Beloit International Film Festival lineup chosen, set for February

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BELOIT - More than 100 films will soon be screened, with hundreds of attendees eager to watch them at the 14th annual Beloit International Film Festival (BIFF) set for Feb. 22 to March 3, 2019.

Assistant Director Greg Gerard said the films have been selected, and BIFF officials currently are developing the film schedule.

The 2019 Reveal Party is set from 5-7 p.m. on Feb. 5 at the new Home2Suites hotel, 2750 Cranston Road. The event is a Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours event. There, attendees can get a first look at this year's BIFF program book and hear what this year's festival has to offer.

Gerard and Executive Director Marty Densch were able to give the Beloit Daily News a taste of what's to come. The festival will begin with a Kickoff Event on Feb. 22 featuring a performance by Tony Scodwell, a Beloit native who has become one of the top trumpet players and designers in the music industry, and the Highland College Big Band at Suds O'Hanahan's Irish Pub, 435 E. Grande Ave.

During the event films will be screened throughout Beloit. Favorites like the Silent Film Showcase, Sing-A-Long, Classic Film and Radio Drama will all return. The free classic film will be selected via a survey in early January.

In terms of the films being showcased, Gerard and Densch said BIFF officials have slightly pared down the amount of short films and international films in an attempt to showcase as many local films as possible.

"The last couple of years we've seen that anything with local appeal performs the best at the box office," Gerard said.

They also wanted to leave room in the schedule for additional screenings of "blockbuster films" that sell out quickly.

Gerard said though there's no hyper-local story like last year's "All the Queen's Horses," a documentary telling the story of how Dixon city comptroller Rita Crundwell stole $53 million of public funds, he said there are a few films featuring local ties.

Jan Jensen and Mark Davis, of Tin Boat Productions, are back once again after telling the story of a man who sent a sick local girl creative cards almost daily for years in the documentary "The Bear and the Owl." They are releasing a feature-length documentary on fly fishing as well as a short film.

Local films like these will be showcased during BIFF's Wisconsin/Illinois Showdown the first weekend of the festival, which Gerard promised will be bigger and better than ever.

Another one of the films with regional ties is "The Hello Girls," which tells the story of how during World War I the U.S. Army sent 223 women to France as telephone operators. Two out of the thousands of operators selected were from Wisconsin. The filmmaker operates out of Racine, Wisconsin.

"These were heroic women who put themselves in the line of fire without credit," Gerard said. "The documentary connects to how women have made and are making great strides forward in our society."

Densch said though those women wore uniforms and were active service members at the time, when they returned home they weren't recognized as soldiers.

"It's a wonderful documentary about war and the veterans that no one knows about," Densch said.

Gerard said this goes into a larger theme organizers are calling "The Year of the Woman," featuring women in film, female directors and stories about women. He said this theme created itself, with many female-focused films being submitted this year. He said this is most likely in part due to more women stepping up to tell stories in the wake of the #MeToo movement taking off.

"We want to raise the pink flag and do an homage to that part of the film-making world," Gerard said.

He hopes to mark films in the program that are made by or tell women's stories.

Another special program is BIFF Cares, where film organizers work with Beloit Health System staff to raise awareness of issues surrounding health and wellness as depicted in film. Some of the possible themes this year include post-traumatic stress disorder and guardianship of the elderly.

The Harlem Vets Project also will be there to showcase the short films featuring interviews with veterans. The films are created by Harlem High School students and their teacher Nicholas Stange.

"The films are meant to thank veterans for their services while bringing awareness to how soldiers are faring after having served," Gerard said.

Densch praised the high quality of these short films, which have improved every year.

This year's Artist-in-Residence will be DePaul University professor James Choi, who served as executive producer on the student-led film "Sun King." Crews shot scenes of the film in Beloit this summer.

Choi will lead at least one free workshop on micro-budgeting films during the festival at Careertek.

The final five installments of BIFF Year Round will begin on Jan. 9 and will continue each Wednesday until Feb. 6 at the Hendricks Center for the Arts. Those who attend the screenings will have the opportunity to get films screened at BIFF and vote in the Stateline Community Foundation's BIFF Year Round People's Choice Award.

The lineup of the last five films before the festival will be released in the near future at, BIFF's Facebook page "Beloit International Film Festival" and in BIFF's monthly e-newsletter. Check these sources for more information as the festival gets closer.

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