Like many aspects of life during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rochester International Film Festival was forced to alter its traditions over the past two years.
“The festival has been going for 64 consecutive years and we didn’t want to break that streak, so we went virtual in 2020,” says Bill Abrams, a lover of film and president of Movies on a Shoestring, the organization responsible for hosting the festival.
After an initial delay, the 2021 season had both an online and in-person option, which Abrams says was complicated to pull off. This year, the films are only being shown in-person at the Eastman House’s Dryden Theatre.
“It feels good to return,” Abrams says.
The films to be shown are short, ranging from a few minutes to a half-hour, and have a wide range in subject matter. Abrams says the festival days have been designed to balance out tones and emotions.
“Not every subject has the potential to be a blockbuster, but they’re still worthy of being told. We want to appreciate all stories here,” Abrams says.
In addition to their wide-ranging topics, the films come from a diverse array of countries, including Argentina, Canada, Germany, Japan, Spain, Great Britain, Korea, Australia, Iran, Lebanon, France and Israel. In addition, to those far-flung locales, Rochester is also being featured with an animated piece by Jessica Ochs called “Memory Lane.”
“We’re always happy to highlight a local filmmaker in our festival,” Abrams says, adding: “We don’t play favorites.”
In total, there were 140 film submissions for the 2022 season that were screened by the Movies on a Shoestring community beginning in September. The top works are then judged more closely by the organization’s board, which uses a point system to determine which films make it to the festival.
All films are given a feedback letter listing items the screeners appreciated as well as constructive criticism. As far as Abrams knows, RIFF is the only festival that provides this to submitters.
During the festival, eight directors will be live in the theater for Q&A sessions, another aspect of the festival Abrams is glad is returning.
“These are the filmmakers who will go on to bigger things and we get the chance to see them at the beginning. We get the chance to see their potential and craft in the art of filmmaking at this level,” Abrams says. “It’s a remarkable thing to get to have these conversations.”
RIFF will have four showings this week from Thursday to Saturday, at the Dryden Theatre. Admission is free, although donations are appreciated to help support the volunteer-run organization. Masks are required while in the building.