> by Jordan Canahai and Matt Ricchiazzi
The Buffalo Niagara Film Festival is merely ten years old and has already emerged as one of the region’s signature cultural events, attracting hundreds of directors, actors, producers, and writers from New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, and far-flung corners of the world.
When they convene at the Tonawanda Castle this weekend, they will be doing much more than screening provocative, insightful, and often brilliant independent films and shorts. The festival will be peppered with panel discussions and deep discourses on the art of filmmaking, articulated by some of the industry’s most avant-garde directors, quirkiest writers, and most beautiful actors.
Increasingly, the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival is mentioned alongside other festivals such as Sundance, Atlanta, Ann Arbor and the Toronto Film Festivals – earning our region priceless prestige that is propelling the local film industry more catalytically than any government funded commission or tax credit ever could.
Hoyt Richards is just one example of the caliber of expert talent that has lifted the festival to international prominence, among hundreds of others expected.
His film Intersection is about a guilt-ridden man (Hoyt Richards) who blames himself for the accidental death of his only child and meets a mysterious and beautiful woman (Anabella Casanova) in the same remote town where the fateful car crash occurred. There is a spark between them. But she also carries a dark past. Do second chances come with a price?
Intersection (Dauntless Studios) is written, directed, and stars Hoyt Richards himself in the emotional and moving film – chosen as an official selection of the festival. Not only will attendees have an opportunity to attend the Friday screening at 4 pm, but will also have a chance to engage with Richards, who will be hosting a panel discussion delving into distribution opportunities and challenges often encountered by independent filmmakers. Intersection is an official selection to over seventy film festivals and won over sixty awards – including 25 for Best Picture and 12 for Best Actor.
The four-day celebration is already underway, with festivities scheduled to conclude on Sunday, April 17th with an awards ceremony dedicated to local fallen soldiers of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Celebrity guests and presenters will include Stephen Lang (Avatar, Conan, Tombstone), Larry Bishop (Underworld, Kill Bill 2, Mad Dog Time, Hell Ride), Frank Dux (Bloodsport, Lionheart, The Quest), Stanley Isaacs (Raptor Island, Gross Anatomy), Jon Van Ness (The Natural, Brubaker, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Hitcher), Barry Kivel (The Natural, Bound, Crocodile Dundee, One Fine Day) and others.
“The judging is run by committees, and we try to break it up into some local experts and some celebrity guests, some have yet to be named and some of the bigger names will remain anonymous to ensure integrity in the process,” says Bill Cowell, the founder and Executive Director of the festival.
Lobbying judges – who vary from local filmmakers, LA writers, Toronto directors, industry guys from New York, and foreign producers – won’t work. There are committees specific to each genre overseeing the scoring and judging of submissions.
Awards range from Best Feature, Best Short, Best Animated Film, Best Foreign Film, Best Documentary; Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Screenwriter; as well as for technical categories such as cinematography and editing. A special award – and perhaps the region’s most anticipated – is given for Best Western New York Film (dubbed The Falls Award).
“The first thing we’re looking for is quality and creativity. They’re so many categories, as we grow and get bigger things always get more exciting,” Cowell says.
Kicking off the Sunday lineup at 1:30pm will be the screening of Kandahar Journal, a seventy-six minute documentary about a photojournalist who reflects on the events behind his psychological transformation after covering front line combat in Kandahar, Afghanistan from 2006 to 2010.
Then from 3pm to 4:20pm there will be a special showing of Beyond Glory, an eighty minute documentary which follows acclaimed actor Stephen Lang as he tracks the ten year odyssey behind his one-man show about eight medal of honor recipients. Lang will appear with director Larry Brand for questions and answers afterwards.
The BNFF’s 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient will be industry legend (and Cowell’s close longtime friend and mentor) Dick Delson. One of the most celebrated writer, publicist, and industry strategist of his time, Delson has been credited with over 300 Academy Award Nominations and over 100 wins between all his clients over the years, having campaigned for American Graffiti, Jaws, Rocky, Lord of the Rings, Air Force One, Chicago, Gangs of New York, and hundreds more.