The 18th Annual Berkshire International Film Festival

Actor Freddie Gibbs in “Down With The King,” which was filmed in Berkshire County and screened at BIFF.

Film still by Visit Films

The 18th Annual Berkshire International Film Festival

The 18th Annual Berkshire International Film Festival began on Thursday, May 30, and ended on Sunday, June 2. (BIFF) features films, events, and special guests annually in Great Barrington and Lenox, Massachusetts. The festival gathers industry professionals and fans for a four-day celebration.

This year’s lineup featured documentaries, narrative features, short films, and an animated shorts selection for kids with stories from all over the world and Berkshire-based stories. To handle increased growth, the festival expanded to the Lenox Town Hall.

Founder Kelley Ryan Vickery worked for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for nearly five years as the press manager and spent the next 10 years overseas where she worked for art museums, as a photographer, and as a gallery owner.

“My then-husband and I were living in Singapore. We came to the Berkshires, saw Jacob’s Pillow, and fell in love with the area. Initially, we had a summer home, but then I decided to settle here. I was going through a divorce and needed a job. I talked to a family friend who started the Denver Film Festival and was inspired. I felt like we have so many amazing things in the Berkshires, but film wasn’t really celebrated, so I thought there was a need. BIFF was born in 2006 and was immediately embraced by Great Barrington and the owner of the Triplex Cinemas. I created my own thing. It’s been a great journey,” she explained.

Over the years the festival has grown and has featured cinematic giants such as Martin Scorsese, actress and Berkshire resident Karen Allen (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”) as well as local filmmakers. When asked what makes the festival unique to the area, Vickery explained, “We’ve featured local filmmakers like Diego Ongaro whose film “Down With The King” was shot here in the Berkshires. You can attend the festival and spend a whole day here. Great Barrington is an amazing, walkable town that has so much to offer.”

A key aspect of the festival is the interaction between filmmakers and their audience. Whether through workshops, moderated conversations, or question-and-answer forums, BIFF sheds light on the art of filmmaking.

“Filmmakers and audiences love each other; it’s really what creates the sense of all of us coming together and exchanging ideas and conversations with stories. People want to know more. They need that Q&A. That’s inherent in what we do,” Vickery said.

Film director Susanna Stryon has twice had films in BIFF. Her documentary short My Father’s Name is the intimate story of one woman’s attempt to uncover the truth about her father’s participation in a lynching and premiered at BIFF this year. About the festival, she said, “BIFF is one of the most fun festivals. Kelley and her team go out of their way to make filmmakers feel comfortable and valued. The Filmmakers Summit for the two days before the festival is an incredible opportunity for filmmakers to get to know each other and discuss industry issues.”

Over the years, BIFF has grown steadily, which has been a pleasant surprise for Vickery.

“Never did I think I’d still be here after 18 years. We started small in 2006, and now we’re Lenox. We’ve bounced back to pre-Covid numbers. More filmmakers come than ever before, and the growth has been incredible. It culminates in these four days, but now we’re year-round with films every month in Lenox, Great Barrington, and Stockbridge,” Vickery said.

To find films, Vickery goes to other festivals like Sundance to scout talent. Filmmakers also submit their work for consideration, which has allowed BIFF to expand its global reach.

“We have distribution partners and deep relationships with different companies. We probably wade through 1000 films and chose 80. We work with all the big film companies in the US but also European Film Festivals. We get a lot of amazing content from international companies,” Vickery said.

“We bring the world to the Berkshires with international films. It’s amazing and a lot of fun,” Vickery added.

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