The Theory of Almost Everything 

What to watch at the incredibly crowded Richmond International Film Festival.

click to enlarge "Love Thy Nature"

"Love Thy Nature"

Film festivals often try the most devoted film fans’ stamina, and the fourth annual Richmond International Film Festival is no exception.

The competitive festival is a four-day marathon of films, Q&A’s, mixers and an awards ceremony, as well as a music showcase, youth outreach day and festival mixer. There’s also the new Flow Collective on Feb. 28, a symposium that offers several panels, talks and roundtables featuring speakers and guests as diverse as author David Baldacci and former NBA star and University of Richmond alumnus Johnny Newman.

If you skip every film you could still wear yourself out by attending, and there are more than 120 features and shorts from which to choose. Many of them play simultaneously at different venues, so difficult decisions must be made.

Though we’d like to highlight two or three or even 10 times as many, here are the suggestions that could be squeezed into one article. Note: Screening times may not include preceding short films. Check rvafilmfestival.com for details.



“Wish You Well” — The festival’s opening-night showcase feature, “Wish You Well,” is the screen adaptation of David Baldacci’s (“Absolute Power”) pastoral about a young girl (Mackenzie Foy from “Interstellar”) and her grandmother (Ellen Burstyn) fighting to save the elder’s rural Virginia land from developers (Josh Lucas co-stars). It offers striking vistas as well as stars, with Virginia locations as the film’s uncredited co-star. It was a tough February day when Baldacci and other production principals went to see the Southwest Virginia site that would stand in for the mountaintop farm fought for by the novel’s matriarch, inspired in part by Baldacci’s maternal grandmother. They’d narrowed the tract in Giles County down from around 30 to 40 localities when a local official drove them up the mountain in blinding snow. “We were pushing tree branches out of the way,” Baldacci recalls of the drive. “There’s no guard rails up there. I remember saying, ‘If we survive this, we’re going to make a hell of a film.’” Baldacci survived and is scheduled to attend a Q&A following the opening-night screening, 7:15 at the Byrd Theatre.

click to enlarge "Wish You Were Here"
  • "Wish You Were Here"

“WildLike” — A seeming inverse of Baldacci’s “Wish You Well,” Frank Hall Green’s debut feature tells a contemporary rural story of a young girl also under the care of an older relative and caretaker, whose abuse puts her to flight. Her sojourn sends her precariously deep into the Alaskan wilderness, where she cautiously bonds with a loner on his own personal journey. Feb. 28, 4 p.m. at the Byrd.

“Force Majeure” — More snowy vistas promise less coming together and more coming apart in a sometimes-savage satire from director Ruben Östlund. It’s an avalanche of unfiltered comic commentary on marriage and family life during an ostensibly idyllic ski trip in the French Alps, an attempt to find the reality amid the contrived perfect vacation. The Golden Globe-nominated film screens as part of an entire contingent of Swedish cinema taking place throughout the festival. Feb. 26, 7 p.m. at the Bowtie Movieland.

“Doomsdays” — This home invasion tale plays like a much more talky, comic riff on the Korean indie “3-Iron” from more than a decade ago. Despite being a little late to the subject, “Doomsdays” looks like winner for those seeking lighthearted hijinks. Feb. 27, 8:15 p.m. at the Bowtie Criterion.



“Love Thy Nature” — Many recent eco-friendly documentaries have concentrated on the causes and symptoms of environmental problems. According to director Sylvie Rokab, “Love Thy Nature” is an attempt to do something different, to bridge the divide between humanity’s essential connection to the planet and intellectual exile. Liam Neeson provides extra weight to the doc’s investigation with his gravelly yet thoughtful narration. March 1, 3:30 p.m. at the Bowtie Criterion.

“Target of Opportunity” — This true-crime doc follows the lengthy case of the death of a college student vacationing in Virginia Beach, last seen in the company of two Navy SEAL trainees who give multiple conflicting stories to investigators. Feb. 27, 6:30 p.m. at the Virginia Historical Society.

click to enlarge "120 Days"
  • "120 Days"

“120 Days” — With more than 10 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, stories such as “120 Days” seem a fitting way to compassionately approach the subject. It follows a man and his decision whether to follow a court order and leave the country voluntarily in fourth months, or change his name and pull his wife and daughter back into a world of hiding. March 1, 11:15 a.m. at the Bowtie Criterion.

“Living in a Food Desert” — The marginalization of fresh produce at major grocery stores across the U.S. is analogous to the stark reality faced by many urban and rural Virginians. They often can’t even make it to the nice grocery store with the marginalized produce section. This doc, produced for Virginia State University’s College of Agriculture, attempts to define and demonstrate the toll of food deserts, defined by the Department of Agriculture as “urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.” Screens March 1, 5 p.m. at the Byrd, with a discussion featuring Virginia first lady Dorothy McAuliffe and others to follow.

Short Subject

The festival kicks off with half day of short films at 11 a.m. at the Byrd Theatre on Thursday, Feb. 26, but that isn’t the festival’s only short film showcase, and shorts precede many of the features. It’s a wildly diverse group, from documentary to experimental. For information on all the festival programming, visit rvafilmfestival.com. S



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