students to have this type of showcase for their work is an incredible opportunity.” Wake Forest Communications professor and filmmaker Mary Dalton

About the featured films

The feature-length drama “You & I,” being screened Monday, April 22 at 8 p.m. at Marketplace Cinema, is directed, written and produced by Summer Shelton, a Mount Airy native who earned a master’s degree at Wake Forest. 

The film revolves around two people – Sara, played by Shelton, and Joseph, played by Clayne Crawford – who were involved years earlier and went their separate ways. Reuniting unexpectedly, they wonder what might have been. 

“So much of what I create is informed from where I come from,” Shelton said, “and it is such an honor to be able to share my feature directorial debut with a hometown audience.”  

The feature documentary “Bloom,” from Wake Forest Documentary Film Program students Elizabeth Miller-Derstine and Allison Rieff, will be shown at 4 p.m. April 21 at Marketplace Cinema and will also be available in virtual screenings. The in-person screening will be followed by a discussion with the filmmakers and representatives from Novant Health.

NC Shorts Program Three, screening at 5:30 p.m. April 26 at Hanesbrands Theatre, includes five student films and one from a Wake Forest faculty member.

  • “El Sazon,” directed by alumnus William Zimmerman, is a narrative story about the craft and art of taco making. 
  • “Ride,” from Wake Forest graduate and staff member Holly Swenson, follows a Brazilian man whose life in the United States has not turned out the way he expected.
  • “United” is a documentary about residents of Crystal Towers public housing unit in Winston-Salem. It was co-directed by Parker Beverly, a current student in the documentary film program, along with Louie Poore. 
  • “Welcome(d)” is a documentary about refugees who emigrated from war-torn countries and find support at Wake Forest University. Ammar Basha, adjunct faculty member, co-directed it along with WFU graduate William Zimmerman. Woody Hood provided an original score and Parker Beverly and Hope Zhu, an undergraduate student, also worked on the film.
  • “Your Cadenza” is a documentary about a Ukrainian violinist studying music education and nursing, directed by 2023 documentary film program graduate Chen Zheng.

In addition to those student films, “Half-Sisters,” a film by Wake Forest communication professor S. Gagney Gentry, is part of the “Winston Stories” program. It follows two half-sisters who live apart but discover they share more in common than they expected.

Documentary Shorts Program Two, running April 20 at 12:30 p.m. at UNCSA’s Gold Theatre and 6:30 p.m. at UNCSA’s Babcock Theatre, also has two films with Wake Forest connections.

Wubetu Shimelash, who earned a bachelor’s degree at Wake Forest and then went on to USC’s film school to get his MFA, worked on “I Am More Dangerous Dead,” about a Nigerian activist. Shimelash is scheduled to be at the April 26 screening in person.

“Window Treatment,” co-directed by visiting assistant professor in communication Thomas Southerland, looks at the American occupation of Okinawa

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