The Beloit International Film Festival IS a great festival that lives up to its reputation. People that have seen me since or read Chris’ last post may think that it’s easy to say BIFF is a great fest because I won an award. Or because they start throwing booze and food down your neck the moment you arrive. Or because they ferry you about in limos. Or because of the Hospitality Lounge for filmmakers and press or because of the Awards event and Press Conference. Or because they throw a good party.
There’s no question, all of that IS fun. Damn fun. But that’s not what makes it a great festival. What makes it great is that there’s no question that it’s a festival made BY film lovers FOR film lovers.
From the moment we arrived in town, we were welcomed and connected with a warm, enthusiastic festival staff and audience and filmmakers from around the world.
We barely had our first coffee the morning we arrived before this year’s Honorary Chair, filmmaker Greg Lamberson, came up to introduce himself along with his longtime collaborator, writer-actor Robert Sabin. I can’t imagine two nicer fellows than these two, who only reinforced that we were in for a great time at the festival.
We met dear Amelah Resnik in the flesh for the first time and checked into our suite at the hotel and attempted to get sparkly in time for the Awards Ceremony and Press Conference. Actor Rob Fulton was racing to meet us there after flying for a day from Santiago Chile where he had been shooting.
Any resolve to appear tough flew out the window when it was announced that I won the award for Best Screenplay. Cocktail dress or no, I blubbed teary eyed at the microphone, twice, at both the private and public presentation. New friends Greg Lamberson and Robert Sabin cheered and clapped like old friends when I made my way back to my seat. Nothing cynical about those two. Between them and Amelah Resnik, I truly felt like I was being cheered on. Several people came up to me over the course of the evening’s reception to congratulate me, but I was very touched by Heidi, a local student who wanted to introduce herself and congratulate me because she thought it was really cool that a woman won the screenwriting award. She had noticed that film seems to have more men than women – or she felt at least, that men seemed to get recognized more and that you don’t see a lot of girls up there at the awards. Heidi wants to write herself, so I thought it best to include a snapshot of us together here. So that we can all recognize her in a few years when she starts to win her awards.
Across the board, filmmakers are treated as artists with something of value to contribute to the community – and by extension – the culture, from the very first invitation to screen at the festival.
In the Hospitality Lounge on Saturday, I thanked a volunteer for looking after “us” – meaning all filmmakers at the fest – and for working so hard.
He smiled with real warmth and said “Oh I’m just a volunteer. Thank YOU for bringing your work to us here”. I apologize that I do not remember the gentleman’s name.
BIFF is a new festival, and I will admitthat we have had screenings at other festivals that have also been full and sold out – but that was at least partly down to an extraordinary amount of advance hustle and effort on our part. Certainly I do think that it’s part of the filmmakers’ job to be “good festival attendees”; that is to say, promote your film so that your screening and the festival gets an audience; be available for panels & Q&A’s, etc., and just be “present”.
But sometimes, it feels like we do that in a vacuum. Not so in Beloit. Combining the awards with a press conference was brilliant – as is broadcasting radio live from the Hospitality Lounge. Thank you WCLO’s Stan Milam Show and Ron Nief for inviting us to the interview line-up. Thank you Becky Rogers.
We have the excellent Craig Allen who designed new smaller BIFF-specific posters along with our standard larger poster, which we had printed & shipped to the fest arriving a week in advance of the festival. Volunteers were in place to poster the town with our 200 posters… easily paving the way for our arrival with t-shirts and buttons in hand. Thank you PR Volunteers.
The community of Beloit made us feel so welcome, and that goes beyond festival staff and volunteers. Audiences attended screenings. Residents offered rides. The foursome representing our feature would gather back in our suite at the truly comfortable Beloit Inn and say to each other “Are these the nicest people you have ever met?!?” and compare stories. Robert went to the bank simply to change currency and got asked by the tellers if he was in town with a film. When he told them yes and gave them Devil’s Tail buttons, they said “oh yes, that sounds like a great movie, already have that circled in the schedule” and showed him a copy they had handy!
A final sweet note on which to end: a member of Housekeeping at the Beloit Inn came to clean the room on Friday, while Chris & I were at work preparing for our first screening that night. I apologized and told her I hoped we weren’t in her way and she said the same. We all returned to our work and as she was leaving she said “I saw you won Best Screenplay last night; congratulations!” Chris and I stared at each other, jaws dropped. “I never want to leave this town” I said.
Thanks finally to Festival Director Rod Beaudoin. He signed correspondence to filmmakers “thank you for your art”. Maybe it’s best to just say “You are most welcome.”