In light of surging cases of COVID-19 in Rock County, the Beloit International Film Festival will celebrate its “sweet 16” birthday virtually with the possibility for a few drive-in movies.
The festival known locally as BIFF will run Feb. 19-28. The list of films will be announced this week and will include about 40 feature-length films and about 60 short films, BIFF Executive Director Greg Gerard said.
The BIFF Board of Directors recently decided to suspend normal operations and commit to a virtual festival after conferring with local and regional health organizations and civic authorities such as the Reopen Rock Task Force, city of Beloit and area business operators. Gerard said downtown businesses and venue hosts understood the decision.
BIFF’s all-virtual format will have a significant economic impact on the area, according to information from Celestino Ruffini, CEO of Visit Beloit, the city’s tourism agency.
Ruffini explained that the average person spends $160 on an overnight trip in the area. In 2020, an average of 368 hotel/motel rooms were booked during the Fridays and Saturdays of BIFF, which would account for $58,880 per night in visitor spending based on two people per room—or $235,520 for the two weekends.
Ruffini noted some of those rooms could have been rented for other occasions.
In addition, the average person spends about $71 on a day trip to Beloit, so Ruffini estimates at least a $250,000 to $500,000 total economic impact for tourism businesses by not having a live festival.
However, he said a virtual festival could offer a unique opportunity to grow the audience—and hopefully by next year bring more people to Beloit.
BIFF will use a Shift72 platform to manage the festival. The New Zealand company is a big player in online management of major film festivals.
Outdoor drive-in films are being considered and likely will comprise a blend of BIFF 2021 competition films and G-rated movie favorites for families to enjoy.
Gerard said he is still talking with sponsors, but he hopes to secure the three flagship film events—the classic, silent and singalong—as drive-in movie events.
“I’ll be working with the Downtown Beloit Association to take inventory of what locations might work for drive-ins,” Gerard said. “We are going to figure this out and make it interesting for people and have some extra fun surprises along the way.”
Gerard said he also wants to maintain a downtown presence to encourage curbside pickup at local restaurants and continued support for businesses.
Other online opportunities might include question-and-answer sessions with filmmakers, workshops with industry professionals, discussion panels and virtual lounge attractions.
This year’s reveal event, set for the first week of February, could take the form of a large Zoom meeting or Facebook Live event. The reveal is traditionally an event where people gather for snacks, learn about the films and pick up their program booklets.
Gerard said the good news is that BIFF organizers had lots of time to prepare, practice and research virtual and drive-in events.
BIFF is hosting its 11th drive-in movie at 6 p.m. Saturday at Messiah Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1531 Townline Ave., featuring “The Santa Clause 2″ with Tim Allen. The parking lot will open at 5:15 p.m. The free event has limited seating.