As a filmmaker, Sam Avery has attended many regional film fests over the years.
“The experience was hit or miss,” said the SUNY Cortland media and communications professor.
“Some did this well. Some did that well.”
But some weren’t well organized. Others didn’t give enough attention to the film maker.
“I walked away — meah.”
“Why don’t we do our own film fest,” Avery said. “I think we can do this better. Let’s try.”
He created the Blackbird Film Festival, where filmmakers can meet new people, share films with other filmmakers and inspire each other, he said.
The Blackbird Film Festival, with films from around the world, will bring more than 100 films to this
year’s event, its seventh year. It’s set for Thursday to June 20 at Greek Peak in Virgil. Movies were
culled out of 1,555 submissions. Most are short, less than 15 minutes. Ten feature films are 70 or
Films will be shown free during the day under a tent and outdoors at night, at a drive-in setting.
The festival has expanded. Now called the Blackbird Film and Arts Festival, it encompasses a craft and art fair within an artist village, children’s activities, a Father’s Day barbecue, live music and beer and wine tastings.
Movie themes explore abstract ideas, to apocalyptic to recovery, action, love, family and horror.
“My head’s spinning,” Avery said. He’s done a lot of the organizing work himself, not having a team of SUNY Cortland interns to work with this year because of COVID-19. Avery taught one class, remotely, and is on a semi-paternity leave at SUNY Cortland. Luckily, he’s got a team of directors, SUNY Cortland graduates, many film makers themselves, who are coming back to help stage the event.
“I adore Blackbird Film Festival,” said Brooke Trantor, an actor, director and writer based in Los Angeles. She was part of the 2019 and 2020 Blackbird festivals and has a BFA in acting from Illinois Wesleyan University. She co-wrote “Oh, Baby!,” in this year’s event, with Kate Morgan Chadwick, who also stars in the film.
Trantor directed the 10-minute comedy, which has a few dramatic moments. “We hired the brilliant T.J. Linnard, a dear friend, and the incredible and hilarious Samson Moeakiola, as well as our crew and extra actors,” Trantor said.
Her 2019 entry won “Most Powerful Film” award for her directing debut of “Yours are Mine.”
She really worked closely with the crew of “Oh, Baby!” particularly with her fellow writer.
“There is a trust between us as we created the story together, so I learned to just trust the work you’ve done,” she said.
Chelsea Gonzalez of Los Angeles is a writer and director whose “All the Wrong Things” will be featured. She wrote the script, hired the actors and directed the film.
“I feel good about the result. It was my first time directing so I still feel that I have a lot to learn, but for my first one, I’m feeling really good about it,” she said, even though she doubted herself constantly.
“I know more than I think I do,” Gonzalez said. “I just wish I trusted myself a little bit more.”
And she loves the Blackbird Film Festival.
“It’s like film camp. Everyone there is super passionate about movie making and Sam really does go above and beyond to make it a special experience for each an every filmmaker,” Gonzalez said.
Avery worked closely with the Cortland Cultural Council of Cortland County, ASC at the college, Experience Cortland, Greek Peak and others to stage the event.
Films were selected in January and Avery started thinking how the event could be outdoors. Last year’s film fest aired in October at Greek Peak, in a drive-in movie format. It was cold, Avery said. Nevertheless, the community came.
He decided to host it in June, with nicer weather and added a Father’s Day barbecue, live music, wine and beer tasting and kids activities, like a golden egg hunt, tiedying and creating a mural with splatter paint.
“I reached out to the Cultural Council of Cortland County. They were not doing the art and wine fest,” Avery said.
The council is looking for artists to submit movie themed works for a contest that will debut in the artist village at the festival, said council director Carol Fitzgerald. Artists will sell their work in booths, like the Arts and Wine Festival, which the council could not could not organize for August, its typical date, because of too many COVID-19 uncertainties.
“It takes us several months to set up,” Fitzgerald said.
Still, she is looking forward to all the facets of the festival.
“The Blackbird Film Fest is just an amazing event,” she said. “They have been growing it every year.”