Hawaii’s Big Island Film Festival Set to Draw Record Crowds

The 10-year-old event keeps on growing, pulling in more attendees and hotter films

living up to its name, Hawaii’s Big Island Film Festival just keeps getting bigger.

Founded in 2006 by husband-and-wife team Jan and Leo Sears, the first event drew 600 participants. Last year, more than 2,400 attended, and this year, according to BIFF producer Jan, the target is 2,750.

Moreover, says Leo, the fest’s exec director, the films to be screened represent “the strongest slate we’ve ever had.”

And while a film’s budget is no sure measure of its quality, it is worth noting that some of the pics at this year’s fest, which has built a reputation as a showcase of fiercely independent, low-budget fare, may have cost their filmmakers in the seven figures.

Leo ventures that two titles — “Winter’s Dream,” a dystopian tale of a nuclear ice age forcing humans to live underground; and “Plan Z,” a zombie apocalypse movie filmed in three countries — may have had budgets well in excess of $1 million.

“They’re really impressive, but some of the smaller indies with lower budgets are just as impressive,” he says. “As for the shorts, we turned away so many that we should have accepted, but we just ran out of space.”

Officially named the Big Island Film Festival at the Fairmont Orchid, Hawai’i, BIFF is known for its informality (Hawaiian shirts and shorts are de rigueur) and its outdoor screenings under the stars.

Workshops complement the films. This year’s highlights include Telling and Selling Your Story, by story and career consultant Jen Grisanti; Harmony of Music and Cinema: A Template, by veteran sports broadcaster Raymond Rolak; and 10+10, a seminar on screenwriting mistakes, by writer-producer Ron Osborn.

The program also includes in-person interviews with actress Bellamy Young (“Scandal,” “Criminal Minds”) and veteran actor Michael Gross (“Family Ties”).

The fest always draws hundreds of local residents who just want to watch movies they can’t see anywhere else. This year, BIFF is offering free attendance for a select group of high school students. “We want to plant the seeds for young filmmakers,” says Leo.

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