GREENSBORO — A young Naval lieutenant from Greensboro killed in a helicopter crash. The Guatemalan woman who took sanctuary in a local church. A journey to the rings of Saturn, guided by a city filmmaker. The Grammy Award-winning musician with local roots. An actor from Kosovo who graduated from Greensboro College.

This year’s Winston-Salem-based RiverRun International Film Festival features several films with Greensboro ties.

“This year in particular, Greensboro has a great influence on the festival’s programming,” said Rob Davis, the festival’s executive director.

Most festival films will be screened in Winston-Salem venues, but eight of its 175 films will be shown at Red Cinemas, 1305 Battleground Ave. in Greensboro.

This documentary stems from the death of U.S. Navy Lt. J. Wesley Van Dorn, a Greensboro native and 2002 graduate of Southeast Guilford High School.

Wes Van Dorn, a 29-year-old U.S. Naval Academy graduate, died when the helicopter he was piloting crashed about 20 miles off the Virginia coast during a January 2014 training exercise. Motivated by her grief, his wife, Nicole, sought an explanation.

Her efforts spurred an investigation by The Virginian-Pilot newspaper and the Investigative Reporting Program affiliated with the University of California,Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.

It uncovered a long history of negligence and institutional failings around the 53E helicopter — the model Van Dorn was piloting when he was killed, and the deadliest aircraft in the U.S. military.

Screenings: 5:30 p.m. April 10 at Red Cinemas, 1305 Battleground Ave., Greensboro, 336-230-1620; 7:30 p.m. April 11, Hanesbrands Theatre, 209 N. Spruce St., Winston-Salem, 336-747-1414.

Kosovan actor Kushtrim Hoxha, a 2003 graduate of Greensboro College, stars in this drama set in the early 1990s in his homeland.

Hoxha plays Fadil, an archivist forced to make difficult choices for his family as Civil War looms ever larger in their daily life. With pressure coming from all sides, he must choose his allegiances carefully or risk losing everything.

Now 40, Hoxha well remembers the chaos of his youth in Kosovo.

“Sometimes it’s very hard to imagine how we survived,” he said by email from New York, where he now lives with his wife and two children.

Hoxha and his mother, Igball, were thrown out of their home in Kosovo in 1999. They and other refugees came to California. Project Concern sent him to Greensboro College.

Theater professor David Schram, Hoxha said, “took a chance on me, guided me to my graduation being a mentor and a friend.”

After graduation, Hoxha worked for the U.S. Army. The war in Kosovo had ended, so he returned to work as an actor. That led him to The Old Globe/University of San Diego MFA program, where he graduated in 2014.

He moved to New York and appeared on such TV shows as “Madam Secretary,” “The Americans” and “Blue Bloods.” The director and producer of “Cold November” thought that Hoxha fit well the part of Fadil.

Hoxha plans to attend its RiverRun screenings, and speak to students at Greensboro College.

“It’s only appropriate that on the 20th year anniversary that I came as a refugee to Greensboro, I am coming back ... this time not as a refugee but as a lead actor of an international feature movie,” he said.

Screenings: 10:30 a.m. April 5, 5 p.m. April 6 and 8, Aperture Cinema 2, 311 W. Fourth St., Winston-Salem, 336-722-8148.

Amid many serious films, there are some laughs. This comedy was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival.

A successful “house tuner” in New York City, who calibrates the sound in people’s homes to adjust their moods, meets an insomniac client with a problem he can’t solve.

Writer-director Michael Tyburski and producer Ben Nabors will attend the comedy’s screening. Nabors grew up in Burlington.

Screening: 8 p.m. April 6, Main Theatre at UNC School of the Arts, 1533 S. Main St., Winston-Salem, 336-721-1945.


Juana Luz Tobar Ortega immigrated to the United States more than 25 years ago as an asylum seeker from Guatemala.

But in 2017, she was told that she had 30 days to leave the country or be deported. Refusing to leave her family and home, Juana took sanctuary at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Greensboro.

The 26-minute film screens as part of the NC Shorts 1 block of short documentary films. Davis saw it at the New Orleans Film Festival, and calls it “a very well done short documentary.”

Screenings: 2 p.m. April 7 and 3:30 p.m. April 12, Hanesbrands Theatre, 209 N. Spruce St., Winston-Salem, 336-747-1414.

Stephen van Vuuren of Greensboro painstakingly created the technologically groundbreaking film over 12 years, using more than 7.5 million photographs from space.

The founder of SV2 Studios, he used a process called multiplane photo animation — developed as a cinematic art form by Walt Disney — to seamlessly join and animate the photos to full motion.

Narrated by actor LeVar Burton, the film takes viewers on a journey through space, from the Big Bang to the rings of Saturn.

Screening: 1 p.m. April 13, Main Theatre at UNC School of the Arts, 1533 S. Main St., Winston-Salem, 336-721-1945. A panel discussion with the directors and others involved in making the film will follow.

Directed by John Whitehead, the film documents the journey of three African-Americans — Greensboro’s Rhiannon Giddens as well as Dom Flemons and Justin Robinson — from the hip-hop generation who found a mentor in 87-year-old fiddler Joe Thompson.

They embraced and revived an African-American musical tradition that been nearly lost — the black string band. Their 2010 album, “Genuine Negro Jig,” won the Grammy Award for best traditional folk album.

Giddens has gone on to release solo albums, win a 2017 “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation and the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass.

She recorded her latest album, “Songs of Our Native Daughters,” with Leyla McCalla, Allison Russell and Amythyst Kiah. It was released in February.

Screenings: 8 p.m. April 10, Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, 750 Marguerite Drive, Winston-Salem, 336-725-1904; 5:30 p.m. April 11, Red Cinemas, 1305 Battleground Ave., Greensboro, 336-230-1620.

Birth of the Cool‘

This documentary feature focuses on the late jazz trumpeter Miles Davis.

It explores archival photos and home movies shot by Miles and his colleagues, his manuscripts and Miles’ original paintings, to explore the man behind the music.

UNCG named its jazz studies program after Davis.

Screenings: 8 p.m. April 10, Red Cinemas, 1305 Battleground Ave., Greensboro, 336-230-1620; 8 p.m. April 13, Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, 750 Marguerite Drive, Winston-Salem, 336-725-1904.


Other festival films to be shown at Red Cinemas are:

  • “The Load,” a suspense thriller set in Serbia, 5:30 p.m. April 8.
  • “Freaks,” a surreal thriller layered with dark humor, 8 p.m. April 8.
  • “Alice,” a feature film about a French wife and mother, 5:30 p.m. April 9.
  • “Always in Season,” a feature documentary about the 2015 lynching of a North Carolina teenager, 8 p.m. April 9.
  • “Starfish,” a fantastical musical journey, 8 p.m. April 11.

Contact Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane at 336-373-5204 and follow @dawndkaneNR on Twitter.

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