Posted – Dec 21, 2011
Each year at the Beloit International Film Festival in February, you can spot Frank Capra’s characters transplanted to Beloit from their Wonderful Life in Bedford Falls. People rush along the snow covered sidewalks, greeting each other, welcoming visitors, cornering filmmakers. It is a film festival the way film festivals used to be. No cineplexes, just comfortable community film venues set in downtown businesses. The creative artists are the celebrities and are somewhat surprised by their elevated status as they are stopped on the street by admirers between showings to chat about their work. Occasionally, a limousine slides by, delivering guests to one of the local businesses that has swept away the day-to-day routine to welcome film people—lovers and creators, actors and producers— for presentations and parties for four days.
The venues open at noon and go until late. People fill the restaurants for lunch and dinner and then gather in the evening at local parties to welcome new friends from dozens of countries and talk about the power of the films they saw that day. The opinions of hundreds of local volunteers and BIFF ambassadors help to guide visitors to their favorite features, documentaries, and shorts. By evening, the word is out on the best films and people are asking for extra showings of their latest film discoveries.
Children of all ages pack the largest facility, the Eclipse Center to learn about how to watch films and to watch the work of their classmates. Special communities from the Latino residents of the area to the deaf community have special programs planned by their own peers and presented with a special flair. Late nights are filled with live music as people celebrate BIFF After Dark. And the largest gathering of the weekend draws hundreds to celebrate the timeless quality of the purest form of film art at the Silent Film Showcase, featuring the Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra and one of the great silent classics, still making an impact after a century in the vault.
The program crosses international lines and incorporates every category of film style and content while bringing everybody back home and reaffirming a creative community of families. Frank Capra would feel right at home.