Organizers of a new film festival in Bedford are rolling out the red carpet for a two-day event they hope will join the ranks of other great cinema showcases around the commonwealth.
The Bedford International Film Festival, which runs Saturday and Sunday at the Bower Center for the Arts and the Peaks of Otter Lodge, is meant to promote and support filmmaking in the Bedford area while also bringing cinema to undeserved movie buffs in the area, says the festival’s CEO Laura Willoughby, who graduated from Brookville High School.
“What I really wanted to do was bring this back home,” she says. “Bring it to a place where there’s culture and there’s art but people just don’t get the same opportunity to show it off.”
Film is not new to Virginia. Industry projects that are shot and produced locally provide an economic impact of close to $800 million a year for the state, says Andy Edmunds, director of the Virginia film office, which is sponsoring the Bedford festival alongside Destination Bedford.
“Virginia is a perfect palette for such work because we have so many different locations,” he says. “From the mountains to the beach and everything in between. From historical to contemporary architecture.”
Crews on the upcoming Harriet Tubman biopic “Harriet,” which is slated to arrive in theaters this fall, spent seven weeks shooting in Central Virginia last fall, and the Showtime miniseries “The Good Lord Bird” starts filming this month in Cumberland and Dinwiddie counties.
Local extras also are currently being sought for a “Walking Dead” spinoff that was announced in April.
“And this is not just the things you see press releases about — you know, Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln,’ ” Edmunds says. “These are Discovery Channel, National Geographic [and] commercial work.”
Bedford also has had its fair share of work. The 1991 comedy “What About Bob,” starring Bill Murray, was filmed in the area in the ’90s, and the Netflix feature “Juanita” was shot in the area just two years ago, Nicole Johnson, director of tourism at Destination Bedford, writes in an email to The News & Advance.
Not only could having a film festival in Bedford motivate aspiring filmmakers from the area, it could bring more awareness to the county as a possible location for outside projects.
“There will be screenwriters and actors in Bedford from across the U.S. as well as from several other countries,” Johnson writes. “Many — if not all — will be discovering Bedford for the first time. ... Our hope is that this first trip will lead to many return visits.”
On Saturday, the Bedford International Film Festival will show 35 films ranging from shorts to features to documentaries. According to information provided by the festival, the majority of the films come from the U.S., though there are also films from such countries as Mexico, Australia, France and Russia.
Standouts among the lineup include student documentary “Out of the Pills,” which was nominated for a College Television Award by the Television Academy Foundation, and acclaimed Iranian short “Are You Volleyball?!,” which has won numerous awards at film festivals around the world.
A few of the films also have local connections, including “Ah Jinx Was Born,” a documentary about Bedford gospel rapper Ah_Jinx, and Bedford native John Goshorn’s debut feature film “The Happiest Place on Earth,” which traveled the independent film festival circuit and is currently available on streaming platforms including Amazon Prime and iTunes.
In addition to Saturday’s screenings, the festival will host three panels covering a range of film-related topics.
During “Growing Up Hollywood,” former child actors Jeremy Miller and Julie McCullough, both of “Growing Pains,” will talk about working in the film industry during their youth. “Creative Financing” explores ways to produce a film without studio backing and features guest speakers, including Goshorn, who made their films without studios and still scored distribution. Finally, filmmakers Sue Vicory and Kira Bursky will speak about being women in the industry during the panel “Women in Film.”
“When I was living in Virginia for my first 25 years, the opportunity to hear from working filmmakers and see their work was somewhat rare pretty much across the state, especially outside of any of the state’s bigger metro areas,” says Goshorn, who graduated from Liberty High School in 2001 and is now an assistant professor of film and multimedia production at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia.
“Had an event like this existed when I was growing up, I might have been much better-informed about the world of filmmaking, and, as a result, had a more direct journey to where I am now.”
The festival will conclude with an awards ceremony and dinner on Sunday.
The hope is to make the Bedford International Film Festival an annual event, says Willoughby, who has worked behind the scenes on such films as the original “Pet Sematary” from 1989 and co-owns Willoughby Entertainment, Ltd, a film company based in Los Angeles and Ireland.
“In the world of filmmaking, there’s a lot of who you know; what you know keeps you there,” she says. “We thought if we can use any of the connections we have to help people, then we would do so.”
Emma Schkloven covers arts and entertainment for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5489, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @byEmmaSchkloven.