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Movie spotlight shines on Buffalo festival

A series of late-night premieres showcasing Buffalo-made movies; a documentary on late filmmaker, professor and activist Tony Conrad; and a focus on short films are highlights of the annual Buffalo International Film Festival.

The four-day event, opening Oct. 7, features 100 films from 20 countries including Sweden, Norway, China, the United Kingdom, Poland and Ireland. Representatives – directors, writers, producers – of more than half of the international movies as well as a large contingent of area and regional filmmakers will attend screenings and take part in question and answer sessions.

The is the 10th edition of the festival, but only the second under a new group led by Executive Director Ray Guarnieri, who wanted to keep it going following the death of festival founder Edward Summer in 2014. Guarnieri said Summer was a mentor to him and the festival’s Programming Director John Fink.

“We were alumni of the festival. We had made our first features locally and screened at the festival,” Guarnieri said. “We wanted to keep his vision and bring a new life to it.”

The new life includes rebranding the festival with a shift from a strong repertory program to a focus on contemporary cinema.

Another change holding the festival exclusively at Buffalo venues. “You need to have the Buffalo International Film Festival in Buffalo,” Guarnieri said. The North Park Theatre (1428 Hertel Ave.) will be used for galas and world premieres; Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center (341 Delaware Ave.) for domestically made world premieres, regional premieres and blocks of short films. On Oct. 8, experimental movies and shorts will be shown at Squeaky Wheel Film and Media Art Center (617 Main St.).

A new goal is to make BIFF one of the Top 10 North American festivals for film premieres within the next five to 10 years, and to become an Oscar-qualifying event. Guarnieri said he feels they are on the right track to meeting that goal - and sooner than expected.

“This year surpasses anything we’ve done before, Guarnieri said about the extensive programming. “What we are going to accomplish this year is on par with a lot of other top quality regional film festivals and I think that says a lot considering it’s only our second year.”

Here are some of the highlights

Open and closing

The festival opens with screenings at noon Oct. 7 in the North Park with the U.S. premiere of “Out of Obsession” (UK/Ireland, directed by Danny Hiller) and at 3 p.m. in Hallwalls with “The Pearl of Africa” and “Africa in the City.”

The opening night special event is the Western New York premiere of “Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present” at 7:30 p.m. in the North Park. The documentary by Tyler Hubby is a 20-year collaboration with Conrad. The pioneering avant-garde musician who helped found Squeaky Wheel and was a faculty member of the University at Buffalo’s media study, died in April.

The closing night feature presentation is the New York premiere of “Lovesong” by So Yong Kim at 7:45 p.m. Oct. 10 in the North Park. The film stars Jena Malone and Riley Keough as two long-time friends whose relationship deepens on a trip.

The premieres

The North Park Theatre is hosting a special series of premieres each night of films made in the Buffalo area.

• 10:15 p.m. Oct. 7: “Alcoholist” (world premiere) with “The Runner” (North American premiere). “The Alcoholist” is a thriller filmed in Niagara Falls by director Lucas Pavetto, who will be in attendance. It stars Bret Roberts as an alcoholic fighting to stay sober as he obsesses over killing his neighbor. “The Runner” was the winner of the Gold Lion at the Barcelona Film Festival.

• 10:15 p.m. Oct. 8: “2037: Winter’s Dream” (Buffalo premiere). The Buffalo winter provided exterior shots for the nuclear winter setting of this film written and directed by Joey Curtis, screenwriter for the Oscar-nominated drama “Blue Valentine.” It’s been called a “Mad Max” on ice as humans fight humanoids.

• 9:30 p.m. Oct. 9 “Dwelling” with “Pudding” (New York premiere). Kyle Mecca’s supernatural thriller “Dwelling” is about a young woman haunted by a family tragedy who moves back into a house where evil is lurking.

• 9:45 p.m. Oct. 10: “Mercy” (New York premiere). Four estranged brothers returning home to their mother’s deathbed confront old secrets while fighting home invaders. Filmed in East Aurora, “Mercy” stars James Wolk (“Zoo”).

International cinema

BIFF has a full slate of films from around the world including the U.S. premiere of the drama “Zacma: Blindness” (Poland, directed by Ryszard Bugajski) at 5:45 p.m. Oct. 8 in the North Park; the dramatic thriller “The Return” (UK, Oliver Nias) with “Kidnapping of a Fish” at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 10 in Hallwalls; and an exploration of post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia in “Dream Land” (Cambodia, Stephen Chen) at 10:30 a.m. Oct. 10 in Hallwalls. Nias and Chen will attend their screenings.

The short side

BIFF will have at least eight programming blocks of short films grouped by such topics as Global (5 p.m. Oct. 7 in the North Park), Youth (11 a.m. Oct. 8, Squeaky Wheel), Life’s Work (1 p.m. Oct. 8, Hallwalls) and Local (4:30 p.m. Sunday, North Park). The shorts under the Danger Zone banner, 9:30 p.m. Oct. 10 in Hallwalls, for example, are described as “short shockers, dark comedies and dramas, horror films and thrillers from around the world and around the region.”

A meeting place

Festivalgoers are encouraged to stop by Huddle on Hertel (1209 Hertel Ave.), the festival’s impromptu lounge where filmmakers will gather each morning and panels will be held. “It’s worth being around to hear what the chatter is,” Guarnieri said.

PREVIEW

What: Buffalo International Film Festival

When: Oct. 7-10

Where: North Park Theatre, Hallwalls and Squeaky Wheel

Tickets: individual films are $10. A Bison festival pass with unlimited screenings is $35.

Info: buffalointernationalfilmfestival.com

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