- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 28, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - With an electric six-string cellist and an orchestra playing a fusion of classical-jazz and hip-hop, the sixth annual Richmond International Film Festival kicked off and will run through Sunday, featuring more than 150 films from more than 35 countries as well as more than 50 bands and other musical performers.

The diverse lineup and competitive nature evoke the South by Southwest festival that will be held next week in Austin, Texas. Heather Waters, founder and producer of the Richmond event, says this year is different from the past. In its premiere, the festival featured only 15 films. This week, it will show 10 times as many and offer a full range of musical acts.

“This is the year I decided to go full blown with the music festival side,” Waters said.

Waters has performed in film and music since she was a child in Nashville, Tennessee. When she moved to Richmond seven years ago, she noticed that the city lacked a competitive film festival, such as Sundance in Utah. As a member of the Virginia Producers Association, which has brought film productions such as “Lincoln” to the commonwealth, Waters wanted to help showcase Richmond’s talent.

“I absolutely love working with other creatives and promoting them, developing them, so really I was inspired by that,” Waters said. “Richmond has so many things going for it. This is something that can help really support the development of artists here and economic development through tourism.”

Waters isn’t the only one looking forward to working with other artists.

In a crescendo of heavy beats and brasswind notes, Ryan Easter rapped along with the other members of the Trap Music Orchestra for their debut in Richmond. The performance was the festival’s opening act on Monday night.

“We’re incredibly excited,” Easter said. “It felt cool to do a musical act in a space that doesn’t entirely focus on music - to really get a better feel of what the community of the arts is like in Richmond.”

Events are being held all over the city at locations such as the Byrd Theatre, Bow Tie Movieland at Boulevard Square and The Broadberry. Most events are open to the public and range from professionally led workshops to live music.

Tuesday was the premiere of “The Last Punch,” a film based on the last fight of Muhammad Ali. The director, Jesse Vaughan, held a workshop before the film. Karon Riley, the actor who plays Muhammad Ali, also was at the festival.

On Wednesday evening, Smoothe da Hustler and Trigger tha Gambler will perform at the Broadberry. Smoothe just finished a feature film with fellow rapper and actor Ice-T. Waters said Smoothe is coming to Richmond to complete the soundtrack to the film, which includes hit artists like Jay-Z and Beyonce.

French actress Irene Jacob will be in Richmond to attend the Thursday screening of the film “Tales of Mexico,” in which she stars. That evening, she will perform jazz with her brother, Francis Jacob, at the Hofheimer Building in Scott’s Addition.

Friday evening is the VIP Gala at the Hofheimer. The late-night party will have musical performances by hip-hop musicians from the U.S. and internationally. Despite the exclusivity implied by the event’s name, the general public can buy tickets to the Gala.

On Saturday, the Byrd Theatre will host “Women in Film Spotlight,” featuring three short films by female directors. “‘Year of the woman’ is a theme we are wrapping into some of our events,” Waters said.

On Sunday, the festival will end with a Red Carpet Awards Ceremony. Awards will be given to films, filmmakers and musicians.

Like South by Southwest, the Richmond International Film Festival is competitive. Unlike curated film festivals, all movies and music must be submitted to be featured. Then at the festival, all films and performances compete for honors. Some of the winners are selected by the audience and others by a jury of professionals.

Tickets can be purchased online at rvafilmfestival.com. Prices generally range from $10 to $15 for tickets to individual events and $25 to $400 for multiple-event access passes. While most of the events are open to the public, some are exclusive to filmmakers, musicians, full-access pass holders or VIP pass members.

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