A great film helps us to admire, discover and connect with the world and ourselves. Now in its 18th season, BIFF is back with a whole new slate of films that show some fresh perspective.
The upcoming Beloit International Film Festival (BIFF) is slated to be stronger, better and more diverse than ever.
Now in its 18th season, BIFF, as it’s commonly known to film lovers, is an annual 10-day film festival that recognizes the beauty and allure of independent films from across the country and around the world. Film lovers converge in the heart of Beloit to enjoy 100 films in local venues, some of which can hold up to 200 people.
This season, the festival starts on Feb. 24 and runs through March 5 and includes narrative features, documentaries and short films.
Greg Gerard, executive director of BIFF, is hoping to see the crowds he grew accustomed to seeing pre-COVID.
“We’re that much further away from COVID restrictions and the restrictions that people put on themselves,” he says. “This year, we’re expecting to see a return to normalcy and getting back to our normal foot traffic and the numbers we’re used to seeing.”
Gerard also says BIFF is putting more of an emphasis on films with diversity and inclusion.
“We’ve always had films that had to do with diversity, but I think we’re starting to reach out and focus more attention on it and raise up the issue,” he says. “It’s not that we haven’t always been a proponent of diversity and inclusivity, but I think we’re taking a step forward this year and bringing that into the light a little bit more than normal.”
One film Gerard is excited about is “Leaders of Madison’s Black Renaissance.” Despite black people making up just 7% of the population in Madison, Wis., there are more African-American elected officials on the city council and school board than ever. In addition, the school superintendent, police chief, district attorney and county sheriff are also black. The film dives into what’s happening in Madison and the city’s culture.
There’s also a film called “The Exchange. In White America. Kaukauna & King 50 Years Later.” It’s a compelling story about an exchange of black and white high school students at Rufus King High School, in Milwaukee, Wis., and Kaukauna High School, in the Fox River Valley. The students lived in each other’s homes and attended classes in each other’s schools during the middle of the Civil Rights Movement.
“The experiment brought together black and white students in a sort of a sociological experiment,” Gerard says. “Joanne Williams, the director of the film and a longtime voice of the news in Milwaukee, is the driving force behind that movie.”
Another interesting film that’s worth checking out is “Big Crow,” a story about the power of hope in South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
“We’re in the business of film, so there’s always going to be plenty of great films for diverse groups,” Gerard says. “BIFF is for everyone, and we want everyone to see these stories.”
Longtime favorites, like the BIFF Sing-Along and the First National Bank Classic Film Showcase, are making a comeback this year.
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is the focal point of this year’s BIFF Sing-A-Long, happening Feb. 25 at La Casa Grande, a popular restaurant in downtown Beloit. Yellow Brick Road, a local LGBTQ+ organization, leads a downtown parade before the show.
The classic film “Top Gun” headlines this year’s Classic Film Showcase, happening March 5 at La Casa Grande.
“People are going to be pleasantly surprised by the quality of films we have this year,” Gerard says.
The annual reveal party, where the Beloit Daily News BIFF printed program is released, takes place Feb. 9 at the Hampton Inn on Cranston Road, in Beloit.
This year, all the films will be shown in-person at various downtown Beloit venues, like Bagels & More, the Hendricks Center for the Arts and the Downtown Beloit Association. Other venues include La Casa Grande, Visit Beloit and, for the first time, the shiny-new Weissberg Auditorium in the Powerhouse at Beloit College.
The Beloit College CELEB building again serves as the official BIFF Box Office through the duration of the festival.
Visit beloitfilmfest.org for information on tickets and film showings. Find the film festival on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok.
“We’re able to utilize our community partnerships for the festival,” Gerard says. “We’re also able to return to Beloit College and use some of their venues this year. Weissberg Auditorium is a new venue for us and an exciting new screening opportunity.”
When BIFF first started in 2005, it was just a four-day festival from Thursday to Sunday. It was also met with plenty of skeptics and criticism.
“People didn’t know what the film festival was,” Gerard says. “Now, people in Beloit refer to BIFF as their film festival and it’s become a sense of ownership for people of Beloit.”
It grew in popularity, so in 2015 it became a 10-day festival. Making this move changed the face of the festival, Gerard says.
“If you’re not around the first weekend, you can catch the films on the second weekend,” he says. “The films also used to be spread all over town, but when there was a mission to re-create downtown Beloit, we started to focus more on our downtown venues and merchants.”
Those local merchants are ready to serve the hundreds of guests attending the festival, including Merrill & Houston’s Steak Joint, Lucy’s #7 Burger Bar, Velvet Buffalo Modern Italian and Blue Collar Coffee Co.
“We want our visitors to take in these businesses,” Gerard says. “You can leave a film, walk into Hatley’s Pub, have a burger and a beer, then go to Bagels & More and watch another film. It also gives filmmakers and visitors something to do when the screens go black at the end of the night.”
Gerard says a big change could potentially be coming to BIFF next year. As successful as BIFF is, Gerard says the festival might attract even more people if the event was moved to April. It’s something Gerard and his team are looking at implementing next year.
“The weather is really cold this time of year, and we want this to be more of a walkable festival, since the venues are no more than three blocks apart from each other,” he says. “It’ll make the walk more pleasant in warmer weather. Also, a lot of the prep for the festival takes place during the holidays, so if we moved it a month or so later, we can have more breathing space and enjoy our holidays more.”
No matter when BIFF happens, Gerard says the festival will help people overcome those winter doldrums.
“BIFF happens at a time of year when Cabin Fever is really setting in and when people are sick of sitting in their homes,” he says. “It’s a social event and it’s 10 days of people out on the streets mingling and interacting with each other, and that activity brings us closer together as a community. You can laugh, scream or cry during a film, go down the street and have a beer and talk about the film with other people who were there. It’s truly a nice environment to be in.”