For the Love of Art

Greg Gerard was looking for a new direction in life when he received the call. On the other end of the phone was his old college friend, Rod Beaudoin, telling him about a film festival he was starting in Beloit, and could he lend a hand?

Gerard jumped at the chance. At first, he felt out of place, even though he was still in familiar territory. Art had always been close to his heart. The blue-collar kid from Edgar, Wis., had been a musical artist for much of his life, even to the point where he and his sister, Chris, landed a record deal and toured the country.

His move from Green Lake, Wis., in 2007 put him right in the midst of a program that was drawing filmmakers from around the world to southern Wisconsin every winter. At the time, downtown Beloit was still beginning its renaissance. Today, downtown is thriving, and so is the Beloit International Film Festival, which features 10 days of films gathered from around the world and presented in intimate venues such as restaurants, stores and small auditoriums.

“Our residents love this festival,” says Gerard. “When I first started, it was just some kind of movie festival downtown. Ten years later, it was like, ‘We have a film festival, our film festival.’ So, there’s a feeling of ownership for the community.”

For years, Gerard worked behind the scenes, pushing buttons, starting films, and loading discs or tapes. Today, he serves as executive director, a position he’s held since 2019 following the departure of Beaudoin in 2017 and a successor the next year.

Gerard now oversees a team of five paid staff and hundreds of volunteers, so although he’s tasked with coordinating most of the festival, he still handles a surprising amount of behind-the-scenes support.

“I still do stuff like I did back in the day,” says Gerard. “I put up and take down banners, I pop the popcorn at our Wednesday night programs. A small operation like this, an executive director has to do a lot.”

Transitioning from a music career to a film festival has helped Gerard to see an entirely different side to artistic pursuits. Musicians may entertain, but filmmakers provoke thought.

“The power of film can change lives, attitudes and how we look at each other,” says Gerard. “We have a lot of powerful films that open wide issues and make people think twice about what they know.”

In his free time, Gerard continues to write and perform music locally. A creative at heart, he believes answering Beaudoin’s call was exactly the transition he needed all those years ago.

“I’m just a lifelong musician who landed in the midst of this film festival,” says Gerard. “It’s truly a fish out of water story.”