When you slip into the USCB auditorium next week and look around for seats at the Beaufort International Film Festival, see if you can spot an attractive woman appearing to guard a section with her life. That would be Kate Zalusky – the unofficial bouncer of a group of die-hard BIFF fans who have attended every single screening every single year since the festival started. They get there early and stay until the bitter end. Before BIFF offered concessions they brought their own food and drinks for the duration, unwilling to take a lunch break if it meant missing even a single student film. If they were of the Facebook social media generation, you’d call them BIFF’s BFFs – but these are people whose first-date movies include “Gentleman’s Agreement” and “The Music Man.”
Since I’m a relative newcomer to the film festival, Jan and Ken Bruning, Joan and John Berra and Diane Voge agreed to meet me for coffee this morning to explain their BIFF obsession. The first thing I learned was that they are all transplants to Beaufort from other parts of the country and that they’ve all worked abroad in their professional lives.
“No matter where you go in the world, when you sit in a dark theatre, smell stale popcorn and wait for the big screen to light up you feel like you’re home,” Joan explained. Her husband John can recite the date and year of the first movie he ever took her to: July 20th, 1962, “The Music Man.” He can also recite her favorite line: “You pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you are left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to make today worth remembering.” Joan says she and John have spent the last 51 years making todays worth remembering, which sums up the zeitgeist of this group of die-hard BIFF fans.
They don’t pick and choose among the films in the program by reading little blurbs before hand or going online to watch trailers. They buy all-day passes and watch them all back to back because they appreciate the work and passion involved in making any film that qualifies as an official selection at BIFF.
Diane: “What’s the point in watching only movies that fit your preconceived view of the world? If you’ve traveled, you’re open to new ideas. If you haven’t traveled, films are your airplane ticket.”
Ken: “When we grew up, big cities had art houses. In this day and age it’s too expensive so film festivals like BIFF are the chance to see up-and-comers.”
John: “There’s more to a great film than just the storyline, which you may or may not agree with. You learn to appreciate the cinematography, the editing, the acting. There’s always something that’ll blow your mind.”
Jan: “Thirty different filmmakers are coming to this year’s BIFF to answer questions about their films. Where else can you get that?”
If past BIFFs are any indication, those thirty filmmakers coming to Beaufort next week are in for some serious audience feedback. John Berra was so taken with one short film by a student a few years ago that he tracked the director down after the screening to ask if he could buy a copy. “I wasn’t sure if that would violate his amateur status but it was just so good I had to have it!” The filmmaker’s proud dad went back to his car and gave John a DVD from a stack he had made just in case his son got discovered. John is now convinced that kid will end up winning an Oscar.
For Jan Bruning, movies are life-changing. She remembers going to see “One Potato, Two Potato” with a bunch of university women. But it was Memphis in 1964 and the mixed race relationship depicted on screen was controversial. “I’ll never forget. One woman never spoke to me again because I defended the film.”
That’s why even though her favorite-ever BIFF film was a sock-puppet animation called “Sebastian’s Voodoo” she applauds the fact that Ron and Rebecca have shown films dealing with everything from homosexuality in the Marine Corps to gang life in LA. The same goes for Joan. Never mind that her tastes lean toward sweet-and-funny standouts like 2010’s “Slice of Pie” and student films. This is an all-in crowd and they’ve got the seat muscles to prove it.