The Lowcountry’s Iconic Film Festival Wants Your Butt in a Seat

I recently found myself on Lady’s Island at one of the ubiquitous storage facilities popping up with alarming frequency all over the Lowcountry. Like so many locals, I’m renting space. But I don’t like it. These things are portents of the looming tsunami of change sweeping down on our once sleepy little town. This seems both inevitable and unnecessary. But mostly the first thing. And it hit me as I stood there on the fresh pavement, that once upon a time, not so long ago, this place was home to the early, formative iteration of the Beaufort International Film Festival. Once it had been a multi-plex, but by 2009 – our first BIFF – it was a church “re-converted,” if you will, to host a cinematic experiment. The ultimate intended effect was to rejuvenate a rich heritage of filmmaking in the Lowcountry, a heritage that includes iconic films like “The Big Chill” and “Forrest Gump” and big screen adaptations of Beaufort’s favorite adopted son, Pat Conroy’s novels, “The Great Santini” and “Prince of Tides.”

Pat was a big fan of the fest and I’m pretty sure he might’ve agreed to do a cameo when BIFF alumni VW Scheich and Uyen Le did shoot a movie in Beaufort. I did. “Stars Fell on Alabama” filmed in November, 2019, and became one of the biggest streaming hits of Lockdown. Ironically, cameras will roll on the sequel while this year’s festival showcases the next class of filmmakers. This time, however, they’ll shoot in Georgia because South Carolina lawmakers still can’t grasp the value of a green industry that pours cash into the economy and promotes tourism.

Moving on.

Through it all, Ron and Rebecca Tucker have been the ringmasters of this annual circus. About a decade ago the show moved across the river to the historic USCB campus in downtown Beaufort and the thing blew up. From a few hundred attendees the first year to more than 16,000 in 2020 – just before Lockdown.

“From a strictly planning and logistics point of view,” says Ron, “the 2022 prep has been a roller coaster ride. BIFF 2020 was our most successful festival ever with nearly every record shattered. We were one of the last in-person film festivals before everything shut down in March. BIFF 2021 was a trip into the Twilight Zone. We were one of the first film festivals to have an in-person event, post lockdown. We didn’t know what to expect as far as ticket sales, attendance, etc. It was a case of ‘build it and they will come…’  And come they did.”

Last year’s BIFF was a streamlined, socially distanced affair at a smaller venue. 2022 marks a homecoming as the event moves back to the USCB Center for the Arts to celebrate its Sweet 16.

“At least we’re getting back to doing what we know,” says Rebecca, “and that is a relief.”

This year’s enormous slate of films runs Wednesday morning through Saturday night. As we go to press nearly 100 filmmakers are expected to attend from all over the US, the UK, Canada and Brazil. And according to the Tuckers this may be the best year ever to be a movie buff at BIFF.

“It was the most difficult it has ever been to make the final selections,” says Ron. “Lots of regional film filmmakers are on the final list and for the first time the animation category does not have a student entry. They’re all from professional animators. But most notable is that we have 14 World Premieres. That’s never happened before.”

BIFF directors Ron & Rebecca Tucker

As always, the Tuckers credit all the interest from first time attendees to positive word of mouth from the festival’s growing legion of alumni.

“Some of those who attended last year said they felt very safe and commended our safety efforts,” says Ron. “They’ve passed this to the filmmakers who will be new to Beaufort, so I think that raises everyone’s comfort level. We’ll do the best we can with the conditions presented at the time. It’s a moving target and we’re very mindful of how quickly things can change. We’re optimistic that all will go well. To quote Clint Eastwood, we’re prepared to “improvise, adapt, and overcome. ”

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