The 18th Annual Beaufort International Film Festival is here, and it’s going to be amazing.

Ron & Rebecca Tucker

Ron Tucker’s excited.

We’re sitting in a cozy booth at Hearth, along with his wife Rebecca, deep into the third hour of our lunch meeting. We were the first ones here, and now the restaurant’s almost empty again. Our pizza’s all boxed up and our tab’s paid, but we can’t stop yakking about the upcoming 18th annual Beaufort International Film Festival.

Every year, Ron swears to me “It’s going to be the best festival yet,” and every year, he’s right. Today, he adds a new claim:

“This year’s festival is going to be more high profile than ever.”

Whoa. More high profile than, say, Blythe Danner? Michael O’Keefe? Vanna White? Andie McDowell?

I continue reeling off celebrities who’ve graced BIFF’s red carpet in years past. What, exactly, does BIFF’s executive director mean by “high profile”?



Gray Sinise with his Lt. Dan Band

This year, BIFF will celebrate the 30th anniversary of six-time Oscar-winner Forrest Gump – much of which was filmed here – with a visit from Lt. Dan, himself, Gary Sinise, who will perform a concert with his band at MCAS and receive the Pat Conroy Lifetime Achievement Award the next day.

“Gary just might be the most famous person we’ve honored,” Ron says. Not only is Sinise an Emmy, Golden Globe, and two-time SAG award winning actor, but his work on behalf of our nation’s service men and women is near legendary. For over 20 years, his Lt. Dan Band has performed hundreds of shows in support of wounded warriors, Gold Star families, veterans and troops around the world. You might say he’s the 21st Century’s answer to Bob Hope.

Also bringing Gump-tion to this year’s fest – The Spirit of Beaufort: Remembering Forrest Gump will make its world premiere. A full-length documentary by Daniel Stanislawski, who became obsessed with the movie as a boy growing up in Poland – yes, Poland – it features 32 locals, was co-produced by locals – including Ron and Rebecca Tucker – and, as you might imagine, the screening has already sold out. I’m not allowed to say much about The Spirit of Beaufort – no spoilers, I was told – but I hear it’s full of familiar locations, and lots of familiar faces, and has a wonderful, original score by Paul Dengler.

You may know Dengler as “Forrest Gump.” In 1996, while living in

Dr. Marlena Smalls

Beaufort, he won a look-alike contest at our fledgling Shrimp Festival, then went on to become the official Forrest Gump impersonator for the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. A singer/songwriter living in Nashville, Dengler’s been traveling all over the country working that side-hustle for over 20 years now. He’ll be here in Beaufort for BIFF, getting his Gump on.

But wait, there’s more! Beaufort’s own Marlena Smalls – who had a memorable role in Forrest

Gump – will kick off the festival with an opening night concert, “Bubba’s Mama Sings the Blues.” Not only does it promise to be fabulous – Marlena’s always fabulous – but it will also be her final performance with the Hallelujah Singers, the internationally acclaimed musical ensemble she founded 33 years ago.

Marlena’s swan song? High profile, indeed.



This year, 500 filmmakers submitted films to BIFF and 55 were selected. That’s an acceptance rate of just over 10%, meaning Beaufort’s little festival has become extremely competitive.

As of this writing, 102 filmmakers – a term which includes directors, actors, producers, editors, etc. – were planning to attend BIFF in person this year. Ron Tucker thinks that’s a festival record. It’s definitely in the ballpark.

In short, BIFF is no longer the “best kept secret” in the international filmmaking community. The secret is out. Way out.

Ron says it’s mostly word of mouth – filmmakers talking to other filmmakers about the networking opportunities, the great audiences, the beautiful location, the legendary “Beaufort hug,” and whatnot. But you could also blame Film Freeway, the comprehensive online service that matches filmmakers with film festivals, and vice versa. For the past few years, the site has consistently rated BIFF one of the top 100 film festivals in the world – based on reviews by actual filmmakers.

To be clear, there are 12,000 film festivals in the world . . . and according to Film Freeway, BIFF is in the top 100.

“We were actually #10 last time we looked,” says Rebecca Tucker, “but those numbers change all the time.”

Fifteen states and four countries will be represented in this year’s festival. “We won’t know about audience representation until about a week after the festival,” says Ron Tucker. Last year’s audience featured attendees from 36 states and six countries, including the US. At one time, “international” might have been a mostly aspirational part of BIFF’s name. Those days are long gone.

Having said that, Ron and Rebecca are particularly pleased that this year’s festival will feature the work of eight South Carolina filmmakers, the largest number yet.



The Tuckers say this year’s roster of films is more unique and diverse than ever before. “We have films that are going to make some audience members uncomfortable,” Ron tells me.

When I ask him to elaborate, he says maybe “thought-provoking” would be a better way to put it. But I’m sticking with “uncomfortable.” I like feeling uncomfortable, myself, especially where art is concerned. Each year, I actually look forward to feeling uncomfortable at the Beaufort International Film Festival.

(Not literally, mind you. The seating at USCB is quite comfy.)

Some of the “thought-provoking” films that might – or might not – make you uncomfortable this year include:

Our Males and Females: A short film by Ahmad Alyaseer about Muslim parents trying to observe traditional Islamic burial rites for their deceased daughter, who happens to be transgender.

Filling in the Blanks: a documentary chronicling writer-director Jon Baime’s quest to trace his lineage after a DNA test reveals a family secret.

I Can’t Keep Quiet: a documentary short about singer/songwriter MILCK’s journey in the years since her song “Quiet” became a global anthem for the women’s movement that exploded after the election of Donald Trump.

Common as Red Hair: A short film by SC filmmaker Robbie Robertson that covers the aftermath of a funeral where two parents must reevaluate their decision to have gender corrective surgery on their intersex child.

“We also have a film with a religious slant,” Ron says. “If you’re an atheist, you’re not going to like it. But that’s okay. We want to challenge people. We’re looking to make an emotional impact. We want to make people think and feel.


When filmmakers review BIFF – whether in person or on Film Freeway – there are certain factors they always highlight, things that make BIFF different from other festivals.

“For one thing, they say they’ve never seen crowds like this in their life,” says Ron Tucker.

A typical BIFF screening at USCB

Most film festivals – especially in big cities – have several venues scattered around town, featuring multiple screenings, simultaneously. In contrast, BIFF is all under one roof, and each film screens only once. This means audiences are invariably quite large, from 9 am till almost midnight.

“They say our audience is really engaged, as well,” Ron continues. “They ask great questions and spark great discussions.”

New York based actor-director Anthony Robert Grasso has had eight films selected by BIFF over the past six years and he loves coming to Beaufort. “I only missed one year, due to Covid,” he says.

“BIFF has, over the years, become a favorite festival of mine and many of my NYC friends,” says Grasso. “It has one of the best communities and all are film lovers. Every screening – over 250 audience members. It has the warmth of SC, the ‘Beaufort hug’ it’s known for, and curators Ron and Rebecca are extraordinary – not to mention the professionalism on their board and all who volunteer. The films are highly regarded and top quality. When any of my films are selected, I’m always extra proud knowing I’m in good company. As someone with over three dozen films circulating worldwide, and having visited over 50 festivals, hands down BIFF is always on my list to submit to. I have recommended many directors I’ve worked with, and fellow filmmaker friends from NYC. The location is beautiful. If you’re from the north, it’s a nice welcome break from the February cold.” Grasso is coming back this year with the short film Ivy’s Dream.

Actress Jeanine Bartel, also from New York, says, “The Beaufort Film Festival is like no other.

Bob Celli & Anthony Grasso (far left) with Jeanine Bartel (right) at an Anchorage 1770 filmmakers reception

From the moment you arrive, you’re welcomed into the BIFF family. It’s a wonderful fest full of fun and classy events, talks with legends in the industry, cocktail parties, packed houses at the screenings full of the Beaufort community and so many film-loving fans that come from all over . . . and really beautiful, funny, heart-wrenching, moving films.

“One of my favorite things is the thoughtful Q&A Ron hosts with the present filmmakers after every film,” she continues. “Each filmmaker gets their own very special time to discuss their project and connect with the audience. Ron and Rebecca are fast friends and continue their love and support for your projects, both personal and professional, throughout the year. And you leave wrapped in the famed Beaufort hugs, with a whole newly extended film fam! It’s a beautiful experience, one I wish every filmmaker got to enjoy!” Jeanine will be here this year, representing the short film Blood is Thicker.

Bob Celli and his wife Laura Delano are BIFF veterans, too. They’ll be returning to Beaufort with their short film Because I Love You. They believe BIFF is “a truly a special festival.”

“The caliber of films that Beaufort screens is inspiring and we feel privileged to be part of it,” says Bob. “As filmmakers, it is thrilling to be able to screen our films in front of a film savvy audience who have interesting and engaging questions. The entire festival team and town of Beaufort provide a level of hospitality, care, and respect for filmmakers and films that is truly genuine and so appreciated.”


I could go on and on about what BIFF means to me – and have, ad nauseam, in this very paper – but let’s just say it’s my favorite thing about winter in Beaufort, bar none. Every year, BIFF rises from the cold, dead earth like some exotic flower, blasting away my winter blues, reminding me that I am a living thing – mind, body, soul – and that springtime’s on its way.

And I’m not alone. I know plenty of Beaufortonians who take a few days off work each year to attend the festival. While film lovers are flocking here from other states and countries, lots of locals see BIFF as an excuse for a mini staycation.

BIFF regulars Ken Harwell, Debbi Covington & Ken Davis at an opening night reception

“My husband Vince’s business, Covington Blind and Shutter Company, always sponsors the award for animation, so we’re in our seats every morning in time to see the animated films at 9 am,” says Lowcountry Weekly’s food columnist Debbi Covington. “By the lunch break at Noon, we’ve experienced so many different emotions — happiness, fear, heartbreak, anger, empathy, joy — that we leave the theater both exhilarated and exhausted. My mascara is usually destroyed. Then, we eat lunch. I repair my makeup and we both head back in to ride that emotional roller coaster for a few more hours. It’s the best week in February. We love BIFF!”

Beaufort’s Ken Davis is always in the BIFF audience, too. “I have been a fan of movies as long as I can remember…. sitting in the dark and losing myself. The festival never disappoints. I laugh and cry and learn so much. Such a wonderful opportunity in our great town.”

Festival regular Ken Harwell loves it all, but especially the BIFF socializing. “Ron and Rebecca work so hard to preview the films and they are wonderful,” he says. “Even better are the people… meeting friends as well as film affiliated folks makes for a fun filled, electric atmosphere.”

Emotional roller coasters, exciting new friends, and a fun-filled, electric atmosphere? Just as winter’s wearing out its welcome? Yes, please!

Bring it, BIFF 2024. We’re ready.


The Beaufort International Film will take place February 20 – 25 at USCB Center for the Arts. For more information and tickets, visit