Middle Coast Film Festival celebrates third year hosting, showcasing film in Midwest

Post courtesy of newsroom intern Amanda N. Marino:

The Middle Coast Film Festival has been redefining what a film festival looks and feels like for the past three years. While more traditional film festivals maintain a buffer between filmmakers and festival attendees, festival director and co-founder Jessica Levandoski said the people submitting work to the festival are easily accessible and excited to be in Bloomington.

By supporting a twofold mission of bringing the best of the best from around the world to Indiana and showcasing the arts community in the Midwest, the Middle Coast Film Festival has become a venue where IU students and alumni can become more involved in the world of film.

Middle Coast Film Fest poster

Official poster for the 2016 Middle Coast Film Fest. Photo courtesy of Claire McInerny.

This year’s festival will consist of 100 films screened at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center, the Back Door, the Blockhouse and the Monroe County Public Library, Levandoski said. Tickets can be purchased on the event’s website.

“We are currently programming at the level of 15, 20, 25 year old festivals and we are only in our third year,” she said. “I believe this to be based largely on our highly curated film selection that takes a look at more than just the film itself and focuses on the filmmaker as a whole, and incubating them in our growing network by connecting them with other filmmakers or producers, actors and actresses.”

Presenting the Midwest

The Middle Coast Film Festival, July 28 to 30 at various venues throughout Bloomington, is heavily powered by IU students, faculty and alumni. Communications director Claire McInerny said that of the seven-person staff, four people have degrees from IU and three are working at the university. Five people from the group are from southern Indiana.

Levandoski said she can see the skills learned inside the classroom reflected in the work done by people like director of administration Jessica Reed, who makes use of her arts administration degree from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs daily.

IU graduates and faculty are also a major presence among those submitting their work. For many alumni who screen films during the weekend-long festival, this is a great excuse to visit the university, McInerny said.

Germanic studies professor Hildegard Keller’s documentary “Whatever Comes Next” tells the story of American painter Annemarie Mahler. 2003 graduate Bears Fonte’s “Roadside Assistance” shows what happens to two strangers who are not what they seem.

Students still at IU also work as volunteers for the event, giving them an opportunity to interact and network with the filmmakers in attendance, McInerny said. Volunteers positions are still open. People interested in volunteering can contact the staff for more details.

The Middle Coast Film Festival is being sponsored by the School of Global and International Studies this year, one of multiple partnerships that the university and Middle Coast have established, McInerny said. IU Cinema has participated the past two years, McInerny said, but renovations are keeping it from hosting screenings this year. Levandoski said IU Cinema will resume screening festival films next summer.

Organizers also use the event to showcase IU. Filmmakers are given a tour of the campus because Levandoski, a filmmaker herself, said she believes IU is a great film locale.

She is not alone. Filmmaker John Yost will be shooting on IU’s campus this year because of what he saw on tour during last year’s festival.

McInerny said the Midwest is much more diverse than people tend to think. Popular movies are repeatedly set in the same places, neglecting the heart of the nation.

Bringing in the best

Forty-five filmmakers will be staying in local hotels, dining in local restaurants and enjoying the festival from inside Bloomington, Levandoski said.

“The filmmakers that come come from all over the world,” McInerny said.

She said the size of the town, the festival and the community have a lot of appeal for many artists. The fact that Bloomington has an active arts community is also a major draw.

People in all phases of their careers submit works to the festival, Levandoski said. Middle Coast is international, but it also gives new filmmakers a chance to expose their work to an audience.

“It’s a first point for a lot of these filmmakers,” she said.

The festival is also an opportunity to show IU graduates leaving the university that they don’t need to flee to the coasts to be involved in film, Levandoski said. In fact, that is how the name Middle Coast originated. In the last year, the number of films screened has almost doubled from 65 to 100.

“They don’t need to fly to New York or L.A.,” she said.

Once here, filmmakers become a major part of the audiences during the screenings, Levandoski said. They wear badges identifying them as participants and have a variety of opportunities to discuss their work through formal question-and-answer sessions as well as informally as they mingle with festival-goers.

The future of Middle Coast

Levandoski said it surprises her that this is the first film festival in Bloomington on this scale.

As the first truly interactive, all-ages film festival in the area, the Middle Coast Film Festival has been well received in the area, McInerny said.

“This place is prime for it,” she said.

While McInerny said the festival has not been around long, it will soon be reaching out to IU students in more ways.

She said a fall festival would be a welcome addition, possibly with a block of student films to showcase the work of IU students and better acquaint them with Middle Coast as a whole.

The School of Global and International Studies has also reached out to Middle Coast to set up events to screen international films at their new location, she said.

Along with these connections, Levandoski has big aspirations for the fest. She said she hopes to see it listed on the top 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee list soon.

“This festival thrives here,” she said. The Bloomington community is receptive to the film festival, and filmmakers look forward to returning to the city and get close to their audiences.

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