Observations et Impressions du Festival de Film International de Beaufort
Story and Photos by Mark Shaffer
Okay, so the Beaufort International Film Festival is not a glitzy star-studded celebrity fleshpot on the French Riviera. No scantily clad starlets preening for a phalanx of paparazzi. No superstar couples herding newly adopted multi-national brat packs in and out of Baby Gucci between latte stops. Nope. We’ve got none of that. But in the parlance of the entertainment industry trades: BIFF = BOFFO! And you can take that to the bank.
“How the hell did you manage to pull something like this off in Beaufort, South Carolina?”
– 2010 BIFF Honoree Pat Conroy to Festival Director, Ron Tucker
Ron Tucker is over the moon, euphoric – and not just because he’s finally had a good night’s sleep. Three days after the close of the fourth annual event the accolades and the numbers continue to roll in. BIFF’s first run under the tent pole of the fledgling Beaufort Film Society (Tucker’s the founder and CEO) is a bona fide smash. Total attendance exceeds all expectations, doubling the previous year’s watermark. The final tally approaches four thousand. To borrow a favorite movie line, if that trend continues they’re going to need a bigger boat. Meanwhile the calls and emails continue, particularly from the filmmakers, many of whom where plotting their return before they left town.
“John Schwab and Gary Weeks told me as we were leaving the awards gala that they were ready to collaborate on a project together,” says Tucker. “I told them to bring it here and they said they were going to do their best to make that happen.” The two young filmmakers, representing London and Los Angeles, respectively, also competed for the festival’s top prize. Schwab’s The Hide edged out Weeks’ Deadland for Best Feature. But at the screenings all sense of competition was absent, replaced by something more like camaraderie, says Tucker. “The filmmakers all showed up to support each other. They all connected.” And within hours of the opening gala the wheels begin to turn on potential deals. Cards, scripts and DVD’s change hands; partnerships and collaborations are discussed. The buzz is palpable. There’s a live current crackling in the air, in the theater, and all over town.
This is the special alchemy of any gathering of highly talented, creative people from vastly different places, all passionate about their work. It is also precisely what festival organizers hoped for and what the state’s beleaguered film industry needs. “Our independent filmmaking front has been really active over the last three years,” says State Film Commissioner Jeff Monks. “I think in our last newsletter we noted three or four independent films shooting around the state. So that’s encouraging.”
These days the state film office needs all the encouragement it can get. As competition for big budget productions has heated up all around us, the prevailing political winds in Columbia have blown an arctic gale in Hollywood’s direction. “It’s a small town,” says Monks. “People notice these things.” The film industry has responded in kind. Let’s put it this way, if recruiting major motion picture projects is anything like hockey, South Carolina’s been in the penalty box for a very long time. (More on that in the March 17th issue)
Saturday afternoon before the awards gala and the bar at Emily’s Restaurant is buzzing with BIFF attendees, filmmakers and their families. I’m sitting at the bar with Gary Weeks, a triple threat as actor/writer/producer (check him out on imdb.com). After more than a decade of steady success on the Hollywood scene, Weeks is still a small town kid from Georgia who brought his mom to BIFF.
“I’ve been to a lot of the big festivals and it’s not the same,” he says. “It’s all business. You’re just there to sell your film – and that’s what you have to do. But at something like this you get to meet the actual filmmakers and hang out with them, see their films. Connect. I’ve seen eighteen films this weekend and met most of those people.” One of those people is Josh Dove, the very unlikely hero of the short student film MacAwsome and its spin-off web series (macawesome.tv). The puckish youngster was floored after Weeks pulled him aside following the film to hand him a card and talk about casting Josh in his next project.
“That was pretty cool,” says Josh. This is his first film festival. It won’t be his last.
“The kid’s definitely got something,” declares Weeks, in full-on producer mode. “You never know. He could be the next Tom Hanks.”
If BIFF presented a special award for “distance traveled” Scott Wurth’s a lock. He’s come from the Blue Mountains of Australia which means that he’ll finally be adjusting to the fourteen-hour time difference somewhere over the Pacific on his way home. His Tira Bakal is an unflinching, often brutal, twenty-five minute documentary about a Filipino passion play that took five years to shoot. “You’ve got to be passionate about it,” He says. “It’s not like I’m in it for the money.” Indeed, like so many of his colleagues he finances his filmmaking habit by selling antiques and shooting still photography. He’s a veteran of the international film festival circuit and sees big things for BIFF. “Just not too big,” he says. “That would ruin it.”
Local author Teresa Bruce, a finalist in the inaugural screenplay category, may see an immediate benefit from her BIFF experience. “I’m working on a piece on spec for one of the
That would suit Ron Tucker just fine. And who knows? When the lights dim for the 2011 edition of BIFF perhaps we’ll be watching films born out of this year’s festival, shot right here in our own back yard.
Coming up in the March 17th issue:
Focus on Film Part III
Chilled Big: Thawing South Carolina’s Frigid Relationship With Hollywood
Mark Shaffer’s email is email@example.com