BY STEPHANIE PETTWAY
Established in 2016, the Ridgefield International Film Festival (RIFF) will be opening in Oct. 18 at the Ridgefield Playhouse.
This year Sacred Heart University’s Film and Television Master’s Program (FTMA) had the opportunity to promote the festival with the aid of new FTMA adjunct Professor Bill Harris, who is the General Manager of the festival.
“Having the FTMA program involved would really helped promote both the festival and the great media and film program at SHU. We’ve received great support, including the underwriting of ‘SAY HER NAME,’ the story of Sandra Bland – a young black woman arrested during a traffic stop in Texas, who was later discovered dead in her jail cell,” said Harris. “Beyond hosting the screening, SHU’s support is allowing us to fly in members of the Bland family for a Q&A afterwards, moderated by FTMA’s Prof. Todd Barnes.”
Harris is no stranger to RIFF, one of his films played at the festival last year, which opened the door for him and his wife, Festival Director Megan Smith-Harris, to manage this years.
“The Buddy System”, which is about specially trained dogs for children with autism played at RIFF. My wife’s boss was a lead sponsor and when he found out that the festival needed a new management team he asked us,” said Harris.
The festival received film submissions from 49 different countries and will screen 77 films from around the world. In total, 92 features, documentaries, and shorts are programmed for the four-day event with some having Q&A sessions that will be held at various locations in Ridgefield, Conn.
“Documentary films are the original ‘reality programming’. They have the power to challenge pre-conceived notions, to inform and generate important national conversations, and ultimately to inspire change,” said Smith-Harris. “That’s precisely why we schedule time for a meaningful post-screening Q&A with filmmakers. This year, RIFF has an extraordinary slate of special doc offerings and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see some of these titles on the 2018 Oscar short list.”
New and familiar faces will be seen at the festival, from an interview with “Get Out” and “Girls” star Allison Williams, lead by New York Times best-selling author, Rich Cohen, to a screening of “Wildlife,” an adaption of the novel by Richard Ford, which features Jake Gyllenhaal alongside Carey Mulligan.
RIFF is dedicated to being inclusive when it comes to the content that they showcase. They allow for the voices of everyone to be heard, especially of those who don’t always have the opportunities to share their work.
“RIFF is proud to be one of the first film festivals fully committed to 50/50 gender parity. We aren’t crafting a pledge or waiting until 2020 to represent women’s voices and sensibilities on the screen,” said Smith-Harris. “Our over-arching mission is to program ‘films that inspire.’ We feel we’ve truly accomplished that with our programming slate and can’t wait to share our picks with RIFF audiences.”
The festival will also pay tribute to Ridgefield, Conn. resident and filmmaker Joe Consentino, who passed away Jan. 19, by starting the “Joe Consentino Emerging Filmmaker Award.”
“There are six feature films nominated for the Joe Consentino Emerging Filmmaker Award. Three of them are directed by women and three of them are directed by men. That just happened naturally. Why? Because we actively sought submissions from women filmmakers from all over the world to even the playing field,” said Smith-Harris.
Through the promotion of independent filmmaking from the emerging talent to students alike, RIFF focuses on creating a platform that will not only benefit the filmmakers, but the audience as well.
“The ideas, artistic expression and production techniques are often innovative and important. For independent producers, film festivals are often the only way they can get some exposure and build interest in their projects, with the hopes of getting enough attention they can find broader distribution,” said Harris. “Locally, we are very fortunate to be in a very creative, artistic area which allows us to draw on many great films, and their directors, producers and stars… and provide a venue and festival setting for everyone to enjoy. So, it’s a real win-win-win, for the films, the festival and the community.
The festival will end on Oct. 21. The full list of events and tickets can be seen at www.riffct.org/events-parties.