In an effort to further promote the development of new filmmaking talent, RiverRun again joined forces with universities in the region to present Pitch Fest. This year, student filmmakers from six universities in North Carolina and Virginia pitched their documentary ideas in the virtual realm for our panel of filmmaking professionals in the hopes of being awarded a cash prize and recognition within the industry. The judges deliberated remotely, and recognized the following pitches. First place was awarded for America vs. Herself, directed by Kiersten Houser from UNC Wilmington. Second place was awarded to The Subway, directed by Gannon La Croix of James Madison University. All of the virtual pitches can be viewed below.


America vs. Herself
: Kiersten Houser, 1st year MFA candidate in Film Studies at UNC-Wilmington

America vs. Herself is a collective personal essay documentary chronicling the crew’s capture of the 2020 presidential election results in Washington, DC. After realizing their original goal of capturing moments of unity on camera wasn’t obtainable, the group must come to terms with the reality: America has a much wider divide than anticipated. Returning to North Carolina, the group realizes their passion for unity isn’t lost. Local government and small-town achievements, as shown through footage of interviews with lawmakers and leaders, can help bridge the political gap one step (or vote) at a time.


The Subway: Gannon La Croix, Junior Media Arts and Design Major at James Madison University

Phil Lucas is an award-winning 77-year-old caver. Underneath his property in Highland County, Virginia lies a treasure that is the work of several hundred thousand years of natural beauty. This area is also environmentally significant as a large range of biological and geological studies are currently ongoing discovering new things every year.

At a CrossRoads: Emily Prins, Sophomore Cinema & Television Arts Major & Baldwin Sappenfield, Junior Cinema & Television Arts Major at Elon University

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, over 250 cases of human trafficking were reported in North Carolina in 2019. Human trafficking is a topic that is layered with stigma and misinformation, but organizations such as CrossRoads in Burlington, NC are working to provide survivors with hope and healing along with educating the local community. At a CrossRoads centers on Bria Miller (Volunteer and Community Engagement Coordinator) and Shannon Finney (Human Trafficking Advocate) as they clear up misconceptions about human trafficking and explain how their work at Crossroads has impacted them.

Empty Sanctuary: Nicholas Masalleras, Sophomore in Media Production and Entrepreneurship at High Point University *(Spencer Cook, Ben Frondorf, Drew Dacey, and Brittany Secraw)

Churches have been the most affected community groups during the Pandemic. Churches are developing live stream systems in record times, often without money. Congregation members have felt disconnected from their church community. Small groups haven’t met in person, breaking down “bridges” between the community. Our documentary focuses on the many challenges churches have faced in adapting to an online-only format, as well as congregation members and how they connect during this time. How are church leaders adapting? How are members affected? How are they overcoming these new barriers? What are the long-term effects churches will have, both positive and negative?

Keghead’s Last Ride: Brent Kirkland, Second year MFA candidate in the Documentary Film
Program at Wake Forest University

For 40 years, the “Keghead” has delivered beer to Reno, Nevada’s oldest bars and restaurants. That ride comes to an end when he is taken off his route and moved to sales. A man who thrives on hard work and relationships he’s built along his route, trades in steel-toed boots for slacks and a tablet, as his company shifts to an Amazon sales model: order online, delivery at your door, no human contact. Told through the eyes of a son and his blue-collared dad, Keghead’s Last Ride explores identity and community, capturing a man and a city in transition.

Philly Drive: Clarke Phillips, UNC School of the Arts

This short documentary briefly highlights the haves and the have nots of Philadelphia through the perspective of a car window narrated by Clarke Phillips and Nick Taliaferro, Uncle Billy. Throughout the duration of the drive, Uncle Billy explains how the streets have changed since he was a kid for better and for worse. Clarke and Uncle Billy  explore several topics ranging from sex trafficking to the needle exchange while also unpacking philosophical ideas like the theory of social homicidal violence.