Against all odds

9 mins read

The 15th Annual Beaufort International Film Festival Goes Live

By Mark Shaffer
For Lowcountry Weekly

Around this time last year as the Beaufort International Film Festival was coming to the end of another record-breaking run, the term “COVID 19” was rapidly becoming part of the worldwide public lexicon.

Ron and Rebecca Tucker – like most people – thought that whatever this thing was, it would certainly run its course by summer’s end. And then like the hackneyed plot of a Sci-Fi “B” movie, the world went into lockdown. The virus spread, and … well, we all know the rest.

The Tuckers, who run the festival via the Beaufort Film Society, have parlayed BIFF into a destination event during a traditionally slow time for business in Beaufort. If at all possible, the Tuckers felt the show must go on.

“As much as we love the films and filmmakers, the whole reason we have the festival is to bring people here to see Beaufort,” Ron Tucker said. “If there was a chance we could do it in person, we wanted to hold on to that option.”

That meant pushing the deadline for entries to the absolute last second as filmmakers struggled to complete films in the new shared landscape of isolation and virtual reality.

Meanwhile as the Tuckers considered their options, 2020 rolled on from bad to worse and 2019’s landmark accomplishment seemed further and further away. That fall the indie romantic comedy, “Stars Fell On Alabama” filmed in Beaufort with the Tuckers co-producing through the BFS. The film, co-produced and directed respectively by BIFF alumni Uyen Le and VW Scheich fulfilled the BFS mission to bring features back to the Lowcountry.

But that was in “the way back” before facemasks became the century’s hottest fashion accessory and toilet paper was scarce as an actual fact. Even so, the finished film screened a year later for socially distanced cast & crew at Tabby Place. By that point, the festival’s long time home at the USCB Center for the Arts had been ruled out due to university restrictions, and the decision was made to move the fest to the venue on Port Republic Street.

“From that screening we knew we had some issues to address,” Rebecca Tucker said.

“The next time you see [the room] it’s going to look and sound like a real theater,” Ron Tucker said. “You won’t recognize it.”

The venue is already equipped with a state-of-the-art airflow system. The “To Do” list includes taming the room’s infamous acoustic bounce, upgrading the sound system, installing theater grade front projection & screen, and creating a safe and viable virus protocol – which includes sanitizing at intervals between screenings and doing the entire venue at the end of each day.

The plan requires attendees to wear face coverings and have their temperature taken digitally prior to entry. No exceptions. In order to make this all manageable, seating comes at a premium.

“Our attendance last year averaged 412 per screening,” says Rebecca. “This year we’re limited to 175 maximum.”

The stringent COVID protocols exceed those set down by the state in an effort to make things as safe as possible. The grim reality of the pandemic has already left its mark. New York based actor/director Clyde Baldo succumbed to the virus in December. He appears in four films – directing one – and is nominated for Best Actor (“In The Promised Land”) and Best Director (“Monarch Butterfly”).

“It’s a real shame,” Rebecca Tucker said. “He will be a huge presence in the festival.”

Another presence looming large is the legendary character actor, Danny Aiello. Known for iconic roles in films like “Do The Right Thing” and “Moonstruck,” Aiello passed away in 2019 at the age of 86. His final performance in Writer/ Director Deirdre O’Conner’s feature “One Moment” makes its world premier at BIFF. Like Baldo, Aiello is nominated for a posthumus Best Actor award. O’Conner, who teaches college-level film studies in New York, says losing Aiello was like losing a family member.

The second New York film comes from Director Aimee Long. “A Shot Through The Wall” follows a young Chinese American cop in the “ripped from the headlines” aftermath of the accidental shooting of an innocent black man. The lone California entry comes by way of BIFF (and UNCSA) alumna Ben Hall. “Night Into Day” deals with a young Los Angeles couple whose impending divorce only seemed like the end of the world until the real thing showed up.

And then there’s the Second Coming (sort of). A few years back Greenville-based filmmakers Chris and Emily Reach White debuted their original screenplay for “Electric Jesus” at BIFF. This year “Jesus” opens the show, so to speak. Think “Almost Famous” meets “The Breakfast Club” (hey, Judd Nelson’s in it). The film chronicles the misadventures of a Christian hair metal band during the sin and Spandex drenched decade of the 80s. I’ll give it points for my favorite tag line of the year so far: A Star is Born … Again.

All four features in competition are slated to screen in the evening slot. The rest of the schedule is packed with a huge range of short films, documentaries, and animation marked by a host of returning filmmakers. And at a time when the world really needs a laugh, the schedule is crowded with a record sixteen comedies.

Once again, the features screen at night and all but one are available by purchasing individual tickets. “’Electric Jesus” is part of the opening-night package,” Ron Tucker said. “It’s this year’s ‘Wow!’ moment to kick things off.”

The 2021 fest also debuts a new category with a diverse trio of documentary features spotlighting “Duty and Honor.”

“The Girl Who Wore Freedom” follows stories handed down by French citizens freed from Nazi occupation during the allied invasion of Normandy and still celebrated annually. “Bastards’ Road” chronicles a modern Marine veteran’s 6,000 mile cross-country walkabout in his search for peace and healing.

“And ‘A Band to Honor’ is about the Navy band that was on board the U.S. Arizona when it went down at Pearl Harbor,” Ron Tucker said. “The film’s about how those musicians became sailors when the bombs started to fall.”

The 15th Beaufort International Film Festival gets under way Monday, Feb. 15 and runs through the following Friday. Seating is limited. The purchase of advance tickets is highly recommended. View the complete Film Guide, check out COVID protocols and buy tickets online at www.BeaufortFilmFestival.com.

 

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