Using the Buffalo International Film Festival 2015 as a microcosm to demonstrate Buffalo’s let’s-put-on-a-show energy, there are many reasons to be excited about the event’s ninth iteration, taking place Thursday through Sunday.
The late Ed Summer founded the festival in 2003, and new BIFF Executive Director Raymond Guarneri said the festival is being expanded from “Ed’s vision.”
“Buffalo, and specifically its filmmaking industry, is growing,” Guarneri said. “We want to complement and be reflective of that. The festival has multiple purposes: it provides a network and showcase for the filmmaking community; it further points national press and industry to Buffalo. And, local film lovers and film-interested can enjoy and participate in the screenings and events.”
The organizers crowd-sourced part of their budget. It worked, and the festival screens the bulk of its films at the North Park Theatre and Amherst’s Screening Room Cinema Cafe; additional events take place at Squeaky Wheel Film and Media Arts Center and the Pierce Arrow Film Arts Center. The lineup offers 24 features and 38 shorts.
“We’re in love with every film; we curated and vetted each one,” said festival programmer John Fink. “Our focus is on quality and diversity – we’ve got world premieres, films that were shot in Western New York. There’s a mix of genres and world cinema.”
In the past, the festival only offered audience-favorite awards. This year’s judging panel moves it up a notch. The panel includes Crystal Callahan, film distributor; Jax Deluca, executive director of Squeaky Wheel; Terry Fisher, president of Full Circle Studios; Diane Gaidry, film and theater actor; and Geoff Kelly, editor of the Public.
Another impact of both the festival and the overall local filmmaking industry is economics. “I envision BIFF evolving into a powerful regional festival, ala Greenwich, Connecticut,” Fink said. “Western New York’s 30 percent tax credit for productions is a huge incentive. There are usually a couple of films shooting in the region at any given time.”
Buffalo Film Commissioner Tim Clark concurs that the festival has multiple positive purposes. “Festivals are important for filmmakers’ work to be seen; to create buzz,” Clark said. “One of the things the Buffalo International Film Festival is doing is shining a light on films that were shot in Western New York.”
One such film is “Emelie,” being shown at 7:45 p.m. Oct. 17 in the North Park Theatre. Written by Tonawanda native Richard Herbeck, the dramatic thriller received attention at the Tribeca Film Festival. Its screening at BIFF is a Western New York debut. Said Clark, “‘Emelie’ is Rich’s gift to Western New York.”
Additional highlights include:
• “Let Them Have Their Way,” 7:15 p.m. Oct. 16 in the North Park Theatre. Director Dien Vo’s experimental comedy traces six protagonists navigating a world in which inflexibility, polarization, and consumerism compete against humanity. “This film is ambitious and visionary. It was made almost entirely in Western New York,” Guarneri said.
• “The Seventh Fire,” 3 p.m. Oct. 17 in the North Park Theatre. Terrence Malick and Natalie Portman produced this documentary about the gang crisis in Indian Country. By Jack Pettibone Riccobono, the film follows an Ojibwe gang leader on a Minnesota reservation.
• “Abby Singer/Songwriter,” 6:30 p.m. Oct. 17 in the Screening Room. Inspired by Jamie Block, “a divorced stockbroker has-been who was once an indie-rock star.” Block, playing himself, meets Onur Tukel, a hapless middle-aged filmmaker. Block performs live after the screening. “I almost fell off the treadmill, I was laughing so hard,” programmer Fink said about this film.
The festival also offers a panel discussion on women in filmmaking at 1 p.m. Oct. 17 in Squeaky Wheel (617 Main St.), with Rochester Film Commissioner Nora Brown and filmmaker Anna Scime. A free workshop with Ryan Monolopolus of On Camera Combatives, demonstrates the basics of creating authentic fight movement for the camera, which takes place 3 p.m., Oct. 17 at the Pierce Arrow Film Center, 1685 Elmwood Ave.
Tickets for each film are $10 each and are available online until Oct. 15. They will be available 30 minutes before screenings at the venue box office for $12. Festival passes are $100 to $500. Info is at buffalointernationalfilmfestival.com.