Beaufort International Film Festival

Festival Directors Rebecca and Ron Tucker welcoming attendees to the BIFF 2018 Awards Ceremony.

It’s a Story that Seems Like a Frank Capra Hollywood Classic

It stars, Ron and Rebecca Tucker, cast to stereotype. Ron is the former Marine, a tall strapping man with a deep voice, a military bearing, and a big heart. Rebecca is the Southern Belle with a great smile, beauty and charm. And, together, they are making history in a classic American tale of self-reinvention. This story is about more than the two of them; it is also about the reinvention of a good idea for their adopted town and is potentially the revitalization of a once-healthy industry for their state of South Carolina.

The story begins for Ron with his retirement in 1992 from the Marines. He formed a production company called Sandbar Productions, LLC. Ron thought to combine his two passions: the Marine Corps and, as a long-time movie buff, film production. With knowledge that there was a program at Parris Island to videotape recruit graduations, he set out to find out all of the particulars then set his plan in motion. The contract was coming up for bid. The year was 1994 when he hired two recent graduates from the Savannah College of Art and Design as videographers, then wrote a short script for the required 15-minute demo tape. An award winning documentary was the result. 

His bid for the Marine Corps contract was not accepted, but he did get the attention of Trident Productions, a company out of Charleston, whose bid was also rejected. They got together, compared demos, then devised a plan to combine all the “bells and whistles” that Trident could offer with the expert knowledge of Marine Corps training that Ron possessed. They called their joint venture Good-To-Go Video; they would specialize in documentaries about the Marine Corps. Ron would be the Producer and Writer, and Trident would provide their sophisticated technical knowledge. Ron says today that it was an inspired combination, “like the clashing of peanut butter and chocolate.”

The fledgling new company called its first effort The Making of a Marine. It was released in 1995. This documentary went on to win numerous awards, but Ron will tell you that he’s most proud of the Norman Hatch Award presented by the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation for Best Documentary about a Marine Corps subject. 

There were very few cable outlets producing documentaries at that time, and their production would become the first commercially available film about Marine Corps recruit training. They had a niche market, self-distributing the film largely through the Marine Corps Exchange System and through small distributors, “mom & pop” shops, and museums around the world. This first film was followed by other documentaries: A Few Good Women shot on location at Parris Island; The Evening Parade, shot at the Marine Corps Barracks at 8th and I Streets in Washington, D.C.; The Sunset Parade, shot at the War Memorial in Arlington, VA; Fierce Pride in Country and Corps, shot in various locations around the country; and The Crucible: Making Marines for the 21st Century, shot at Parris Island, South Carolina and at San Diego, California. In 1999, Good to Go Video travelled to Vietnam to work on a documentary about the Battle for Hue City in 1968. It was also in that year that the contract at Parris Island would come open for bid again. This time the bid was accepted and for the next 14 years, until November 2013, more than 600 graduation ceremonies were produced. Nearly a quarter of a million new Marines marched in front of their cameras.

Ron Tucker chats with film industry invitees at a Festival discussion.

Set Decorator Missy Ricker is presented the Behind the Scenes Award by Carolina Film Alliance President Linda Lee.

In 2001, Rebecca took over the duties of Sales and Marketing for Good-To-Go Video. Armed with an engaging personality and genuine desire to be of help to the visiting Marine families at the Parris Island Visitors Center, she soon was being referred to as the “Parris Island Good-Will Ambassador.”

In 2004, Ron and Rebecca discussed expanding their filmmaking interests to include the rekindling of the once flourishing film industry in the Beaufort area. After all, this was akin to what they were already doing, so they felt they had the expertise to explore opportunities to get the movies back. Beaufort had served as the backdrop for over 20 major motion pictures, but none had been shot in the area since Rules of Engagement in 1999. Soon a plan was developed to approach the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce (BRFC) about establishing a Regional Film Commission. The Chamber Board of Directors agreed that the time was right to revisit filmmaking efforts as an economic stimulator. Ron would serve as the Chairman of a sixteen-member board that was comprised of representatives from Beaufort, Hampton, Colleton and Jasper counties. Also that year, Ron attended Film Commissioner training in Las Vegas that was sanctioned by the Association of Film Commissioners International (AFCI). It was at this training that Ron got the idea of hosting a film festival to encourage filmmakers to visit the area. The logic was simple. Get the filmmakers here, then they’ll fall in love with the place and want to make a movie here.

The plan was set in motion and, under the guidance and financial auspices of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, the first Beaufort International Film Festival (BIFF) was held in March 2007. About 500 people showed up to see what it was all about. Not knowing what to expect, the planners were pleased with the turnout. In 2008 and 2009 the festival continued to grow, reaching about 2500 in attendance.

From the beginning, Ron and Rebecca were adamant that the scope be international, because this would attract the most attention and the most competition among filmmakers. Beaufort, a town that cares about art and music, was clearly thirsty for this kind of artistic endeavor as well.

Actress Andie MacDowell is presented the inaugural Spirit & Pride of South Carolina Award by best-selling author Pat Conroy at the 2015 BIFF.

Senior Walt Disney Productions producer and BIFF presenter Jonathan Flora poses with 2016 honoree Vanna White.

In 2009, the Chamber decided to refocus its efforts on supporting small businesses, and, to that end, to get out of the festival planning business. Rather than a blow, this turned out to be a boon for BIFF. With approved board recommendation, the authority and responsibilities of BIFF were transferred to Sandbar Productions. Soon after, Ron and Rebecca realized that, to be successful, the festival was going to need to be operated as a nonprofit organization, so the Beaufort Film Society (BFS) was established as a 501(c)(3) organization, and assumed the responsibilities for the production of BIFF. The BFS is a member-driven organization and offers the community the opportunity to be a part of the effort to enliven, enrich and entertain through the art of filmmaking.

Their first year as an independent entity, they set the bar high with celebrity appearances by Academy Award nominee and best-selling author Pat Conroy, as well as Blythe Danner and Michael O’Keefe, stars of the movie The Great Santini. Not only did their presence attract audiences, it also attracted more budding filmmakers. With names like these, the BIFF had to be taken seriously. Other celebrities appearing at BIFF have included actor Tom Berenger, Academy Award winning film editor Arthur Schmidt, Oscar nominee film editor Craig McKay, Oscar winning Sound Designer Eugene Gearty, Producer/Director Mike Tollin and Emmy winning character actor Powers Boothe. 

 In 2013, BIFF was named one of the Top 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World by MovieMaker Magazine. In 2015 Andie MacDowell received the inaugural Spirit & Pride of South Carolina Award followed by television and fashion icon Vanna White the next year. Most recently BIFF was recognized by the Southeast Tourism Society as a “Top 20 Event Happening in February” and Film Freeway has acknowledged BIFF as one of the “Top 100 Best Reviewed Film Festivals in the World”, based on filmmaker’s reviews. 
 The ability to attract big stars and the up and coming filmmakers of tomorrow is not a full measure of the BIFF’s success, though. The real secret is the involvement of the community, as both Ron and Rebecca are quick to point out. This Festival has been taken to Beaufort’s heart and the 100 plus volunteers who help each year are a major part of it. From the 500 attending the first festival to the nearly 14000 people from 31 states and 4 countries attending this small gem of a festival last year, there seems to be no limit to how much this major international event in a town of less than 13,000 can grow. With Ron and Rebecca Tucker at the helm, just grab the rails then hang on for a great ride. 

Actress Blythe Danner is presented the Jean Ribaut Award by Academy Award nominee Michael O'Keefe at BIFF 2010.

University of South Carolina, Beaufort Center for the Arts, Awards Ceremony BIFF 2018.

© 2019 Southeast Film Guide