What Can Other Film Festivals Learn from RiverRun's Recent Windfall?

The John Wesley and Anna Hodgin Hanes Foundation and the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts recently awarded Winston-Salem's RiverRun International Film Festival close to $40,000 in grants for operational and programming support.

This announcement is, quite naturally, great news for the RiverRun International Film Festival, but it's also good news for small festivals everywhere. That's because RiverRun exemplifies the classic "small city" film festival: ambitious, hard-working, and community-oriented. There are thousands of RiverRuns springing up all across the country and each of them would be overjoyed to reap RiverRun's financial windfall. And the good news is that RiverRun has established a template that other festivals can emulate. 

For example, we can obviously learn a lot by understanding what festival-related program a foundation decides to fund. In this case, the Kenan Institute's $5,000 grant will support RiverRun's Educational and Mentorship Project, including Festival jury development, the annual RiverRun student Pitch Fest, arts journalism mentorship, a free screening and a panel discussion. 

A cursory glance of this list suggests two things. One, RiverRun is more than just a simple film festival — they're committed to education, community involvement, and student outreach. For them, a film festival isn't merely a once-a-year week of entertainment, but rather a springboard for long-term community engagement. Secondly, the institute's $5,000 grant will help fund — we counted them — six separate programs. Of course, RiverRun will also need to find money elsewhere, but the grant seems to suggest that RiverRun can do a lot with a little.

Which brings us to the John Wesley and Anna Hodgin Hanes Foundation grant. It totaled $37,500 and will be paid out over three years to help fund ongoing operations and data management. As for the festival itself, it's a "competitive event that annually showcases new films from both established and emerging filmmakers around the world. Each spring, RiverRun screens new narrative, documentary, short, student and animated films, offering both audience and jury prizes in competition categories." The next installment will be held April 17-26, 2015 in downtown Winston-Salem.

The bottom line? Successful festivals like RiverRun use film as the means to an end of greater community engagement, education, and economic development.  

For more insights on funding opportunities for filmmaker and film festivals, check out our filmmaking Grant Finder section here.