“This has been such an incredible 11 days,” said Mary Dossinger.

With Sunday’s closingnight screening of Whit Stillman’s Jane Austen adaptation Love & Friendship, the 18th annual RiverRun International Film Festival came to a close, having screened 166 films – 76 features and 90 shorts, representing 44 countries — during its 11-day run in Winston-Salem.

At the screening, which took place at the ACE Exhibition Complex on the UNCSA campus and was standing-room-only (among those in attendance was Winston-Salem mayor Allen Joines), RiverRun program manager Dossinger expressed her appreciation to the staff, sponsors, volunteers, filmmakers and, perhaps most important, the audiences who came out to support the festival and revel in the magic of movies.

Exact ticket sales and attendance have not been tabulated as yet, but both Dossingerand operations manager Mickey Flynn told this reporter at Friday’s Spark Party that preliminary estimates indicate that this year’s festival was on track to equal, or possibly surpass, last year’s in terms of attendance. “It’s gonna be close,” Flynn smiled.

Even the first weekend’s cold snap, the latest bout of unpredictable weather to loom over RiverRun during its history, didn’t dampen spirits or discourage ticket buyers. With the temperature hovering around 50 degrees, the free outdoor screening of Jumanji (1995) on April 9 had to be moved indoors – but Dossinger noted that the auditorium was still filled near capacity.

The Spark Party also saw a surprise visit from Andrew Rodgers, former executive director of the festival, come to visit wife Iana and their two daughters, long-time friends and co-workers, and even journalists covering the event.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, to which he replied:

“Who invited you?” Some things never change. On Sunday, Dossinger also announced the audience and jury awards for the 2016 festival. “The films showcased at our festival this year reflected diverse stories from around the world, important social issues, immense talent from both emerging and established directors, and a host of passionate projects that are jewels of the independent filmmaking community,” she said in an official statement. “With more than 1,500 submissions this year, our programming team had many hard choices to make to complete the program, and juries really responded to the films we chose and said it was difficult to make their final decisions.”

Indeed, on Sunday she said, “I believe this was one of our longest deliberations ever.”

Anna Rose Holmer’s debut feature The Fits won the Best Narrative Feature award, and young Royalty Hightower (also making her feature debut) won the Best Actress award. Radu Muntean of One Floor Below received the Peter Brunette award for Best Director, and the film also won Best Screenplay for Muntean, Alexandra Baciu and Razvan Radulescu. The Best Ensemble award went to Jackson Martin, Nick Serino and Reece Moffett (the latter pair having never acted before) in Andrew Cividino’s Sleeping Giant.

Mike Plunkett’s Salero copped the Best Documentary Feature award, and Plunkett was selected as Best Director – Documentary Feature. RiverRun’s Humanitarian award was presented to Geeta Gandbhir and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s documentary A Journey of a Thousand Miles: Peacekeepers, and a Special Jury prize “for illuminating the Art & Legacy of Documentary Filmmaking” was given to Kristen Johnson’s Cameraperson.

The award for Best Documentary Short went to Alison Klayman’s The 100 Years Show, and Josh Gibson’s Journey to the Sea received a Special Jury prize for Artistic Achievement. The Best Narrative Short went to Philippe Lasry’s Cat, and Best Student Narrative Short to Christopher de las Alas’ For Ofelia. Nina Gantz’s Edmond won Best Animated Short, with honorable mentions going to We Can’t Live Without Cosmos (Konstantin Bronzit), The Orchestra (Mikey Hill), and Perfect Houseguest (Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter).

RiverRun audiences also selected their favorites. The “Best in Fest” audience award went to Catherine Ryan and Gary Weimberg’s My Love Affair With the Brain: The Life and Science of Dr. Marian Diamond. The Kilpatrick Townsend & Stocktown LLP audience award for Best Narrative Feature went to Petra Costa and Lea Glob’s Olmo & The Seagull. The Best Documentary Feature audience award went to Keith Maitland’s Tower, and the Altered States audience award for Best Indie went to Kerem Sanga’s First Girl I Loved. The RiverRun Pitch Fest competition’s first-place winner was Daddy, co-directed by John Gallen and Alex Faoro of the Documentary Film Program at Wake Forest University, and the runner-up was Rebuilding, co-directed by Amory Parks, Lauren Duncan and Jacky Shacknow of Elon University.

Although his documentary feature The Missing Ingredient didn’t win an award, Michael Sparaga said he feels like a winner anyway. The Toronto-based filmmaker had never been to RiverRun before, and scheduled his annual Hilton Head getaway immediately after his first-week screenings.

“Honestly, I was having such a good time at RiverRun it was the first time I wasn’t looking forward to my vacation!” he said. “RiverRun was spectacular all around. My first screening was on a weekday afternoon and I was worried there wouldn’t be many people in attendance, but when I entered the Hanesbrands Theatre I was greeted by a huge crowd. The screening itself could not have gone any better: Big reactions, big applause, and a lively and thoughtful Q&A that went on forever. It was the same at my second screening a few days later.

“When you go to a festival, it’s never about the awards,” Sparaga said. “It’s about having the opportunity to show something you worked so hard on to a receptive audience, and RiverRun firmly delivered.”

For a complete summary of the 2016 RiverRun International Film Festival, including photo and video highlights, check out the official website: https://riverrunfes.wpengine.com/ !