Beaufort International Film Festival

Big winners L-R; Jonas Ball, actor—Rebecca and Ron Tucker—Dana White, actress—Chris Knoblock, director.
(All winners from the film "In the Orchard" which won best feature, making it the first clean sweep ever in BIFF).

Another record-shattering year for local event

It has been over 20 years since Ron Tucker introduced an idea to certain entities of government in Beaufort to establish a regional film commission. In 1999 a formalized and very detailed plan was presented to local officials regarding the need to get ahead of an anticipated coming decline of movie production in the region. Working as a documentary producer and occasional location scout, Ron was determined to keep Beaufort the Film Capitol of the South and certainly the gem of the industry in South Carolina.

Beginning in the late 1970s Beaufort served as the backdrop for many major motion pictures which included The Great Santini, The Big Chill, Forrest Gump, Prince of Tides and many more. It was while visiting the set of the military drama, Rules of Engagement, which was filming at nearby Hunting Island State Park, that Ron felt an urgency to present his idea to area government officials. This was in fact the second time he had presented the idea, the first being in 1994 when he approached the Beaufort County Economic Development Department about formalizing an office dedicated to film and television production in South Carolina. Armed with facts and figures on the industry to include a model program from the mold of the then very busy Wilmington (NC) Regional Film Commission, he presented his plan but Beaufort Officials didn’t see a need for an office dedicated to only one industry of economic development. The mindset of the time was “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.” 

Fast forward to 2003. No films were being made in Beaufort. The industry had stagnated as predicted. Film producers were finding the incentives being offered in Canada to be attractive, thus a period that was the beginning of “runaway films.” Also, in 2002 Louisiana implemented their own set of film incentives thereby changing how and where films get made. Other states soon tried to create enticing film incentive programs, but Louisiana was way ahead of the trend so the rest of the states were playing catch up. 

Not to be deterred, Ron once again introduced his idea of creating a Regional Film Commission. This time the idea would be to include the counties of Jasper, Hampton and Colleton along with Beaufort. Again, no interest from city or county officials but the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce said, “let’s do it.” Eureka! In April 2004 the plan was introduced to the Chamber Board of Directors and approved. A new Executive Level position was created on the Board and Ron was appointed the Chairman, of the newly formed Beaufort Regional Film Commission beginning in July 2004. This would be the beginning of a new era for the growth of a once burgeoning industry in the Lowcountry. 

In October of 2004, Ron attended training at the annual Cineposium sponsored by the Association of Film Commissioners International (AFCI) in Las Vegas and received certification as a Film Commissioner. Having spent some time with Film Commissioners from around the world and toting this new certification, Ron brought back many ideas that he would introduce to the newly formed 16-member regional film commission. One of those ideas was to start a film festival to be held in Beaufort. It would not be until 2006 that the idea would take hold with the other commission members and the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. Finally, in February 2007 the first film festival was held. With no experience in organizing a film festival and with a miniscule budget for this first year, it turned out to be a “trial by fire.” Many lessons were learned and there were about 500 people who would attend and enjoy this first effort by the fledgling film commission. In the following three years, attendance grew and the film festival was starting to hit its stride as word spread about this now anticipated annual event. 

In 2009, the Board of Directors of the Beaufort Chamber of Commerce reevaluated their vision and mission and decided to eliminate the planning and delivering of festivals of any kind. 

RAISING THE BAR

With this new development, Ron and his wife Rebecca put the wheels in motion to establish a non-profit organization called the Beaufort Film Society which would present the annual Beaufort International Film Festival going forward. Plans immediately began for the 2010 film festival under this new banner. The 2010 Beaufort International Film Festival would be the break out year. Attendance was estimated at nearly 5000 people attending some part of the four-day festival. Honorees included Actress Blythe Danner and Best-Selling Author and Academy Award Nominated Screenwriter Pat Conroy. Actor Michael O’Keefe also attended as an award presenter. 

As the attendance for the Beaufort International Film Festival has grown, as evidenced by its record shattering numbers from the most recent festival in February 2019, so too has the international reputation of this much anticipated annual cultural event. It is through the filmmaker reviews that BIFF is now listed by FilmFreeway as a Top 100 Best Reviewed Film Festival in the World. Here are some comments from attending filmmakers:

“I’ve been to hundreds of film festivals as a filmmaker and as a spectator. Everything about Beaufort is top notch.” Rob Margolies, New York, NY

“Hospitality was remarkable. Every festival planner should visit BIFF to get good ideas for how to make their filmmakers feel special and engaged.” Andrew Rudd, Canton, OH

“What can I say, the Beaufort International Film Festival was a surprise jewel of an event. The community turns out in huge crowds to view the films and meet the filmmakers, and the fellow filmmakers generally make an appearance and are top-notch.” Jim Picariello, Brooksville, ME

“A big hearted, community-wide festival unique among nearly all fests. BIFF, led by its intrepid and inspiring festival directors, Ron and Rebecca Tucker, attracts THOUSANDS of attendees every year. BIFF offers the rare opportunity for filmmakers to truly test their films in front of large, wide-ranging audiences.” Daniel Blake Smith, St. Louis, MO

“I’ve never seen a festival more successful at engaging and mobilizing their local community. People come from all over to join in on the fun. Filmmakers dream of having their film screen in front of a large audience and that will become a reality at BIFF.” Hoyt Richards, Los Angeles, CA

 

GOODFELLA MEETS BROADWAY WITH A TOUCH OF OPERA

BIFF 2019 set itself apart from previous festivals from the outset. Legendary Actor, Author, Chef and Opera Singer Paul Sorvino was set to receive the 2nd annual Pat Conroy Lifetime Achievement Award. In recognition of his participation and iconic status as a “Goodfella” who could sing opera, a theme was set for the Opening Reception that would include “flappers to fedoras,” from early gangster to the modern day Soprano, attendees were encouraged to come dressed for the part. As a “WOW” moment for the kick-off, a group of senior but adorable tap dance group known as the Beaufortettes performed the 1920s era dance, the Charleston. They were followed by the totally mesmerizing voice of Charlotte Opera Tenor, Jonathan White as he performed three opera classics in honor of Mr. Sorvino. As it would happen, Mr. Sorvino was not able to attend the festival due to some last minute schedule changes, but his son Michael Sorvino was able to attend and accept the prestigious award on his father’s behalf. 

With the festival beginning with bit of “sass and class,” it was appropriate that a record 16,000 seats were occupied for the 13th edition of BIFF this past February. Average screening per film was nearly 300, another record. In all, attendees for the 6-day festival came from 33 states and 6 countries. A record 90 filmmakers came to support their films and to network with other filmmakers from around the world. Among the films presented were 52 South Carolina Premiers, 1 East Coast Premier, and 3 World Premiers. Also, the increasingly popular Screenwriter’s Workshop gave attending screenwriters an opportunity to see portions of their screenplays performed by local actors, very often eliciting unexpected reactions to their written words. 

Opening night gathering of Gangster/Mafia types dressed for the occasion; L-R: John and Naomi Forrestall, Beaufort Lifestyle Magazine and the Don himself, RonTucker and wife Rebecca. 

"A Frenchman in the States" starring Gerard Klein with Ron at the home of Bubba Gump location.

AND THE SURVEY SAYS

As BIFF has grown in attendance and prestige over the years, it was considered important to officially gather data for this annual event which takes place in a winter month, to determine the economic impact the festival has on the city of Beaufort. The Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Institute and the University of South Carolina, Beaufort conducted a study that determined that:

  • 80% of attendees were in Beaufort in February specifically for BIFF

  • 67% Average Income 100K+

  • 44% traveled more than 50 miles to attend BIFF and stay in area hotels

  • 80% Average age of attendees 50+ 

  • 61.2% Married

  • 77% Hold College and Post Graduate Degrees

  • 68.8% Not likely to be visiting Beaufort in February if not for the film festival

 

HUMANITARIAN AWARD

BIFF 2019 also introduced the Susan A. K. Shaffer Humanitarian Award in loving memory of Susan Shaffer, who left this world far too soon. Susan was an activist, nature lover, student, teacher, and film enthusiast. The award transcends category and genre and is intended to be presented annually to the filmmaker whose work best exemplifies the need for positive social, cultural and/or environmental change in our time. The inaugural award was presented for the Student Film, “No Sanctuary” which told the story of the “Emmanuel 9,” Charleston Church Shooting in 2015. Filmmaker Emmilee Reese Millhouse was on hand to accept this inaugural presentation. 

"Safety on the Set" panel discussion participants [L-R] director Chris Knoblock, producer-actor Dana White, Joyce Gilliard, actor-producer Hoyt Richards, director Chris White.

BEHIND THE SCENES AWARD 2019

The Beaufort Film Society established the “Behind the Scenes” Award in 2014 to recognize that person from South Carolina whose work behind the scenes in the film and television industries has contributed significantly to the success and growth of the industries in the state. Past recipients have included James Passanante (Construction Coordinator), Jonathan Gaynor (Sound Mixer), Steve Rhea (Location Coordinator), Brad Jayne (Filmmaker), and Missy Ricker (Set Decorator). 

The BIFF 2019 recipient is Joyce Gilliard, a Published Author, Activist, Educator, Motivational Speaker, Founder of the SC Hair & Makeup Network and Founder of the Non-Profit iSAFE! TV & FILM, LLC and has nearly 30 years as a Hairstylist. 

After graduation from high school in Charleston, SC, Joyce attended Farrah's Beauty School and was certified as a South Carolina Cosmetologist. Many years of working in the industry, especially aboard military bases, prepared her for the opportunity in 2006 when she was hired as a Background Artist on the hit television series, Army Wives. She worked her way up to become one of the Hairstylists on the show. While working on Army Wives, she became the first African American hairstylist in S.C. to be accepted into the IATSE Local 798 Hair and Makeup Union. Joyce went on to work as hairstylist and make-up artist as she travelled around the country to work on over 75 films, television programs, or commercials. Some of her other film and television credits include The Hunger Games, Paper Towns, Banshee, Goosebumps 2 and Sleepy Hollow.

On February 20, 2014, Joyce's life changed forever. She was working on the film Midnight Rider, when a train came barreling through the set, and killed, camera assistant, Sarah Jones and severely injured her and other crew members. Joyce had reconstructive surgery on her left arm, with plates and screws. She was told by doctors that she would never do hair again and to change careers. Through perseverance, determination, hard work, rehab, and a strong religious faith, Joyce recovered sufficiently to return to the work she loves. 

During BIFF 2019 Joyce conducted a panelist discussion, along with a few attending filmmakers, concerning “Safety on the Set.” The discussion was streamed live around the world.

….AND THE WINNERS ARE

By all accounts, BIFF 2019 was the most successful yet. The overall attendance, average per screening attendance, Opening Night Reception and Awards Gala attendance and distance traveled to attend the festival (Tokyo, Japan) and number of filmmakers attending were record setting. The impactful nature of the films presented resonated with the audiences like never before. A record number of filmmakers from South Carolina were in competition and the festival saw a first time happening with the Feature Film, “In the Orchard” getting a “clean sweep” of individual awards by winning Best Feature Film, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Actor. A Short Film titled “Tin Can” a story about human kindness took the Best Short and Audience Choice honors and Best Documentary Short, went to “No Sanctuary,” a film that emphasized forgiveness against all odds. 

In the words of South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster’s Welcome Letter, “The Beaufort International Film Festival provides an opportunity for an international gathering of filmmakers who are celebrated for six straight days, to give us a close look at the power of cinema and the wondrous ways of making us laugh, cry, think and change.”

Plans for the 14th annual Beaufort International Film Festival are well underway and will take place February 18-23, 2020. Mark your calendars now then come see for yourself what the rest of the world has been talking about. Come enjoy this quintessential cultural event in the second oldest city in South Carolina, a city abundant with large Spanish moss-draped trees, sweeping marsh vistas, and the fanciest antebellum homes. What a setting it will be for your next close-up. 

 

Complete list of BIFF 2019 Winners:

  • Pat Conroy Lifetime Achievement Award: Paul Sorvino, Los Angeles, CA    

  • Behind the Scenes Award: Joyce Gilliard, Charleston, SC

  • Susan A. K. Shaffer Humanitarian Award: “No Sanctuary” directed by Nathan Knox, Winston-Salem, NC

  • Best Feature: “In the Orchard,” directed by Chris Knoblock, Los Angeles, California 

  • Best Documentary (Feature): “The Need to Grow,” directed by Rob Herring and Ryan Wirick, Los Angeles, California 

  • Best Documentary (Short): “No Sanctuary,”directed by Nathan Knox, Winston-Salem,North Carolina

  • Best Short Film: “Tin Can,” directed by Pat Battistini, Santa Clarita, California

  • Best Student Film: “Homecoming,” directed by Jennifer Blair, Los Angeles, California

  • Best Comedy: “Passive Aggressive Dads,” directed by Jim Picariello, Brooksville, Maine

  • Best Animation: “Night Light,” directed by Yamiset Trujillo and Jane Suarez, Orlando, Florida

  • Best Screenplay: “Last of the Burly Girls,” written by John Pisano-Thomsen, Toronto, Canada

  • Best Actress: Dana White, Los Angeles, California (“In the Orchard”)

  • Best Actor: Jonas Ball, Los Angeles, California (“In the Orchard”)

  • Best Director: Chris Knoblock, Los Angeles, California (“In the Orchard”)

  • Audience Choice: “Tin Can,” director Pat Battistini, Santa Clarita, California (Short Film)

Michael Sorvino accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award for his Dad, Paul Sorvino.

Original poster from 2007 Beaufort Film Festival

Joyce on set with an endearing image of good friend Sarah Jones.

Joyce Gilliard just after the screening of a tragic train accident which claimed the life of Sarah Jones, a close friend and co-worker. 

© 2019 Southeast Film Guide