October 26, 2021

Filmmakers, art vendors flock to Blackbird festival

Valerie Puma/staff reporter

Filmmaker Sam Avery talks to a group of people as they wait for a film screening to begin. Avery is a professor of media and communications at SUNY Cortland who organizes the Blackbird Film Festival every year. The television shows a still image of the short film ‘Black Stories, Black Voice’ shown earlier that afternoon.

Deb Long didn’t become interested in short films until she was in her late 60s, when filmmaker Sam Avery moved in next door.

“Shorts are these delicious little self-contained morsels that you don’t have to invest two hours in,” said Long, 70 of Liverpool. “I’ve never been down here before and I’ve never been to a film festival, but now I think I’ll never look at a movie the same way again.”

Long traveled more than 40 miles Saturday to support the filmmakers and artists at the seventh annual Blackbird Film Festival.

The festival looked a little different this year — instead of the typical SUNY Cortland auditorium setting or last year’s drive-in theater version, the free weekend-long event took place among a half-dozen tents at Greek Peak in Virgil.

It has also expanded, now titled the Blackbird Film and Arts Festival, including the Cultural Council of Cortland County by inviting artists and vendors to set up shop in an artist village on the field

“We’re happy to be a part of it and Sam has been great to work with, so it’s been fun,” said council Director Carol Fitzgerald. “We’re looking forward to making it an annual event if we can. It’s nice that he was able to include all the other art events and music together.”

Valerie Puma/staff reporter

Festival-goers sit at wooden benches to listen to live music while they wait for the next film screening to begin. In the background, artists and vendors have set up shop under tents.

Fitzgerald said she views art as an important part of the healing process for many people, especially after a year of isolation because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think Cortland is a community that needs these kinds of events to bring themselves together,” said Shannon Delaney, Blackbird intern and SUNY Cortland senior. “It’s always good to get the community out, especially during COVID, just get people out of their houses and doing something.”

Delaney ran a craft tent with children’s activities such as painting and tie-dye. Besides the artist village and hourly film screenings, the festival also featured a Father’s Day barbecue, live music and beer and wine tastings.

“It’s been a rollercoaster of what to do and where to go and how to format it,” said Avery, the organizer and professor of media and communications at SUNY Cortland. Running on less than four hours of sleep, Avery was dedicated to being there for every event through the weekend.

Over the course of four days, there were screenings of more than 100 films from around the world. Most were short, less than 15 minutes. Ten spanned 70 minutes or more.

“Films are really powerful,” Avery said. “The ability to influence — filmmakers are sharing their perspectives, and I think people need to listen. It’s a powerful medium and festivals like this give the opportunity for indie voices to speak out.”

Avery said people who visit movie theaters wouldn’t get the same out of it as they would at a festival, where the filmmakers are there to share their thought process and answer questions.

“I can’t remember the last time I went to the movies and thought, ‘Wow, that was life-changing,’” he said, before clarifying there were a few Oscar contenders that swayed him. “As opposed to these films, they are short and pack a punch and then the filmmakers are right there. It’s a very unique format.”