Marlena Smalls and friends kick off the 18th Annual Beaufort International Film Festival.

This year, the Beaufort International Film Festival will celebrate the 30th anniversary of Forrest Gump – filmed mostly in this area – with a visit from Lt. Dan himself, Gary Sinise, who will receive the Pat Conroy Lifetime Achievement Award and play a concert with his band at MCAS Beaufort. The festival will also host the world premiere of the full-length documentary, The Spirit of Beaufort: The Making of Forrest Gump.

 But before all that Gumpian goodness gets going, Marlena Smalls will set the tone for the festival with an opening night concert on Tuesday, February 20th at USCB Center for the Arts. ‘Bubba’s Mama Sings the Blues’ will follow BIFF’s opening reception, and it’s sure to be a night to remember.

This year’s opening reception will happen under a large tent on the CFA lawn, from 5:30 – 7:30 pm, and party-goers can move seamlessly from there to the auditorium for the concert, which starts at 8pm.

For those of you who aren’t from around here – Marlena Smalls played Bubba’s Mama in Forrest Gump, a movie which is only slightly younger than the internationally-acclaimed Hallelujah Singers that she founded here 33 years ago.

In late 2023, Marlena announced that she would be retiring from that globe-trotting ensemble this year. In fact, the BIFF opening night concert will be the public’s last chance to see her singing with them. To say it’s the end of an era is an understatement.

Marlena will perform traditional blues and other genres, doing songs by Etta James, Big Mama Thornton, Bo Didley, Nina Simone, Tina Turner, and more. She’ll be joined by a four-piece band from Atlanta, the Tabernacle Baptist Church Choir, and, of course, the Hallelujah Singers.

All that, and I’m told there might be a surprise at the end of the concert, to boot!

As Ron Tucker always says – and he’s always right – this is sure to be the best BIFF yet. With a kick-off like this one, how can it miss?

Tickets to the 18th Annual Beaufort International Film Festival’s Opening Ceremony/Reception – followed by ‘Bubba’s Mama Sings the Blues’ – are available at