SouthSide Film Festival

SouthSide Film Festival

If Jeff Vaclavik had to recruit a cast, build a sound stage, and write a script for a movie about a film festival, he’d set it in South Bethlehem.

“This is the perfect place for this festival, with all that’s going on here in this part of the city,” says Jeff, president of the Southside Film Institute, the organization that hosts the Southside Film Festival, which will open its 14th annual five-day run of independent films on June 13.

Started by the city’s SouthSide Merchants Association to bring more people south of the Lehigh River, the organization first looked at the Bethlehem Skate Zone in 2003 as a possible site to show films in the off season.

Around the same time, Jeff, also the owner of Deja Brew Café on West Fourth Street in Bethlehem, was in talks with local filmmaker Graham Stanford, who had started a film festival at the Goosey Gander Deli with some initial success and interest.

“We put two and two together and decided to give a larger festival a try,” he recalls. “So we established the institute as a nonprofit organization, and in June 2004, we had our prequel SouthSide Film Festival. Immediately afterward, we started planning for the main event in 2005.”

A jury comprising people with varying backgrounds, ages and interests—a jeweler, marketing and public relations specialist, a coffee shop owner, an MRI technician, a librarian—
selects the films each year. Many of the same people who started the festival are still actively involved.

“Love of film is the common thread that brings us all together,” Jeff says. “The recipe was always here—Lehigh University, Godfrey Daniels, WDIY, bars, restaurants, just a vibrant scene all around for an independent
film festival.”

What inspires filmmakers to submit their work to the festival depends on their motivation. Some are very small, independent filmmakers seeking exposure, while others have come from film studios like Pixar.

“The majority of them are first-time film makers who come here to get their names out. They’re not doing it as a job, but out of a passion for their art,” said Glenn Koehler, festival director. “We have feature length films, comedy animation, short and feature-length documentaries, and blocks of short films and dramas. Every genre
is represented.”

“The great thing about our festival is that filmmakers travel here from all over the place, local and international—some as far as Russia—
because of our engaged audience members who ask smart questions during Q&A sessions,” he adds. “We attract passionate people who make the films and who enjoy watching them, talking about them, and learning more about the people who’ve made them.”

It’s still a purely SouthSide Bethlehem event, with films shown at Victory Firehouse, Sinclair Lab Auditorium at Lehigh University, and the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts.

“To make our artists feel at home, we make a point to host filmmakers at Lehigh, and Lehigh’s always been good about donating dorm rooms, and the campus provides very walkable access to the city’s SouthSide neighborhoods,” Glenn says. “Not only is our mission about promoting independent film in our community, it’s about promoting our community to people from outside the area, and throughout the Lehigh Valley.”

The $50 all-access pass ($40 for students and seniors) is a ticket to unlimited screenings throughout the week, as well as entry to the opening night party, opening night screening, late night screening and closing party, and discounts at SouthSide
Bethlehem restaurants.

“For those eager to see what is being produced locally, we always get work from the Lehigh Valley, and this year is no exception,” Glenn says.

“King of the Buskers,” a documentary about a part-time street performer grappling with the idea of taking on his craft full time, is co-produced by Jaccii Farris and Amy Unger of Julian Farris Films. The company has partnered with WFMZ’s Documentary Unit, for which Jaccii serves as executive director, on many documentaries. “King of the Buskers” is solely by Julian Farris Films.

“We’re thrilled to premiere ‘King of the Buskers’ at the SouthSide Film Festival, one of the most prestigious and longest-running festivals of its kind locally,” says Jaccii, president of Julian Farris Films and an Emmy Award winning journalist on Channel 69’s news staff.

“This is an audience base that simply loves film, whether it’s a feature length film or a documentary,” she says. “Being in the company of accomplished film makers and a Lehigh Valley audience that enjoys and appreciates that artistry of independent film is why we’re coming to this festival again.”

As journalists, Jaccii and Amy stitch together stories into a short time frame, a talent that transfers well to filmmaking. “For me, it’s about the desire to touch a nerve and tell a story and go deeper in compelling and meaningful ways,” Jaccii says.

This year marks their second time at the SouthSide Film Festival.

“‘King of the Buskers’ was a departure for us because we went on location for this one in sunny Key West, Florida,” says Amy, vice president of Julian Farris Films and executive producer at WFMZ. “It was fascinating to get a peek inside the world of street performing. It really is a society unto itself. Many of the buskers know each other because they’re hitting up the same haunts around the world.”

It’s much more competitive than one might expect, she says, adding that street performing isn’t just a hobby for the buskers. “This is their livelihood, money in their pockets, and food on the table. An ‘off’ night can cost them dearly. There’s definitely a dark side to the frivolity,” Amy says.

“We have great variety this year, and we’ll be celebrating not only what we’ve done here, but a resurgence in access to independent films throughout the Lehigh Valley—from Civic Theatre in Allentown to ArtsQuest,” Glenn says. “In between the film blocks, we want people to visit the local businesses, have a cocktail, check out the restaurant scene, and just explore all that’s happening in South Bethlehem.”

The SouthSide Film Festival opens at 6 p.m. on June 13th at Color Me Mine on 25 E Third Street in Bethlehem. The opening night movie, “Unleashed,” will be screened at 8 p.m. at Lehigh Valley Charter School for the Arts on 321 E Third Street. 

SouthSide Film Festival

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