8th Annual Beaufort International Film Festvial
Author: Frank Dunne Jr.
Did you see Forrest Gump on the big screen at its original release? Yes? Then this may make you feel a bit older than you care to admit: that was 20 years ago. It’s well known in these parts that most of the shooting for Tom Hanks’s classic took place…well…in these parts. Sounds like a no-brainer that there should be a birthday party right here in good ol’ Beaufort County, don’t you think? Folks at the Beaufort Film Society do, so they’re throwing a party February 12-16 at the 8th Annual Beaufort International Film Festival.
Not that Gump’s 20th anniversary is why there’s a film festival happening in Beaufort County. BIFF has been going on for eight years, and in the film festival universe it’s the real deal—an art and culture jewel right here in our own community, recognized by MovieMaker magazine as one of the “Top 25 Coolest General Film Festivals in the World.” Repeat those last three words to yourself out loud: “in the world.” Then listen to what prominent Beaufort columnist and editor (and thespian on the side) Margaret Shinn Evans says about BIFF: “We love it because there are so many fascinating people from all over the world—creative, brilliant people who just haven’t necessarily had their big break yet. They go from festival to festival to show their films. That’s what they do!”
BIFF is about those people, the “little guy,” trying to break into the movie business, but it serves another purpose as well. BIFF began in 2007 to give aspiring filmmakers and screenwriters a chance to show their stuff to the world, also to showcase South Carolina’s Lowcountry to the film industry. Successful films such as The Great Santini (1979) and The Big Chill (1983), both filmed in Beaufort, helped coastal South Carolina emerge as a favorite shooting location for mainstream movie studios throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The Prince of Tides, Something to Talk About, Rules of Engagement, The Patriot, The Legend of Bagger Vance, Full Metal Jacket, and The Fugitive are a handful of some 20 notable features shot at least partly in and around Beaufort County during that time. Today, Beaufort Film Society president Ron Tucker sees BIFF as a vehicle to expose a rising generation of filmmakers to the Lowcountry and hopefully make it a star of the silver screen once again.
BIFF 2014 kicks off Wednesday evening, February 12, with the traditional red carpet Opening Night Filmmaker’s Reception on the Old Bay Marketplace Rooftop (Who knows? You just might rub elbows with the next Steven Spielberg.) and wraps on Saturday night, February 15, with an awards ceremony at the University of South Carolina Beaufort’s Center for the Arts. The days between are packed with screenings of film entries from around the world, competing in animation, student, documentary, short, and feature genres. Unlike Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates where you never know what you’re gonna get, you can view trailers to get a taste of all the finalists’ films at BIFF’s website: BeaufortFilmFestival.com (click “Finalists 2014”).
Spotlighting one film is a rare twist for BIFF. The inaugural event featured The Great Santini with stars Blythe Danner and Michael O’Keefe, as well as Pat Conroy (who authored the novel upon which the film is based) in attendance. “It made sense then,” Tucker said, “because it was our first festival and Santini is the one that started it all, but we’re careful to stay loyal to aspiring filmmakers and screenwriters looking for that big break rather than big movies and big stars.”
“It’s just a really uplifting time to be reminded that there are great creative artists out there who are pursuing what they do despite the fact that it’s such a hard way to make a living,” Evans added. BIFF 2014 will give the Forrest Gump anniversary its due attention because of the film’s significance to the area, but it won’t overshadow the filmmakers and screenwriters. “We’re focusing on a themed format this year,” Tucker said. “It’s the 20th anniversary of Forrest Gump, so we have some events centered around that.” No, Mr. Hanks will not be in attendance, but knowing Beaufort folks’ flair for the whimsical, there’s a good chance that you’ll bump into a few Forrest and Jenny lookalikes around town. To celebrate the anniversary, two-time Academy Award winning film editor Arthur Schmidt will receive BIFF’s prestigious Jean Ribaut Award for Excellence. Schmidt earned Best Film Editing Oscars for Who Framed Roger Rabbit? as well as for Forrest Gump. Coal Miner’s Daughter, Back to the Future, Last of the Mohicans, and Cast Away are among his other credits. In addition to receiving his award, Schmidt will take part in Gump related activities throughout the festival.
“On Friday afternoon we’re going to show the documentary, The Magic behind the Making of Forrest Gump, and later that evening we’ll have a screening of the actual movie,” Tucker said. “We figure that just about everybody in the audience will have already seen Forrest Gump, so we tried to make it more interesting. Usually you don’t get around to watching a ‘making of’ feature until after you’ve watched the movie. In this case you’ll see how they did this part and that part first; then when you watch the movie, you’re going to be looking at it totally differently.” (Spoiler Alert: if you suspected that Tom Hanks wasn’t strong enough to carry wounded Bubba to safety in one of the film’s Vietnam War scenes, filmed on Hunting Island, you might be on to something.)
Following the screening, Schmidt will partake in a moderated discussion with others involved in the film’s production. “We’ve invited as many local people as we could find who were extras or had anything do with making Forrest Gump to be a part of it,” Tucker said.
BIFF also hands down awards in a screenplay category, and aspiring screenwriters get their special recognition at the Screenwriters Workshop and Table Read on Thursday evening, February 13. This is where actors read selected scenes from a script in front of an audience…and the script’s author. This is often the first time a writer hears the written words delivered by somebody other than himself, let alone professional actors. It can be a very exciting moment for budding screenwriters, and worthwhile to see for anybody interested in the art of filmmaking.
Evans regularly participates in the table readings, and her company is a major BIFF sponsor, so it’s no stretch to say that she is one of BIFF’s most ardent supporters. “It’s so much fun for three or four days in the bleak winter month of February to hobnob with these fun, creative, dynamic people from all over. They love Beaufort, and they’re so appreciative. They can hardly believe that this little town brings such a big crowd of people together to view their films! I get very passionate about the Film Festival…can you tell?”
To order Beaufort International Film Festival tickets online, visit BeaufortFilmFestival.com and click the “Tickets” tab; call (843) 522-3196 or (800) 889-6734 for more information.