Featured photo: “The Black Baptism” is a powerful short that attempts to visualize what it feels like to be a Black woman. (courtesy photo)

It’s finally back. After a year of uncertainty and a cancellation of last year’s event, RiverRun is back with both in-person and virtual screenings of the kind of high-caliber, lesser-known films we’ve come to associate with the festival. Among our picks are local filmmakers who shot in the Triad or highlighted one of our three cities in some way. We picked films that tackle transgender identity, immigration, the Black experience and more while working to ensure that both documentaries and feature films are included. So if like the rest of us, you’ve missed watching films that haven’t been targeted to you by Netflix, check out some of these flicks from this year’s round-up.

To find out where, when and how to watch the films, visit the RiverRun website here.

by Brian Clarey, Sayaka Matsuoka, Michaela Ratfliff and Nicole Zelniker


“Becoming:” A short documentary about immigration, the most impactful parts of this work aren’t visual but auditory in nature. Shot by Alex Morelli or Durham, the story follow’s Morelli’s partner Barbara as she navigates the immigration process. Read our full review here.

Bethesda: A Shelter’s Story: This documentary film dives deep into the workings of Bethesda, a homeless shelter in Winston-Salem. Through intimate interviews and candid shots, the film casts the array of characters which include homeless individuals, volunteers and staff, as sympathetic human beings with complex and interesting backgrounds. For anyone interested in human stories, this one isn’t to be missed. Read our full review here.

“The Black Baptism:” This gorgeous short tackles so much in just 20 minutes. Another work with a NC tie, this film grapples with the complex realities that exist for Black women through gritty but beautiful imagery. Read our full review here.

The Desiring

The Desiring: This work by Winston-Salem native Graham Pritz-Bennett takes an old story and adds nuance to make it new. A husband catches his wife cheating on him and gets caught in a journey of self-discover that tackles identity, love, marriage, friendship and desire. Parts of it are also shot in Winston-Salem. Read our full review here.

“Just Over the Line:” In a mere 11 minutes, this work is able to capture the unjust court system by breaking down the arrest charges of a single man. By comparing the sentences for the same charge in Yancey and Buncombe Counties, Director Adam J. Wood questions the subjective nature of justice. Read our full review here.

Landlocked: By employing and highlighting trans individuals in this work, Director Timothy Hall adds a fresh voice to a film about family. While the pace and the dialogue of the film feels a bit lost at times, the representation in the piece is important in a time when transgender people are being overly policed. Read our full review here.

Life in the Sacrifice Zone: This film is Winston-Salem fixture Chad Nance’s first foray into feature filmmaking. Focusing on the abuses by Duke Energy’s coal plant and its affect on predominantly Black communities, Nance continues his tradition of journalistic pursuits in this documentary. Read our full review here.

Lily Topples the World

Lily Topples The World: Through the lens of something as obscure as domino stacking, Director Jeremy Workman manages to tell a beautiful coming-of-age tale in this documentary feature. Throughout the 91 minutes, Workman captures the rise of Lily Hevesh, a 19-year-old domino artist as she works to become the best in the world while struggling to figure out who she is. Read our full review here.

Ludi: Having been made in the midst of a global pandemic, this film feels particularly relevant as it follows Ludi, a nurse who overworks herself to maintain financial stability. The emotional film sheds light on not just her experience as a Black woman in healthcare, but adds layers of complexity by digging into her Haitian immigrant roots as well. Read our full review here.

Missing in Brooks County

Missing in Brooks County: This one isn’t for the faint of heart. Shots of bones and unidentified bodies skirt the screen in this documentary which chronicles families’ fights to find their lost relatives in Brooks County. The area is known for having thousands of death because of its proximity to the US-Mexico border which is crossed by migrants daily. Adding to the multifaceted narrative, the film also incorporates the viewpoint of a rancher who lives on the stretch of land next to the border and actively tries to catch migrants on his territory. Read our full review here.

The New Corporation: Yeah, corporations are bad; we get it. But do we really? This sequel to the 2003 documentary, The Corporation, makes the case that it’s actually a lot worse than we think it is. Think like Big Brother, privatized water bad. And if you didn’t think that was enough, the filmmakers manage to fold in the events of 2020 from the pandemic to the national uprisings to trace back how corporations, to an extent, had a hand in it all. If you’re ready to leave the cave, watch this one. Read our full review here.

Proper Pronouns

Proper Pronouns: Being transgender and being religious might seem like oxymorons on the surface but this documentary delves into the intersection of faith and identity by following the lives of transgender pastors. Set in North Carolina, viewers will get an intimate understanding of the transgender experience, as well as what faith can mean in the face of unbridled discrimination. Read our full review here.

“Regulars”: There’s really nothing like a good, ‘ol classic diner. That’s the vibe of this documentary short which chronicles Jake’s Diner in Greensboro for 24 hours. During the short, viewers will be introduced to longstanding customers and staff alike, who show that diners have a unique ecosystem all their own. Read our full review here.


Sapelo: This quiet documentary takes a look at what identity and heritage mean intergenerationally. Sapelo follows Marcus and Johnathon, two boys who are grandsons of Cornelia Walker Bailey, who worked to preserve the Black Geechee-Gullah culture of the island. The film will take a look at how well Bailey’s efforts have lasted and the affects her work have on her maturing grandsons. Read our full review here.

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