BY AARON RICHARDSON
As a kid, Ryan Poe would borrow video cameras from neighbors and friends, since he didn’t have one of his own, to pursue his passion for filmmaking.
“I’m notorious for picking up hobbies and dropping them,” Poe says, “but that’s one that’s stuck with me through the years.”
Poe, 25, a native of Fredericksburg—and co-director of the Rapahannock Independent Film Festival–looks like a filmmaker with his dreadlocks, long hipster beard, and two armfuls of tattoos. He’s slight and soft-spoken—a behind-the-lens as well as a behind-the-scenes type.
Most of his own films are non-verbal documentary-style pieces. A Ryan Poe movie will begin with a powerful still image and work from there to tell a story without spoken language.
“Storytelling with images and no words transcends culture-time-language, that sort of thing,” Poe says. “Stylistically I guess that’s what I’m after.”
To pay the bills, Poe works for an audio-visual company called the Whitlock Group, which installed many of the projector systems in UMW classrooms. But that’s just his day job.
The other job he’s had for much of the past year has been working with Fredericksburg Athenaeum director Paul Lewis, logging hundreds of hours putting together the inaugural Rappahannock Independent Film Festival (RIFF), which premieres this weekend.
Poe’s been wanting to see something like RIFF for a long time. Growing up in Fredericksburg, he noticed a gap where film should have been in the local art community. Part of the problem was that Fredericksburg has no theater, and therefore no venue to show films, especially those of independent artists.
“One thing a theater would do is give local filmmakers a venue for their work,” he says.
For years he envisioned his festival as a community-wide event, something that everyone would look forward to and that would put filmmaking in the forefront of the local arts world.
When he went to Lewis to make his pitch last year, Lewis jumped at the idea.
“Things came together serendipitously,” Lewis said, “We sort of decided we would do something that Ryan really wanted and we had some money to do it.”
Putting the festival together was a learning experience for Lewis and Poe. “None of us really knew what we were doing, so we were kind of learning as we went,” Poe said.
Despite the relatively short period of time the crew had, work on the project went quickly, as sponsorship and participation grew fast.
“Even though it’s been about nine months of planning, it’s been a very quick process,” Poe said.
The most daunting challenges faced by the organizers turned out to be the little logistical things that are so often forgotten. Once the films themselves began to come in and the festival looked like it would actually happen, Poe and Lewis had to face basic challenges.
“People ask ‘How can we buy tickets?’ and you think, ‘Oh crap, we haven’t thought of that yet, we have to sell tickets!’” Poe said.
Lewis agrees. “Every day you step out the door, something’s going to fall in your way, but we’re pretty optimistic people. If you want to do something, then you know it’s going to happen,” he says.
Money for the festival came from a combination of contributions by Athenaeum members, and corporate sponsorship. Among the key sponsors were PNC Bank MediCorp Health System, Celebrate Virginia, Ukrop’s/First Market Bank Fund of the Community Foundation of the Rappahannock River Region, TravelHost Magazine of Central Virginia, B-Side and the Silver Companies.
Poe and Lewis worked with a budget of $20,000 to put this year’s RIFF together. A grant for the arts from the Silver companies provided whatever money the organizers could not raise, but little was needed from the grant.
“The endowment from the Silver Companies guaranteed that we had the funds available to fulfill the scope of the festival, but we were actually able to go out and come close to fulfilling the entire budget by soliciting sponsors,” Poe said.
Most of the money that the festival required was used for printing brochures and promotional flyers, and to pay for commemorative t-shirts. The rest of the funds were used to make events like the family film night at Market Square and the after party possible.
For next year, Poe and Lewis would like to organize a more community-centric festival.
“We’re trying to take a harder and longer look at the town so that next year’s festival is more focused on the town, which is important,” Lewis said. Ideally, not only will the festival be happening in future years, but local business owners will be brought on board to host events concurrent with the festival to widen the appeal.
Starting earlier will be key to getting the Mary Washington community involved, something that this year’s festival will lack. Since planning did not start early spring, there was little time to get a strong base of college students involved.
“We’re happy with the community involvement we have but that’s something that we’d like to grow,” Poe said. “We’d like to get the college involved.”