South Dakota Film Festival kicks off in Aberdeen


The 10th edition of the South Dakota Film Festival kicks off Wednesday in Aberdeen.

More than 300 films were submitted to the festival, but only 65 will be screened, the Aberdeen American News reported. The five-day schedule with nine viewing sessions includes short and feature-length films from different genres.

Organizer Tom Black said time has allowed organizers to establish connections in the film industry to get access to quality films and guests.

"One of the things we do and have done is go to other film festivals, and we meet other filmmakers," Black said. "And we've always had a strong connection to the filmmakers in the region — North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. We stay in contact with guests in the past and they recommend others."

Tony Award nominee Stephen Tobolowsky, "Breakfast Club" star Anthony Michael Hall and former Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Hawk Koch are among the festival's guests this year.

Organizer Brent Brandt said the festival's best featured narrative, "West Virginia Stories," will be screened Wednesday night. Thursday evening will include four short films along with "The Sight of Stars," which has been named best student-animated film of the festival, and best short comedy film, "A Man Wakes Up."

Casey Weismantel, executive director of the Aberdeen Convention and Visitor's Bureau, said the festival drives extra traffic to Aberdeen businesses, but it is difficult to put a dollar figure to its economic impact.

"Yes, we see economic impact with restaurants, hotels and overnight stays, but the biggest thing they can pat themselves on the back for is exposure," Weismantel said. "Filmmakers, they take that Aberdeen style and location back with them."


A network of volunteers keeps the festival going year after year and ensure its success as a fundraiser for the Aberdeen Community Theatre.

"(The festival) is a volunteer organization of an event that is hosted by the Capitol Cinema," Black said of how the non-profit festival is structured.

He and Brent Brandt have become the most visible faces of the festival, but isn't a two-man show and never has been.

"There’s a lot more to this. When people think this is just Tom and Brent, it’s absolutely not," Black said. "There’s dozens and dozens of other volunteers. It’s a machine."

Brandt is usually the one on the phone, lining up guests and organizing the logistics. Black focuses on marketing in the community and online. Diane Sundstrom joined the team in recent years, also acting as an emcee. And there's a committee for just about everything needed to put on a successful festival year after year.

"(Sundstrom) came on as a producer just a few years ago. The whole organizing committee has 11 people on it, and just an untold number that volunteer for us and with us," Black said. "There's catering, housing, designers, traveling, jury. We’re just emcee’s effectively."

Highlights in five days

The volunteers and organizers would rather keep the spotlight on the movies and guests.

"We had over 300 movies submitted to the festival, but we’re running 65," Brandt said. "Wednesday night we are running our best featured narrative — 'West Virginia Stories' – three separate stories that all intertwine. It’s a very good movie."

The schedule of nine viewing sessions has a host of short and feature-length films from every genre. Thursday evening will showcase four short films along with "The Sight of Stars," which has been named best student-animated film of the festival, and best short comedy film, "A Man Wakes Up."

The evening ends with the best feature documentary, "The Primary Instinct," in which Steven Tobolowsky looks into the art of storytelling and the why that art form resonates generation after generation. The veteran actor will be the featured guest for the evening.

Tobolowsky will return Friday evening for a night heavy with conversation as he'll be joined by another celebrity guest, Anthony Michael Hall. Hall rose to fame in the '80s with "National Lampoon's Vacation," "Sixteen Candles" and other coming-of-age dramedies. He then solidified his adult career with hit series like "The Dead Zone," and appearances in films "The Dark Knight" and "Six Degrees of Separation."

Four short films will be shown Friday evening, including the best short documentary, "A Perfect Record."

Saturday's first session will include best short drama film, "The Good Father." The afternoon session will show the festival's jury award-winner for excellence in film making, "Under A Stone," followed by a conversation with William Klayer, veteran cinematographer, photographer, director and producer.

"Dependent's Day," the festival's best feature-length comedy, will be followed up by a conversation with comedian and actress Lisa Ann Wolter, who will join director, writer, producer and editor Michael David Lynch.

Hall will return for Saturday evening's session with the "biggest Hollywood insider we’ve ever had at the festival," Brandt said. That would be Hawk Koch, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 2012 to 2013 and president of the Producers Guild of America from 2010 to 2014. Koch has also assisted and produced films like "Wayne's World," "Heaven Can Wait," and "Collateral Damage."

Saturday will wrap with a showing of the best romantic-comedy, "The Wedding Invitation." A conversation with director, writer and lead actress Rainy Kerwin will give the audience behind-the-scenes anecdotes on the set with an all-female crew.

The festival will finish with a family-friendly day kicked off with a throwback viewing of "16 Candles," in honor of Hall's visit. The afternoon will be filled with 24 short films, including locally produced films "Duffy's Jacket," "Sandlot Hockey" and "Alien Showdown in Rock-N-Roll City." Attendees will also get to see an ultra-high definition documentary of one of our state's gems in "The Badlands."

After five days, it will be clear that the real stars of the festival are the cinephiles who come from all walks of life and champion the art of film making.

"We make a big deal about everybody's film, whether it’s a student or professional film," Brandt said.

It's that type of esteem for filmmakers and film lovers that will ensure the area's premiere film festival will continue into the future.

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