A Stronger and Better Film Festival

The upcoming Beloit International Film Festival (BIFF) is slated to be stronger, better and more diverse than ever.

Now in its 18th season, BIFF, as it’s commonly known, is an annual 10-day film festival that recognizes the beauty and allure of independent films from across the country and around the world. Film lovers converge in the heart of Beloit to enjoy 100 films in local venues, some of which can hold up to 200 people.

This season, the festival starts on Feb. 24 and runs through March 5 and includes narrative features, documentaries and short films.

Greg Gerard, executive director of BIFF, says BIFF is putting more of an emphasis on films with diversity and inclusion.

“It’s not that we haven’t always been a proponent of diversity and inclusivity, but I think we’re taking a step forward this year and bringing that into the light a little bit more than normal,” he says.

One film that Gerard is excited about is “Leaders of Madison’s Black Renaissance.” Despite black people making up just 7% of the Madison, Wis., population, there are more African-American elected officials on the city council and school board than ever. In addition, the school superintendent, police chief, district attorney and county sheriff are also black. The film dives into what’s happening in Madison and the city’s culture.

There’s also a film called “The Exchange. In White America. Kaukauna & King 50 Years Later.” It’s a compelling story about an exchange of black and white high school students at Rufus King High School, in Milwaukee, and Kaukauna High School, in the Fox River Valley. The students lived in each other’s homes and attended classes in each other’s schools during the middle of the Civil Rights Movement.

Another interesting film that’s worth checking out is “Big Crow,” a story about the power of hope in South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

“We’re in the business of film, so there’s always going to be plenty of great films for diverse groups,” Gerard says. “BIFF is for everyone, and we want everyone to see these stories.”

Longtime favorites, like the BIFF Sing-Along and the First National Bank Classic Film Showcase, are making a comeback this year.

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is this year’s BIFF Sing-Along, happening Feb. 25 at La Casa Grande, in Beloit. Yellow Brick Road, a local LGBTQ+ organization, will lead a downtown parade before the show.

The classic film “Top Gun” is this year’s selection for the Classic Film Showcase, happening March 5 at La Casa Grande.

All films will be shown in-person at various downtown Beloit venues, like Bagels & More, the Hendricks Center for the Arts and the Downtown Beloit Association. Other sites showing films include La Casa Grande, Visit Beloit and the shiny-new Weissberg Auditorium in the Powerhouse at Beloit College.

The Beloit College CELEB building will again serve as the official BIFF Box Office during the duration of the festival.

“If you’re not around the first weekend, you can catch the films on the second weekend,” Gerard says. “The films also used to be spread all over town, but when there was a mission to recreate downtown Beloit, we started to focus more on our downtown venues and merchants.”

Those local merchants are ready to serve the hundreds of guests attending the festival, including Merrill & Houston’s Steak Joint, Lucy’s #7 Burger Bar, Velvet Buffalo Modern Italian and Blue Collar Coffee Co.

Gerard says the festival will help people overcome those winter doldrums.

“BIFF happens at a time of year when cabin fever is really setting in and when people are sick of sitting in their homes,” he says. “You can laugh, scream or cry during a film, go down the street and have a beer and talk about the film with other people who were there. It’s truly a nice environment to be in.”

Visit beloitfilmfest.org for information on tickets and film showings. Find the film festival on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. ❚