The 11th Annual Beloit International Film Festival begins its 10-day run Friday afternoon. This year's could be the best yet.
Rod Beaudoin has been the executive director of the Beloit International Film Festival, or BIFF, since its founding 11 years ago. He says the festival always had a good range and quality of films, but this year’s lineup is better than ever. Part of the reason is access to a broader range of films. Beaudoin became director of the Hollywood Film Festival several years ago, and this year BIFF had the opportunity to access submissions to that festival.
“There are certain filmmakers that will submit to Telluride or to Sundance or to Hollywood, that it’s difficult for BIFF to get ahold of. So I think the big story this year is the quality of our films. They’re magnificent,” he says.
Adam Fogarty is BIFF’s programming coordinator. He says a number of people across the country help screen and rate the films, winnowing the approximately 1500 submissions down to the 100 or so shown at the Festival. He says films are selected to fill certain categories – such as the Wisconsin-Illinois showdown featuring locally produced films, or the sing-along film musical, but the final list depends on the nature of the entries.
“So if we notice going throughout here that we have a number of films that are family friendly, we will then group those together, see if there is some sort of episodic flow that can be derived. Then we put them into a short slot accordingly,” Fogarty says.
And there is a variety: features, short films, documentaries, foreign language -- films of all types, with a range of plots and storytelling techniques.
Marty Densch is President of the Festival’s Board. He says festivals like BIFF offer filmmakers a chance to have their films seen by an audience. But, he says, what make the Beloit festival different is the choice of venues.
“Ours are in a downtown location – in restaurants, in bars. There’s a much more relaxed social atmosphere involved,” he says.
The result, he says, is a boon for the host businesses as well as the people in the audience. And Densch says it allows for all sorts of interesting encounters.
“I remember seeing a college student who was volunteering for us last year. And he came in, he was just thrilled, he was excited, and he said, ‘you’ll never guess what happened to me. I ran into one of the filmmakers out on the sidewalk, and I thought, do I dare go up and talk to him?” So he said, ‘I did, and he wanted to talk to me!,’ and that’s a very common experience here,” Densch says.
Beaudoin says the social aspect Densch talks about distinguishes Beloit’s from many other festivals and reflects what BIFF is about. It also reflects a commitment to the filmmakers on the part of BIFF since its founding:
“We noticed, when we were doing our research prior to starting BIFF eleven years ago, that very few festivals treated particularly new filmmakers with a great deal of respect. That’s what we’ve done differently and that’s why we get the submissions we do,” he says.
There are films shown in a commercial movie theater, and elsewhere, including Beloit College. For instance, the silent feature -- this year the 1925 version of the Wizard of Oz -- will be shown, accompanied by the Rock River Philharmonic, in Eaton Chapel on the college campus. But the heart of the festival, Densch and Beaudoin say, is the mix of non-traditional spaces, and the community interaction with the filmmakers.
Beaudoin says all that has allowed BIFF to attain a tremendous reputation in the industry.
“It is one of the most well-respected small community festivals in. the. world,” Beaudoin says emphatically.
It’s even more amazing when you consider that BIFF’s budget is a fraction of many other well-known film festivals. A key part of that success is community support – around 400 volunteers throughout the year who work to pull it all off. Beaudoin says he’s grateful, but he’s also mindful that support must continue to maintain what the festival has achieved. He hopes the public is mindful of that, too.
“It takes people to stay aware and cognizant of the importance of the entire community’s involvement, and that one message I’d like to get out,” he says.
And as long as people in the community are willing to do that, filmmakers, and film lovers, from around the world will find a home in Beloit.