What started as a modest fest in 2006 with about 600 attendees has grown each and every year — even during the bad economic times of 2008 and 2009. This time around, executive director Leo Sears predicts a record attendance of 2,600.
Known for its relaxed and informal atmosphere, BIFF allows participants to screen dozens of feature films and shorts at minimal cost or for free for audiences, who are often sitting on beach chairs under Hawaii’s starry skies.
The event — formally known as the Big Island Film Festival at the Fairmont Orchid, in recognition of its partner, the luxury hotel on the Kohala Coast — also features seminars about the filmmaking business as well as the opportunity to sit in on star interviews.
Seminar presenters this year include filmmaker/attorney Steve Edmiston, scriptwriting mentor Jen Grisanti and marketer/producer Brian Kohne.
Then, of course, there are the parties, including a new event this year: Taste of the Movies, a film-themed food celebration.
“Ten of the Island’s best chefs will do tastings, presenting a dish inspired by a movie,” says BIFF producer Jan Sears. “They’ll offer samples of their most delicious specialties, pairing them with foodie films such as ‘Chocolat’ and ‘Under the Tuscan Sun.’ ”
As the years have rolled by, Jan and her husband, fest exec director Leo Sears, have observed various trends among the films being screened. This time more than ever, say the organizers, many of the pictures lean toward social awareness.
“Lots of movies this year picked a cause and built a script around that cause,” says Leo Sears. “They include Alzheimer’s disease, child abuse, aging and being ill, giving up or trying to keep going.”
One of the films, adds Jan Sears, takes on the issue of immigration laws and their impact on families, as seen through the eyes of one family’s deportation story. And the Alzheimer’s film closely examines a stage of the disease that’s often overlooked: the combative, even violent phase.
Although this year’s crop takes on issues often addressed by documentaries, all BIFF films are fiction. “They may be based on true stories but they’re all narrative,” Leo Sears says.
In total, BIFF will screen close to 50 films this year, divided among features and shorts.
(Pictured above: “Bereave,” one of the films screening at BIFF)