Indy Film Fest: Rebecca Berfanger, festival president
Complete 2021 Indy Film Fest schedule, films and details, click here.
Have you hard the one about being six weeks out from hosting your 17th annual film festival when an international pandemic closes everything down? Not knowing when or if theaters would be open again? That was the situation facing Rebecca Berfanger, President of the Indy Film Fest board of directors last March.
Scrambling for backup dates, they opted for a mostly virtual fest in July of last year. It worked out so well they’re using the same format for 2021 — their second festival under pandemic restrictions.
Festival attendees can watch movies through an online format for most of the fest, which now runs to 21 days, with special presentations at Tibbs Drive-In.
“Drive-in movies were very popular activity last summer. We were still able to have a festival experience that was well-attended,” she said. They’ve returned to their usual slot of springtime so as not to compete with big summer movies that audiences are itching to see. But that also meant organizers had three fewer months to plan this year’s festival, the 18th.
“We want to let the people in Indian to see movies that they’re not going to be able to see usually. Since March 2020 we’ve beren watching a lot of Netflix and Hulu. But these types of films are not yet available there,” she said.
“And we want to be able to give filmmakers an opoirtunity show their films. We wondered if we were going to lose filmmakers. We did bring in some films from 2020 that were scheduled to play… I don’t think our numbers dipped at all in terms of submissions.”
She’s excited about the opening night film, “The Dry” starring Eric Banner, which she likens to previous festival breakouts “Hell or High Water” and “Wind River.”
It’s a high-profile film, and snagging it for the festival is an indication Indy Film Fest isn’t going anywhere — which was a legitimate concern last year.
“Are we even going to have movies next year? That was actually a pretty big part of our discussion in 2020. Ultimately, the filmmakers were still onboard with a virtual festival.”
She’s also trumpeting the blocks of short films including “POC-POV,” a collection highlighting the experience of Black people and filmmakers. It’s a timely selection given historic shifts in views on racial injustice.
“We do have a pretty good reputation in the filmmaker community as a mid-level film festival. We’re not huge and we know we’re not. But we’re not tiny. We’re international and get films from all over the world.”
Berfanger got involved with Indy Film Fest in 2005 after moving to Indiana. It’s led to a lot of connections and friendships that endure to this day. She knows filmmakers who submit films most years or had their movies selected several times.
“We have filmmakers who I’m Facebook friends with now, and I’ve watched their kids grow up.”
Like a lot of film lovers, Berfanger has wondered about the future of cinema, even after pandemic eases. So many theaters are shut down and may not reopen. What’s more, people have grown accustomed to watching movies on streaming services or VOD, and may not be inclined to return the bustle of opening night weekends.
“I think in person film viewing will come back, at least for film festivals. A lot of our festival is built around community and networking. From personal experience, there are people I don’t see except at the film festival.”