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The James River Film Festival brings back Ralph Bakshi and other inspired programming for its 22nd year.



The first X-rated animated film is about to screen at the 22nd annual James River Film Festival — but don’t get too worked up over the content.

As its maker, pioneering animator Ralph Bakshi reportedly has argued that his seminal, groundbreaking “Fritz the Cat” (1972) isn’t that much more salacious than “The Simpsons,” its adult territory more often social and political commentary than anything prurient. It’s also noteworthy as an adaptation of another important artist, the comic R. Crumb, but examining Bakshi’s work reveals even more.

The festival, which takes place April 9-12 at various venues, will screen “Fritz the Cat” as part of an impressive lineup that also includes screenings of Bakshi’s films “Wizards” (1977) and “Lord of the Rings” (1978). Both were innovative with the animation technique rotoscoping, used to combine animation with live footage and to give animation a more lifelike feel. Bakshi took the technique further with such films as “American Pop” (1981) and “Cool World” (1992).

Like the French feature-length animated film “Fantastic Planet” (1973), Bakshi’s late-’70s films are also windows on an era, as well as exercises in personal vision, something fairly rare in feature animation today.

They also offer a chance for fascinating comparison to digital rotoscoping in contemporary special effects work, especially in fantasy and science fiction films. You could argue that movies like “Avatar” and “Jupiter Ascending” are today’s adult animated films, or at least their heirs.

Bakshi’s son will attend the “Lord of the Rings” and “Wizards” screenings Sunday, April 12, to conduct a Skype Q&A with his father between films.

Bakshi headlines the festival, but as usual it offers a diverse lineup, with Depression-era, U.S. government-produced documentaries (“The Plow that Broke the Plains,” 1936, and “The River,” 1938), experimental cinema by noted music video director Michael Pope (“NeoVoxer,” 2004) and a midnight screening of “Bad Brains: a Band in D.C.” (2012), a documentary about the influential punk band.

As co-founder Mike Jones often emphasizes, the James River Film Festival’s programming is a combination of hard work by its volunteer staff and the natural outgrowth of a deepening network of guests and their continuing contributions.

“Art and Craft” (2014), for example, is a thought-provoking documentary profiling master art forger Mark Landis, but arrives at the festival with the film’s composer, Stephen Ulrich, himself invited through a festival friend. (Ulrich also performs during the festival with his band Big Lazy.)

Likewise, former Richmonder Kevin McNeer, who now lives and works in Russia, suggested the closing screening of “The Last Limousine,” a Russian doc he worked on about the famed Russian automotive plant Zil.

The festival opens Thursday, April 9, with a free reception at the Visual Arts Center. Admission prices vary for screenings, but there also are a lot of free programs, including a screening of Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane,” preceding the reception at the Main Richmond Public Library. S

For the full program of the James River Film Festival, with show times and ticket prices, visit