First Beacon Film Festival

Three days of films, discussions and building community

By Kevin E. Foley

Rapidly transforming technology begets changing tastes. So the art and business of movie making has undergone significant market and production disruption in recent years. Hollywood these days more and more looks for the very expensive blockbuster epic fantasy film or the big broad comedy to fill theaters with young people in the U.S. and increasingly around the globe. Funding for more adult fare and for even more edgy independent filmmaking is much harder to come by, as are theaters for such films to be screened.

Terry Nelson is orchestrating Beacon's first Indie Film Festival. (Photo by K.E. Foley)

Terry Nelson is orchestrating Beacon’s first Indie Film Festival. (Photo by K.E. Foley)

The burgeoning international film festival circuit (Cannes, Venice, Tribeca, Toronto, even Woodstock) is now a major way independent filmmakers and producers are finding audiences by creating market and critical buzz. The festivals are also a way for a community to bring locals and visitors who share an interest in films, especially those outside the corporate mainstream, together to view first-run work and examine recent trends and approaches in the medium they love. Festivals can also be good for local commerce.

Enter the first annual Beacon Indie Film Festival. On Friday Sept. 13, the festival will open for three days of screenings, panel discussions, Q-and-As with directors as well as live music and food and drink offerings from Beacon purveyors.

The venue for the festival is the rustic and charming University Settlement Camp performance theater hidden in the woodlands off Route 9D at the south entrance into Beacon.

Spearheading the creation of the festival is Terry Nelson who decided Beacon needed “something special” and that it had the human and financial resources to pull it off. He arrived for an interview with The Paper at the theater smiling, slightly distracted, his cell phone buzzing, befitting someone taking on a project with more details and issues than it seems a body can absorb.

“My background is in film and television since 1989, editor, librarian, you name it. I have always loved film. Ever since I move up here four years ago and got involved in the arts scene. I have been struck by the lack of film presence in Beacon,” said Nelson.

The USC Theater (Photo by K.E. Foley)

The USC Theater (Photo by K.E. Foley)

Nelson began the festival building process by presenting his idea to his fellow board members of Beacon Arts (BACA) who agreed with his vision and became the fiscal sponsor of the event. “They’ve been great, very supportive,” said Nelson who credited Beacon Art’s Director of Operations, Maureen Neary, with providing the sort of practical advice required to mount such an operation. “She has15 years as an event planner, she knows what’s needed.”

Nelson’s next stop was a successful application for a grant from the Dutchess County Arts Council to get things rolling. He then reached out to film professionals he knew to hear about their festival experiences over the years. With the help of an intern he researched U.S. festivals for films that either won awards or otherwise received special notice. I was a judge myself for a festival in Brooklyn so I knew something about the process. There were a lot of phone calls seeking to secure films and filmmakers and others to fill out the program.

Nelson said the organizers are seeking “a relaxed communal enjoyment of film. We’re not trying to be highbrow in the sense of being snooty or exclusionary. We want everyone to feel welcome.”

Nelson readily accepted the idea of the festival as drawing attention to Beacon generally and creating an opportunity for some business getting done. He underlined local merchant support and participation at the festival as a big factor in getting started and adding to the overall festival experience.

The large lawn in front of the theater will have several Beacon food and drink establishments represented as well as sellers of other items such as T-shirts.

Opening night of the festival will feature a documentary Ain’t In It for My Health, about Levon Helm founding member of The Band as he created his first studio album in 25 years up in Woodstock. The event will also feature live music by Beacon’s Stephen Clair.

The second day will start with six short films and then a question-and-answer session with some of the directors. Later there will be a panel discussing how digital technology is changing the art of storytelling.

The late afternoon and evening program has three feature films:  Palace Living – about what happens to friends who move from New York City to the country; One Wall, Kings of Coney Island – a documentary about handball players; How to Make Movies at Home – a comedy about filmmaking and life.

On the third day two directors will screen and discuss their documentaries about an Alaskan island above the Arctic Circle and the creation of the Beacon Riverfest music festival.

And the final film of the festival is one shot in Beacon starring Academy Award winner Melissa Leo with a cast that includes several Beacon residents.

Cold Spring Provided Inspiration and Help

The theater seats 135 people and it has a newly installed hardwood floor.

“We built our own 16×9 screen taking a cue from Cold Spring Film Society shows where they built their own screen,” said Nelson.

Cold Spring Film Society's Labor Day Weekend season finale at Dockside Park Photo courtesy of Cold Spring Film Society

Cold Spring Film Society’s Labor Day Weekend season finale at Dockside Park
Photo courtesy of Cold Spring Film Society

Butterfield Library also offered a backup projector. They have been generous and kind in supporting us,” he said. Nelson said films will be shown with Blu-Ray projection.

Nelson said he hopes the festival will serve as a catalyst for a greater film activity in Beacon. He has held quarterly screenings at The Beahive in Beacon as a way of introducing ­– in conjunction with the Beacon Arts and Education Foundation – to instilling a deeper awareness of filmmaking among community youth.

“The art of filmmaking has been lost on a generation of kids – filmmaking is a lot more than turning on your phone,” said Nelson.

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