Film festival adds venues to increase offerings

Sarah Roberts

Buoyed by a pattern of increasing attendance, the Beloit International Film Festival in Beloit, Wis., has expanded this year to include more films at more venues.

The third annual fest, starting Thursday, will feature about 135 films at 10 locations throughout the city. Organizers are expecting between 8,000 and 10,000 moviegoers to flood Beloit over the four-day festival, up from an estimated 6,000 in 2007.

“Hotels are already booking up here,” said Alex Schwartz, a Beloit College junior who is interning for the festival committee this year. “Nearly every single hotel in town is sold out.”

This year’s attendance will help organizers determine the festival’s future, said Ron Nief, director of public affairs at Beloit College.

“This is a critical year in terms of deciding what our options are,” Nief said. “We could look at extending the length of the festival, changing dates, adding cities. We want to keep it tight, where you get to meet the actors and screenwriters and so on. But the attendance starts to change the character of the festival.”

Local presence

The festival’s selection committee begins work in July, researching which flicks it wants to solicit for the festival and sifting through submitted films. The final lineup is usually set by November, Schwartz said, and includes films in categories ranging from documentaries to animation.

Schwartz, who has seen many of the films that will be playing at the festival, is anticipating that “Metropolis,” part of the festival’s Silent Film Showcase, will be a huge draw. The 1927 German Expressionist film, frequently billed as the forerunner to modern sci-fi cinema, is showing at 8 p.m. Saturday at The Eclipse Center, which can seat 1,000, Schwartz said. Dr. Robert Tomaro, who leads the Beloit Janesville Symphony, composed an original score to accompany the film.

Another local connection to this year’s international festival is the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society-Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin, which spent about two years making a documentary that will be shown three times this weekend.

“Black Rockfordians: Their Journey Through the Forest City” includes interviews with 65 blacks about their life experiences in Rockford and is narrated by Rockford native Michelle Williams, formerly of Destiny’s Child.

The society released the film on DVD in May, and it can be found in area public and school libraries. Eagle Video Corp., which made the DVD, suggested that the group submit the film to the Beloit festival, society President Deb Hempstead said.

“It was something we really wanted to do anyway, because many of our members come from that area, and we wanted to bring it to them,” said Hempstead, who co-directed the film with former society President Joyce Higgins. “It was an honor to be accepted, and it’s an excellent opportunity to spread the word about our society.”

More than movies

In addition to dozens of films, the festival also features special packages, like the Silent Film Showcase and a “Harry Potter” marathon. Special events include a launch party, awards ceremony, and live music and dancing.

But ultimately, this weekend is a celebration of movie magic. And in that vein, festival organizers have invited people from all corners of the film industry to share their knowledge with the crowds.

Directors for two-thirds of the festival’s films have confirmed that they’ll be present for this weekend’s festivities, Nief said. Directors, actors and producers will put on a “film school” Saturday, Schwartz said, where they will discuss the movie industry.

“There will be lots of opportunities to mingle,” Schwartz said.

Festival dedicated to Ken Hendricks

This year’s Beloit International Film Festival will be dedicated to late entrepreneur Ken Hendricks, who helped conceive the annual fest in 2005.

Hendricks and his wife, Diane, saw the festival as an opportunity to enhance Beloit’s cultural scene and attract new audiences to the city, festival organizers said. Hendricks challenged organizers to create a unique festival that would be open to entire families.

Hendricks died Dec. 21 from injuries suffered in a fall at his Janesville, Wis., home. He was 66.

This year’s event is dedicated to the “spirit and confidence” that Hendricks brought to the festival and the city, organizers said.

Rockford Register Star

If you go

What: Beloit International Film Festival

Where: 10 venues in Beloit, Wis.: Wilson Theatre, Richardson Auditorium and Eaton Chapel at Beloit College, 700 College St.; The Eclipse Center, Riverside Drive and Henry Avenue in the Beloit Mall; Suds O’Hanahans, 435 E. Grand Ave.; La Casa Grande, 618 Fourth St.; Bagels & More, 324 State St.; Domenicos, 547 E. Grand Ave.; The Rotary River Center, 1220 Riverside Drive; and Beloit Fine Arts Incubator, 520 E. Grand Ave.

When: Jan. 17-20

Costs: $7 per film for adults or $5 for students with valid ID, $10 for launch party, $25 for awards ceremony, $15 for Silent Film Showcase, $15 for "Harry Potter" marathon pass, $5 for Disco Paradise party

Info: Call 608-313-1200 or visit