Guest commentary BIFF enriches community's cultural life

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The Beloit International Film Festival is gearing up for its 13th production, Feb. 23 through March 4, 2018.

BIFF has grown from a once-a-year 4-day festival in 2006, to a 10-day festival with year-round programming. It has helped define Beloit's renaissance, welcoming visitors from all over the world and enriched the cultural life of the community.

But BIFF is more than just films; it's a confluence of communities, causes and worlds. Last year BIFF attracted more than 8,000 guests, 57 percent of whom came from outside of the city. Audiences interacted with 124 filmmakers from 29 different countries and 105 films. More than 400 volunteers made it all happen - that's more than 1 percent of Beloit's population.

AND 42 sponsors provided the means to execute the events.

Like all cultural and arts organizations, BIFF ticket sales cover only a small portion of the costs. The investment from these community-committed sponsors make BIFF possible. The return to the community is significant, too, as each dollar invested in BIFF prompts visitors to spend more than two dollars in the community. BIFF is Beloit at its best, a rallying point we can be proud of.

The conversations and interactions driven by BIFF films have tangible, life altering results. One of BIFF's proudest moments came from a film entitled 16:49, directed by Ruben Burgos. The film exposed a homeless youth crisis at Beloit Memorial High School. The film inspired the community to create the non-profit Project 16:49 to provide support for local homeless youth. The film initiated our BIFF Cares series, sponsored by Beloit Health System, which has helped address quality of life issues that affect us all, including child abuse, end-of-life issues, disease prevention, mental health, and addiction. BIFF Cares demonstrates the power of film.

FILMMAKERS are taking notice of BIFF, too. Over 1,250 filmmakers have attended BIFF since the beginning, and each helps to tell Beloit's story around the world.

Damien Patrick, director of In the Blink stated, "After screening my films in over 180 film festivals across the country, I can say without reservation that Beloit is one of the best-great organizations. Audiences that intelligently engage and a charming Wisconsin town all add up to an event that I look forward to attending again and again."

Candice Carella, director of Pony told us that she ". was so impressed by the high caliber of films in the 2016 BIFF program, the audience participation was phenomenal at each screening, and the hospitality of the festival was amazing."

AS THE word spreads in the filmmaking community, the quality of films rises. BIFF has had several Academy Award nominated films submitted over the years. Last year, one film screened at BIFF, Sing, won the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Narrative. Sing was programmed in BIFF even before the awards were announced.

Each year BIFF films wind up on Video On Demand platforms such as Netflix and HBO. We must be doing something right.

On behalf of a dedicated board of directors and staff, we extend our thanks to the volunteers, the sponsors, the artists, and the audiences that have put us in this attractive position. We look forward to your continued support as members of the Beloit Film Society and as sponsors and underwriters of our various programs. We particularly look forward to seeing you each Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Hendricks Center for the Arts at Beloit College for BIFF Year 'Round, and next February when we, again, bring the world to Beloit.

Max Maiken is the executive director for the Beloit International Film Festival.

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