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The annual Richmond International Film Festival (RIFF) showcases contemporary films from around the world. For the 2022 edition, June 7-12, some of the most anticipated screenings of shorts, documentaries and features will spotlight local topics and filmmakers, and there are some notable debuts.

“The ACLU has produced a few animated shorts nationwide that have been sent to Sundance, but I don’t know if any other affiliate has produced a documentary like ours,” said Phuong Tran, communications manager. numbers to the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia. , including “Injustice: Hidden Crisis in Virginia’s Prison” premiering at Bow Tie Movieland on June 9. “Doing a documentary is a creative way to talk about something that isn’t popular to explore in mainstream media.”

The nonprofit advocacy organization has teamed up with North Carolina-based production company Narrative Arts to create a documentary that takes a close look at Virginia’s criminal legal system. While it definitely has a reformist slant, the film is fact-based, fast-paced, and delves into a topic that Tran says is at the intersection of many of society’s current issues, namely mental illness, lack of resources and racial inequalities.

“The hidden crisis is that we passed a lot of ‘tough on crime’ laws in the 1990s hoping they would keep us safer,” she says. “But the results of these laws are that many people are incarcerated in horrific conditions with little oversight, supervision or accountability. And this impacts not only the people incarcerated, but also their families and the community. It’s now a generational issue.”

Reform is a recurring theme throughout the festival. There’s also the June 10 Movieland premiere of “Richmond on Paper: Birth of A Planet,” the first documentary made about the pioneering Richmond Planet, one of the country’s flagship black newspapers, and its founder, the Afro-American journalist. -American John Mitchell. Jr.

Mitchell took the reins of the newspaper in 1883 at age 21 and ran the operation until his death in 1929, leaving behind a corps of journalism that explored the racist aspects of Jim Crow-era life in the South ; one who threw no punches in his crusade against lynching and separate but unequal treatment.

“The family gave the filmmakers our blessing and stayed away,” said John Mitchell, the publisher’s great-great-grandnephew and one of the voices helping to tell the story of the film. “When people talk about the planet and its legacy, they’re talking about what we call critical race theory.”

The 34-minute short documentary helps reintroduce some founding texts to a new audience. Mitchell says it couldn’t come at a better time. “The story of our past is in these papers, not just the Richmond Planet but the Chicago papers, the Norfolk Journal and Guide…these are our stories told from our perspective, so we have them to tell ourselves. We don’t have to rely on [schoolbooks] coming out of Texas.”

Mitchell will moderate a panel after the 34-minute film, which is produced by Tilt Production and Creative. His uncle’s legacy will be discussed as part of the larger contemporary topic of diversity in journalism. “We’re going to talk about the process of telling a story,” he says. “And how important it is to have voices that are actually connected to the different communities that you’re talking about.”

The James River is the main character in “Headwaters Down,” an unusual environmental documentary from rookie filmmakers Justin “Saw” Black, Dietrich Teschner and Will Gemma. The feature film, which premieres June 8 at the Byrd Theater, chronicles an eventful journey made by friends along the James River and recently won the 2022 Virginia Environmental Film Competition at the Virginia Environmental Film Festival.

“Headwaters Down” has its origins in a semi-regular 250-mile canoe trip down the river taken by the filmmakers and their friends. “We decided to take cameras with the intention of maybe posting some video clips on a blog, but what happened to us were some serious movie moments that we weren’t expecting,” says Black, a Richmond-based singer-songwriter who also composed the film’s score. “When we came back and looked at the footage, we were like, ‘There’s three acts here. Let’s see if we can make a feature out of this.'”

The adventure includes not only the dangers of traveling through rapids and inhospitable terrain, but also the threat of human violence. At one point the group was held at gunpoint and told it was a trespass. “It was crazy there when we met people,” Teschner says. “It brought up the issue of land use, which we talk about in the film…where you can go and find a designated waterway. All of these challenges that we faced ended up providing starting points to talk about real problems. ”

“The more time we’ve spent on the river over the years on these trips, the more we’ve learned about it and the issues it faces,” adds Gemma. “It’s one of the most polluted rivers in the state, despite being a prime source of drinking water. The film is serious but very joyful. The James River was such a big part of our lives and we want to show people who haven’t interacted with the river how much they can get out of it if they just take a little care of it and get out there.”

The screening of ‘Headwaters Down’ will be accompanied by two short films, ‘The Revenge of the Electric Cart’, a documentary by Purcellville journalist Rikki Stinnette about the treatment of a parent with rheumatoid arthritis, and ‘A Little Sun’ , which also highlights features the James River. This poignant story of interracial love was directed by Danny Caporaletti, a professor in the film department at Virginia Commonwealth University, and is one of many festival attractions directed or produced by Richmond locals or filmed in Virginia.

The list includes “The Disappearance of Toby Blackwood,” a comedy about a missing conspiracy theorist produced by Richmond native Katie Middleton (June 9, Movieland), “Ratt’s Life,” a serio-comedy feature shot in Newport News by Hampton Roads scribes Grayson Wolfe (June 8, Movieland) and “Policing Joy,” a 20-minute documentary about black hair prejudice researched and produced by VCU professor Danielle Apugo (June 9, Movieland).

Heather Waters, founder and producer of RIFF, says having a strong representation of local filmmakers each year is important to organizers.

“It not only gives filmmakers the opportunity to step into theaters with other outstanding filmmakers visiting Richmond, but in many cases it leads to new relationships for them within the industry,” says- she. “Sometimes even more projects and jobs for our local filmmakers. Additionally, we often look for films that tell Virginia stories – stories that we feel are important to our city and the Commonwealth that not only reflect our industry and the rich places we have, but also those that we believe will enrich and grow our community.

For tickets, times and a full schedule of festival screenings and events, go to riffva2022.eventive.org.

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