The 15th annual Beloit International Film Festival opens Friday.
Greg Gerard has been with the Beloit International Film Festival, or BIFF, since it was founded by Rod Beaudoin fifteen years ago. Gerard, a singer/songwriter who started with no formal film background, said he’s done just about every job needed to help make it run. That includes the last couple of years serving as executive director.
“It’s been a really interesting journey," he said. "And I’ve learned a lot. I’ve definitely increased my skill set.”
Aside from special events -- a silent movie, a sing-along, and such -- new independent, films are the stars. The festival presents multiple screenings each day over ten days, many with the film’s makers in attendance, at venues throughout the city’s downtown. Short, long, live, animated, documentary, drama, comedy -- a little more than 100 films. They were culled down from 780 submissions that had to be watched and scored by Gerard and a team of screeners over the past year. Gerard says technical and writing prowess were just the start of the discussions.
“Sometimes the numbers only reflect, you know," he said, "what a couple of the judges had to say. But then you wonder, ‘Okay, how’s that going to work with our audience?’ Always have to keep our audience in mind.”
Gerard said it’s hard to choose favorites from this year’s batch of films, but a couple stood out for him. One, a film titled “The Grizzlies,” is set in an indigenous village in northern Canada.
“These remote communities are notorious for depression, lot of alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence," he said. "It ends up featuring a young man from Toronto who comes and teaches these young kids how to play lacrosse. You’re going to shed a tear and you’re going to want to applaud.”
Gerard says he’s interested in what audiences will think about another festival entry he’s really high on, “Frances Ferguson.”
“It’s just a quirky comedy with the sort of writing I sort of love," he said, "narrated by Nick Offerman, from ‘Parks & Recreation.’ The story follows the experiences of a young woman who is a substitute teacher at a high school and ends up in a little bit of a fling with a student, and the aftermath of that -- but it’s incredibly funny.”
At fifteen, BIFF seems to be going strong. The secret to its success? Gerard said, for one, he, his staff and the festival’s board all work nonstop to get and keep things running smoothly.
“Everybody works their butt off," he said. "The second thing is hospitality. Filmmakers comment about it all the time that we are one of the friendliest, most accommodating film festivals that they’ve ever been to.”
But, Gerard said, the festival couldn’t function without an army of dedicated volunteers or prosper without support from the wider community. He said he’s watched that grow over the years as Beloit claimed ownership of BIFF.
“When we first got started," he said, "I think people were a little bit skeptical: ‘What is all this film festival? What is all that about?’ And now, you know -- it went from ‘that’ film festival, to ‘our’ film festival, ‘You’ve got to come and see our film festival.’”
Gerard said BIFF reaches out with youth and community projects the rest of the year. That helps foster support and new audiences, too.
Plans for the sixteenth festival are already forming. Gerard said he and his team will start the screening process for next year, just weeks after the fifteenth finishes its run. But right now, for BIFF, it’s showtime.