Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Blue Water Film Festival rolls up its tent

After screening 110 films by 87 directors from Michigan and Ontario over its five-year run, the Blue Water Film Festival is folding up its screens and capping its projectors – at least for this year.

The BWFF Board of Directors announced Feb. 4 the organization will not present the annual festival, held in the early fall, in 2014. In its press release, the board cited a lack of sufficient audiences, money, staff and volunteers to sustain the project, which typically screened about 20 films per year.

It’s not clear if the BWFF is gone permanently.

Kelly Kennedy, vice-president of the BWFF’s board of directors and chair of the film selection committee, responded to a message on her phone via e-mail.

“At this time, the festival wishes to provide no other statement regarding the postponement of our 2014 event other than the press release that was distributed yesterday,” Kennedy said in her e-mail.

Jeremy Stemen, executive director of BWFF, did not return a message left on his phone.

“We haven’t been involved with the program,” said Vicki Fournier, president of the Port Huron Chamber of Commerce. “So I really don’t know the impact.”

Looking in from the outside, 2013 appeared to be a good year for the festival.

The fifth annual and perhaps final BWFF was held Sept. 28, 2013. Crowds appeared solid for the three flights of films screened at McMorran Auditorium in Port Huron. Director Jonathon D'Ambrosio of Clarkston won the platinum award for best picture for his film “The Whistle,” about a Jewish girl torn from her family by the Nazis in WWII Germany. Ellen Burstyn, 80, who is a Detroit-born actress – winner of an Oscar, Emmy, Tony – added BWFF’s Golden Mitten award to her mantelpiece at a well-attended awards ceremony. Burstyn starred in a number of classic pictures by A-list directors, such Martin Scorcese’s “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” Peter Bogdonovich’s “The Last Picture Show,” and William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist.”

Early in 2013, BWFF teamed up with local environmental groups to screen Bryan Hopkins’ “Dirty Energy,” an exploration of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, which began in April 2010 and continues to impact the coast today.

It was the only out-of-festival film shown by the BWFF in its five year history, said Jeremy Stemen, executive director of the BWFF, speaking last year. Technically a fundraiser for BWFF, Stemen said his main goal was getting the word out about the Wyandotte resident’s film, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Dallas International Film Festival and the Social Justice Award at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. The screening drew a sizeable crowd to the auditorium at Port Huron Northern High School on a snowy January night.

“The Blue Water Film Festival Board of Directors would like to thank the Michigan filmmaking community and independent filmmakers for their embracement of the festival and attendees that came far and wide each year to support the event,” said the press release. The board thanked its advisors, the Blue Water Film Society, volunteers, staff, community leaders, donors, sponsors and media partners.

Post written by Jim Bloch for Digital First Media. Reprinted with permission.

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