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Indy Goes Indie

The James River Film Festival draws an assortment of independent films with characters on both sides of the camera.

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A musician who writes songs about hot dogs and chickens. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” remade by children who grow up on camera. The Iraq War.

As film festivals go, the James River Film Festival chooses independence as its common bond, no matter the subject.
Founded in 1994, the festival returns for its 16th season April 12-19, offering eight days of feature-length films, shorts and other programs celebrating independent cinema. The festival also is host to a miniature enviro-film fest, spanning cane frogs, bees and Harrison Ford. The event's dual, complementary purpose is to give independent filmmakers and audiences a rare venue for the material.

“There are not many exhibition and distribution opportunities for the true independents,” festival co-founder James Parrish says — “those that operate on the margins and outside the Hollywood and indie-Hollywood system.”
And now we present our guide to the marginalia.

War Correspondence: Onetime Richmonder and cinematographer Ellen Spiro returns to her former home to screen “Body of War,” a documentary produced by former television talk-show host Phil Donahue about Iraq War veteran Tomas Young, who was partially paralyzed during his tour of duty and went on to voice strong opposition to the war. April 12 at the Byrd Theatre, 7 p.m., and April 19 at Movieland at Boulevard Square, 7 p.m.

Comrade Doonesbury: Festival guest Kevin McNeer is another Richmonder with a documentary. This one's called “Stalin Thought of You,” a look at Russian political cartoonist Boris Efimov, a contemporary of Leon Trotsky and Stalin. Efimov outlived them all, dying in 2008 at age 108. April 19 at the Byrd Theatre, 5 p.m.

Trust Me, Marion: Producer Chris Strompolos finished shooting a shot-for-shot budget adaptation of Steven Spielberg's “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in 1989 — after seven years filming it with childhood friends Eric Zala and Jayson Lamb. Strompolos, a festival guest, stars as Indy, telling Wired in 2007 he did it “just to live out a fantasy and be someone else.” There's the boulder scene, the mine-car chase, puberty. April 18 at midnight and April 19 at 2 p.m. at the Byrd Theatre.

Putty in Their Hands: Men who create fantasy worlds are at the center of two documentaries by festival guest Brett Ingram. “Rocaterrania” concerns Renaldo Kuhler, who unveiled for Ingram's camera his secret illustrated history of a fictional country tucked into the border between the United States and Canada. Ingram's strong sense of story also is on display in “Monster Road,” about claymation animator Bruce Bickford, whose animated feature film “Cas'l” will also be screened — with an original, live score by Richmonders Johnny Hott and Coby Batty. Bickford hosts an animation workshop April 17 at Virginia Commonwealth University's Pollack building. “Monster Road,” April 18 at noon; “Cas'l,” April 18 at 8 p.m.; “Rocaterrania,” April 19 at 12:30 p.m. at the Byrd Theatre. S

The James River Film Festival runs April 12-19 at the Byrd Theatre, Gallery5 and elsewhere. Tickets are $6-$10 and festival passes are $40. 232-RMIC or visit www.rmicweb.org.

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