Arts & Entertainment

BIFF: Where It’s Lights, Camera, Audience Reaction!

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BIFF’s feature film is “A Lonely Place For Dying,” set in 1972 in an abandoned prison on the U.S./Mexican border. A KGB agent with Russian intelligence about CIA spies awaits a press contact, who will give him asylum in America. But will the CIA’s assassin arrive first?

For the sixth year, the Beloit International Film Festival will shine a spotlight on the magic of the movies and its magicians.

During its four-day run, the festival – short form, BIFF – will showcase national and international filmmakers and their works, while providing opportunities for them to speak with viewers about their art. This grassroots enterprise of Beloit entrepreneurs and scholars has grown exponentially since its inception, and has earned the city and its organizers accolades and respect among independent filmmakers.

The festival begins on Thursday, Feb. 17, with screenings scheduled in various venues around the city from 5-11:30 p.m. From 5-7 p.m. at the Eclipse Center is “Launch & Laurels,” the annual BIFF kick-off event to welcome entrants and announce the BIFF 2011 Filmmaker Award recipients.

Then, screenings continue each day, from Feb. 18-20, beginning at noon. Venue locations range from local restaurants and businesses to public meeting spaces. Seating capacities vary from 30 to 750, and many restaurants will offer special BIFF menu items and pricing.

This year’s chair honors will be shared by two former BIFF grant recipients, C.K. Lichtenstein II of Portland, Ore., and Jack Bennett of Seattle. Lichtenstein is a self-taught producer of such independent, small-budget films as “The Sexy Chef” and “Cathedral Park.” Bennett, a native of Shopiere, Wis., has acted, directed and edited on projects ranging from narrative films to documentaries and music videos.

BIFF offers special programming and events, also. The Silent Film Showcase, at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 19, at the Eclipse Center, is a BIFF signature event. Here, a classic silent film is screened to the accompaniment of the entire Beloit Janesville Symphony, under the direction of Maestro Robert Tomaro. This year, it’s “The General,” 1927, with Buster Keaton, the “stone-faced comic,” in what is considered one of the best silent comedies ever made. Its $750,000 budget was huge for its day.

The “Kids First!” program, from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at Beloit Public Library, gives children the chance to learn about how to be discerning film viewers. This year, participants will learn basic production, write a script, choose roles, prepare, and then direct and shoot a short film.

The action doesn’t stop when the screens fade to black, however. At BIFF After Dark (BAD) parties, festivities continue into the wee hours of the morning, both Friday and Saturday. BAD venues are still to be confirmed.

One of BIFF’s biggest draws every year is its array of short films. All fewer than 30 minutes, they’re grouped into “Short Slots” and, as always, this year’s selection promises to be diverse and entertaining.

A new opportunity this year is “Cinema Café: Wake Up Downtown with a Filmmaker.” On Saturday morning, Beloit downtown businesses will be offering breakfast and a chance to talk with visiting filmmakers. “It will be a great way to start the day, and even see some of the filmmakers’ works before the scheduled films start around town,” says Executive Director Rod Beaudoin.

C.K. Lichtenstein

The event’s success has many contributing factors. First is the enthusiastic response filmmakers get from audiences. “Filmmakers internationally are taking Beloit seriously and asking to be a part of BIFF,” says Beaudoin. “It bears out our approach of promoting and encouraging those documentary and short filmmakers, who don’t usually get a lot of respect at other festivals. People are calling us, because they’ve heard just how great this festival is and what a warm reception they can anticipate from the Beloit audience.”

Another reason is the way BIFF involves the entire community, utilizing several film venues throughout Beloit. Among the downtown establishments to host screenings: The Eclipse Center; Bushel & Peck’s Local Market; Bagels & More; Casa Grande Mexican Restaurant; Domenico’s Italian Restaurant; The Metropolitan Restaurant, a new participant this year and BIFF’s first Janesville venue; and Beloit Public Library, where children’s films will be shown.

Organizers are especially excited this year to add the new Hendricks Center for the Arts at Beloit College to its list of screening locations.

“The two venues in the Hendricks Center will be the tiered film classroom and the sizable dance studio, great spots for both sight and sound,” says Ron Nief, one of BIFF’s three founding producers and a member of its marketing committee. “This is particularly appropriate, because the building is named to honor Diane and the late Ken Hendricks, who inspired BIFF and have provided the title sponsorship since the beginning of the festival.”

Jack Bennett

Many of the venues are within walking distance of one another, encouraging foot traffic for other downtown businesses. Shuttle service, provided by J&J Limo Service of Beloit, is once again being offered to all locations, including the box office.

The countdown for BIFF 2011 starts with the annual Reveal Parties, when organizers announce the festival’s full schedule and distribute the program. This year, these parties spanned three states. The first two were held Jan. 19 and 20, in Beloit and Janesville, respectively. Then, they were taken on the road, to Dubuque, Iowa, on Jan. 21, and to Rockford, Ill., on Jan. 25, where it was announced that screenings will be scheduled in Rockford in 2012.

Films for this year include: “The Rescuers,” a documentary about diplomats who saved thousands of Jews during WWII; “16:49,” featuring interviews with homeless Beloit high school students; “Snowmen,” a a full-length feature about the efforts of three small-town boys to set a Guinness World Record; “Bass Ackwards,” a comedy feature that follows a down-on-his luck man as he drives a ’76 VW van across America. For a complete schedule and to purchase tickets, go to www.beloitfilmfest.com.

Buster Keaton’s 1927 comedy hit, “The General,” will be screened on Feb. 19 at BIFF’s signature event, the Silent Film Showcase, with the accompaniment of the entire Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra.

BIFF’s redesigned Web site and new presence on Twitter, Facebook and local television allow fans to blog, tweet, Flickr and otherwise stay up-to-the-minute on all of the festival’s developments.

With a notable increase in all film categories, the selection committee faced a daunting challenge in choosing which to screen. But that also guarantees audiences four days of great film viewing. ❚

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