From the Calendar

Syracuse International Film Festival brings creatives, local community together in its 13th year

Clare Ramirez | Presentational Director

The Syracuse International Film Festival runs from Wednesday through Sunday, and features films from around the world.

Filmmakers of countries far and near are flocking to Syracuse for the 13th Annual Syracuse International Film Festival.

Over 40 films, 19 countries and 22 special guests, including a two-time Academy Award winner, are coming together to present a plethora of movies from around the globe. This year’s festival theme is “Music in Film,” and features films with a combination of music and cinema.

Owen Shapiro, coordinator of the film program at VPA and co-founder of the festival has been making movies since 1970. He was touring U.S. film festivals with his wife when she suggested that something similar could be successful in Syracuse.

“These festivals contributed so much to the community they were held in,” Shapiro said. “They created a lot of excitement, and allowed people to see films they otherwise wouldn’t see at their mall cinemas.”

Both Shapiro and his wife noted the economic and cultural impact these festivals had, and in 2004, they staged the first Syracuse International Film Festival.

“We thought we’d do it just once and see what a festival could do for Syracuse,” said Shapiro. “The success of the festival led to a second one, a third one, and now we’re at the thirteenth.”

The festival runs through Sunday, and will show films in theaters around Syracuse, including the Palace Theater, Oncenter Carrier Theater, Manlius Art Cinema, the Film Hub in Dewitt, LeMoyne College and the Shemin and Shaffer auditoriums on the Syracuse University campus.

Filmmakers will be present during their screenings and for follow-up question and answer sessions with the audience.

On Sunday, the festival will close its curtains with a film named “Jazz on a Summer’s Day,” a famous film about jazz released in 1960. Jazz students from Syracuse University and local public high schools will be performing a live master class on stage before the showing.

Shapiro said the event used to take place in the springtime, but they moved it to the fall after realizing many students couldn’t go due to finals. Student attendance is vital to the festival’s success.

Nancy Keefe Rhodes, an adjunct professor in Transmedia at the College of Visual and Performing Arts can attest to that success: “It’s committed to not just being a once-a-year, blowout event,” she said.

Rhodes has observed a magnetic effect the festival has: the many filmmakers who come tend to come back. They enjoy meeting and engaging with the different films, and a creative space to meet other filmmakers in an enriching process that they don’t often see in other festivals.

“We’re in the midst of a festival that brings us great riches,” Rhodes said.

The festival was initially designed as a competition, but over the years, they met so many new filmmakers that they had neither the space nor the time to accommodate all the films. After nine years of being competitive, the film festival turned into invitation-only.

The event provides a way to not only foster relationships between established filmmakers, but also to connect them to budding filmmakers and students.

Over the years, many Syracuse students have reaped the benefits of the festival by showcasing their own work. Donato Rossi, a third-year graduate student from Italy, is one of them. His short film “The Day I Began to Love Myself” will show at this festival, among four others he has worked on.

It’s a really good way to show our projects,” Rossi said. “Every film festival is always great moment to go and watch movies that you usually cannot see in a normal theater.”

Connections formed at the Syracuse International Film Festival can go a long way, said Munjal Himanshu Yagnik, third-year student in the film program. Yagnik also did his undergraduate studies in the film program, and volunteered for the festival throughout his four years.

He said the festival offers lots of opportunities for young, undergraduate film students to get involved. He believes it’s in the DNA of the Syracuse community to be so receptive of art and the film festival.

“You end up meeting a lot of filmmakers, and as a result, you end up forming a lot of connections,” Yagnik said.

Yagnik’s short “Caught Between Colours” was nominated for Best Short Film at the 2009 festival.

Shapiro hopes students and filmmakers alike can form a deeper connection with art and films at the Syracuse International Film Festival.

“Every film you show has a cultural, political, social, psychological reading that you can do on it,” Shapiro said. “There isn’t any area of human or experience that can’t be attached to a reading of any film.”

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