by Anthony Harrison
Late in the night, Robert Townsend — revolutionary actor, director, writer and producer of Hollywood Shuffle — was jumping around on the dance floor to House of Pain’s 1992 hip-hop classic, “Jump Around.” He’d said he wanted to have some fun, and he decided to waste little time.
The RiverRun Opening Gala was held at the Millennium Center in Winston-Salem on April 17, and it was a mishmash of people of all ages, types and dress codes; from black tie to street clothes, politicians to fans and the elderly to teens.
It was like a wedding — kind of weird like that.
Bill Pullman, of Spaceballs and Independence Day fame, could not be reached for comment. Quite literally. He seemed constantly engulfed by a swirling tide of fans and hangers-on.
Robert Townsend more laid back. He hung around the corners — not aloof or off-putting — just soaking in the scenery for the time being.
“I’m interested in many of the features,” Townsend said. “I’m excited about the Al Pacino movie, Manglehorn, that’s closing the festival.”
Townsend was already impressed with RiverRun, just a day after opening night.
“Y’know, I’ve been to Sundance, Toronto [International Film Festival], and [RiverRun] is on par,” Townsend said. “It’s a well-oiled machine, and everyone has been so generous. It’s hard to get great films, but y’all got some heavy hitters. Kudos.”
Townsend was also looking forward to sightseeing around the area.
“I got here yesterday, and it was raining, but I wanna see… the old place, you know, with the cobblestones, and they’ve kept the buildings the same?” Townsend said, taking a moment to jog his memory. “Old Salem! That’s it.”
In the dreamlike ambiance, high-rollers of the Winston-Salem arts scene rubbed elbows with some of the stars who came down to celebrate.
The décor — turquoise tablecloths and high drape columns lit from the inside with blue and aquamarine lights — sank guests into an ethereal, watery zone, apropos for a festival named RiverRun. The Genuine, a four-piece from Winston-Salem, played spacey indie pop and heightened the surreal atmosphere. They were doubling up on the festival scene; they would perform at Phuzz Phest two nights later in this same room.
Aside from the accessibility of celebrities, other aspects of the production kept the partiers grounded.
Popcorn was served at either side of the stage. The sharp, salty, buttery smell reminded you of the occasion: This is all for a film festival. Of course there’s going to be popcorn.
A trio of servers circled the floor with chicken salad sliders from Bib’s Downtown. They were fantastic — creamy, almost silky, with a subtle, spicy kick.
A whole square of tables carried assorted desserts to sate any sweet tooth. Some of the highlights included the Key lime mini cupcakes and chocolate macaroons from Tart Sweets and the Blockbuster chocolate bourbon cupcakes from All About That Cake. The latter were revelatory: The velvety, bourbon-buttercream frosting had a hint of blueberry melding with the crumbly chocolate cupcake.
And what’s a gala without booze? One bar served wine and beer; another, tucked away in a far corner, poured Midnight Moon moonshine. The largest bar at the back of the room mixed up your choice of an old fashioned, blueberry gin fizz or a spicy cucumber lemonade prepped with either gin or vodka from Topo Distillery in Chapel Hill.
At the front of this bar was an ice sculpture featuring the PNC Bank logo. It was a strange, melting marvel.
Blackjack and roulette tables were stationed in alcoves nearby the popcorn. And, if you didn’t want to indulge in the opulence of taking a photo on the red carpet set up in the antechamber, you could hop into a photo booth on the far side of the room and take four goofy shots for free.
Or, if you just wanted to have a laugh, you could watch Townsend tear up the dance floor.