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Two international film festivals collaborate for a wider reach

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Denise Jans/ Unsplash.com
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A southern Wisconsin film festival is working with another organization to showcase movies from Southeast Asia.

Greg Gerard is the executive director of the Beloit International Film Festival. He said the collaboration between it and the Luang Prabang Film Festival in Laos wouldn’t have happened without Beloit native Nicholas Simon. Gerard said Simon had a love for renovating old theaters and that’s how they met.

“And then we started to develop a relationship. He's since been really a force for us,” Gerard explained. “He's helping us with becoming an Oscar-qualifying-shorts Film Festival.

Gerard describes Simon as an Indiana Jones type guy who travels the world looking for treasure. His travels landed him in Southeast Asia, where he founded a production company in Bangkok, Thailand.

Sean Chadwell is the executive director of the Luang Prabang Film Festival. Chadwell shared that this is the only time they’ve worked with a film festival in the U.S.

Chadwell said he wasn’t familiar with the city of Beloit and was trying to make sense of the partnership. He mentioned how Simon pointed out that higher education institutions not too far away – such as Northern Illinois University -- have programs devoted to the study of Southeast Asian culture. He said Simon told him that this partnership would complement those platforms.

“We think we're bringing really cool programming that's going to open some eyes and engage people in conversation about the region,” Chadwell explained.

Gerard said another pro about the alliance is that it will put more eyes on the city of Beloit.

“Even just the educational outreach that we're doing, it's going to bring fresh eyes and ears to downtown Beloit,” he said. “And part of our duty in exchange for the support that we get from the city of Beloit is to bring more foot traffic to our city center.”

Gerard said this partnership will not only bring visitors to Beloit, but it will also strengthen the festival’s quality. He said that’s important because it competes with other major festivals in the vicinity.

“Well at least, for sure, two really big film festivals that are right nearby,” he said. “And then of course, Chicago is just, you know, 90 minutes away. But Milwaukee is a huge film festival. And Madison's Wisconsin Film Festival is huge.”

He said those have much bigger budgets than the Beloit one does. But Gerard said he wants to show that BIFF is the little film festival that could.

Chadwell added that it’s nice to make a connection with another film festival director and learn that they experience similar roadblocks in mounting their events.

The festival will showcase some Luang Prabang Film Festival audience favorites. Chadwell explained that one documentary focuses on the love of Burmese poetry. He said two producers decided to travel and talk to people about the history and the regime that controlled Myanmar.

“Everybody wants to tell the story of being oppressed, or you know, the struggles of living under a dictatorship,” he suggested, “and you just can't do that very easily.”

Chadwell said the Burma Storybook gives a fascinating and revealing insight into the culture. He said another film that will be shown, highlights the world’s twelfth longest river. The organization pulled together directors in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.

“And had them produce a short fictional story set on the Mekong River in the year 2030,” he said, “as a way of getting the rest of the world to think about the threats to this river, which is enormously important in that part of the world.”

This five-part anthology has won awards and has been shown all over the world.

Chadwell said that the pandemic has impacted the stability of film festivals across the world. He’s not sure how many will survive.

“But for festivals like Beloit and Luang Prabang, working together, it looks like a way forward for us," he explained. "It's a way for us to stay in the game. We can't have a live event. We struggle to have a sponsored online event that will cover its own costs.”

The Luang Prabang Film Festival will showcase at the Beloit International Film Festival Feb. 25 through Mar. 6. The two festivals also plan to conduct roundtable discussions about contemporary Southeast Asian film and filmmakers.

  • Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.