The Buffalo International Film Festival celebrates art, community and diversity

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The Buffalo International Film Festival wrapped up Monday night after a busy five days of screenings, panels and performances across the city.

The 16th annual event – otherwise known as “Sweet BIFFteen” – was an uplifting celebration of film, art and community that featured more than 160 independent films from Western New York and beyond.

The festival’s opening night kicked off at the historic North Park Theatre, a single-screen cinema on Hertel Avenue. Audiences descended on the magnificent theater for the opening night gala: a screening of “Bashira,” the directorial debut of animator and special effects artist Nickson Fong. The trippy musical horror film, inspired by a Japanese legend, was a fitting choice to start the weekend. Like many films shown at BIFF, “Bashira” was filmed in and around Buffalo.

Audience members were thrilled to recognize beloved Buffalo spots like the Theater District and Venu – a favorite of many UB students.

But more importantly, the film was produced with an entirely local crew.

“Everybody [on the crew] was from Buffalo,” said Mitzi Akaha, one of the film’s stars. “Because it’s such a close community, they’ve worked on all the movies that have come through Buffalo…they’ve been able to share this rich culture of what filmmaking is here.”

“Bunker,” another WNY-produced movie, had its world premiere Saturday night. Adrian Langley’s World War I thriller was shot entirely at Buffalo FilmWorks, a local studio.

The film – a body-horror sci-fi film about soldiers who must contend with an evil presence while trapped underground – was a hit with audiences.

Although a small town, Buffalo is no stranger to big movie productions. It’s become something of a hotspot over the past few years, with huge filmmakers like Guillermo del Toro and John Krasinski passing through.

But a big part of BIFF’s mission is to showcase popular independent films that have come out of the region, not big Hollywood productions.

The tight, community-focused quality of the festival attracts up-and-coming filmmakers looking to grow and expand their network. Paul-Daniel Torres, a director whose short film was screened as part of BIFF’s “Racial Justice in View” short film program, cited BIFF as one of the top festivals he’s attended.

“That’s really all a festival should be,” Torres said. “It’s a place that makes quality films accessible to all audiences, but also allows itself to be a training ground for young filmmakers.

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This type of accessibility is something truly unique to BIFF. At other festivals, it can cost upwards of $30 to attend a screening with a filmmaker; at BIFF, it’s always affordable, if not totally free.

“I think it’s an important part of a production ecosystem in any big city to have a real film festival,” said Anna Scime, executive director of BIFF. “Buffalo is one of the poorest cities in the country. I think something like 30% of the people in the city of Buffalo live below the poverty line…so we really want to have full access for everyone.

One of the festival’s most special moments came on Sunday night with the screening of “WNY Stories,” a compilation of short films produced entirely in the Buffalo area. The incredibly diverse block included music videos, documentaries and animated video essays, all from people who call Western New York home.

The sense of hometown pride was tangible as members of the community flocked to the North Park Theater to cheer on their friends and loved ones.

The 16th Buffalo International Film Festival kicked off at the historic North Park Theater on October 6.

One of the most Buffalo-centric selections from the screening was the music video for rock band Handsome Jack’s song “Roll It,” which follows the musicians as they push their broken down tour van through the streets of Buffalo. . It was a fun and dynamic tribute to Queen City, with cameos from places like Revolver Records and Highmark Stadium. (Yes, someone in the audience let out a resounding “Go Bills”!)

A particularly poignant moment occurred during “I’ll Find a Way or Make One – A Rosie Story.” The short documentary featured Viola Hippert, a 97-year-old Lackawanna native who worked for Bell Aircraft during World War II. She was one of many “Rosie the Riveters,” American women who landed factory jobs during the war and changed the status quo for women in the workplace.

Hippert herself was there, watching her story unfold on the big screen for the first time. Audiences were clearly charmed by his sense of humor, his tenacity and his many stories; they laughed and cheered throughout the film. When it was over, the crowd erupted in the loudest applause of the night.

This manifestation of unity and joy is exactly what Scime strived to create during the festival.

“I would say it’s really community driven,” Scime said. “Our true mission is diversity, inclusion, amplifying all kinds of voices…but also bringing our community together.”

Meret Kelsey is Associate Art Editor and can be reached at [email protected]


MERET KELSEY

Meret Kelsey is associate art editor at Spectrum.

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