Black Hills Independent Film Festival
On a recent trek out on the trail, I had a delightful experience I encourage everyone to try sometime, a Film Festival. It wasn’t the huge Sundance Film Fest in Utah or a gala in Hollywood, this event was located in an unlikely spot, the heart and soul of the Black Hills in South Dakota.
For the third year, Hill City has hosted the Black Hills Independent Film Festival the first week in May. This quaint, historic town is minutes from Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Open year-round, Hill City has a wide variety of interesting things to explore … from its outstanding art galleries and unique shops, to its varied restaurants and an unbelievable Prehistoric Dinosaur Museum. Here too, you can arrive at the State Railroad Museum, buy your ticket and step back in time, riding a train pulled by a historic Steam Engine as it puffs and meanders through the hills. Up the road, not far from the western hospitality of Main Street are three wonderful wineries, open for wine tasting and some wonderful cheese ‘n deli-food … which I must admit, I took time to investigate.
During my trip to South Dakota last fall for the Buffalo Roundup, I met filmmaker Sean Covel. A South Dakota native, Sean and his producing partner Chris “Doc” Wyatt are best known for their 2004 film hit “Napoleon Dynamite,” one of the most profitable independent films in history. These two men have produced nine feature films, including the 2012 releases, “Concrete Blonds” and “The Citizen,” both of which are now hitting the festival circuit. Sean also serves on the Black Hills Film Festival Board of Directors and had invited me to the festival this year in Hill City. He told me he wants filmmakers to explore the opportunities the whole state has to offer, which is great for the economy, plus the festival is a wonderful venue for people to see independent films. Sean wasn’t just in town for the Film Fest though, he was busy with a Casting Call for an upcoming comedy he and others are shooting completely in the Black Hills. It was a jazz to stand in the line of “hopeful” extras and add my name and “head shot” to Covel’s casting call list. (By the way Sean, you haven’t called back yet.)
Over 60 independent films were shown over the six-day event, including short film, comedies, documentaries, student and feature films. Enthusiastic filmmakers from South Dakota, as well as across the US showcased their work. Films began showing on Tuesday night, May 1, with the comedy, “The Pact,” a South Dakota made film. The screenings played in two HD theaters, one of which is in the Hill City High School. After many of the screenings, the film makers themselves come up and have a “chat” about their work with those in the theater. It is always interesting to hear the “inside story” on just what the industry and its involved production is really like. If you wanted to attend any of the events, tickets could be purchased at the Festival Headquarters, the Hill City Harley-Davidson store downtown, for one session or the whole six days at a very reasonable cost. Filmmakers and VIP passes also had exclusive access to wine tastings and places to relax with others, snacking on wonderful foods provided by the many sponsors and hosts.
I discovered the Black Hills Film Festival is more then just screenings. There were seminars and workshops focused on the film industry, including makeup, hair and costume design, all presented by award-winning leaders in their fields. Industry professionals, amateurs, students and anyone interested in the fascinating parts of film making were invited to attend.
An Award Ceremony was held on Friday night to celebrate the “Best of” in the five categories. Winning filmmakers receive $500 and the “Bronze Fedora,” a bronze sculpture designed and produced by Hill City’s Black Hills Bronze foundry. On Sunday evening, after the last film is screened, a People’s Choice Award is presented to the film that receives the most “votes” during the event. Everyone was encouraged to drop the title of their favorite “into the jar” and then the tally was announced. This year there was a tie vote, with the winners, the feature film, “The Pact” and the documentary, “The Thick Dark Fog.”
I encourage you to put Hill City, S.D., on your list of places to visit … and who knows, you might even meet a “movie star” walking up the colorful Main Street.