SouthSide Film Festival brings international fare to Bethlehem
Area festivals, events and venues may come and go, but the SouthSide Film Festival (SSFF), now in its 14th year, has become a Lehigh Valley institution.
“The community’s been great,” says Glenn Koehler, SSFF director. “We get a lot of support.”
Jeff Vaclavik, board of directors president of the Southside Film Institute, which runs the SSFF, is already thinking about next year’s 15th annual event.
“It’s one of those anniversary years,” Vaclavik says, regarding SSFF programming. “We’ll come up with something.”
The 14th annual SSFF unreels June 13 - 17 at four South Side Bethlehem venues: Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts theater, 321 E. Third St., Bethlehem; Lehigh University Sinclair Lab auditorium, 7 Asa Drive (off Packer Avenue); Victory Firehouse, 205 Webster St., Bethlehem, and for the SSFF Children’s Film Series, June 15-17, Godfrey Daniels, 7 E. Fourth St., Bethlehem.
The SSFF is preceded by its annual fund-raiser, 6 p.m. June 12, Molinari’s, 322 E. Third St., Bethlehem. Hors d’oeuvre and a five-course dinner each–paired with wines are offered by Dominic Lombardo from The Mint Gastropub, Mike Pichetto and Martin Castro from 3rd & Ferry Fish Market, Joe Bruno from grain, Melanie Lino from Lit Roastery and Bakeshop, and Geo Dodig from Molinari’s.
The SSFF “Opening Night Party,” 6 p.m. June 13, is at Color Me Mine, 25 E. Third St., Bethlehem. Film-makers and festival-goers mingle and enjoy catered food and beverages. The opening night film, “Unleashed,” starring Justin Chatwin, Steve Howey, Sean Astin and Nazareth’s Kate Micucci, is at 7 p.m. June 13 at Charter Arts. “Unleashed” director Finn Taylor is expected to attend the party, screening and talkback.
Other popular SSFF events are the “Late Night Movie,” with the Pennsylvania premiere of the horror-comedy, “The Night Watchmen,“ 11 p.m. June 16, Victory Firehouse, and the “Closing Night Film” of “Centralia: Pennsylvania’s Lost Town,” 7:20 p.m. June 17, Charter Arts.
Tickets are sold for specific screenings. An all-festival pass is available.
The SSFF is an international film festival, held right here in the Lehigh Valley. The SSFF screens and has screened films from Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Switzerland, Netherlands, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Israel, Uganda, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and, of course, the United States.
Vaclavik, owner-proprietor for 22 years of Deja Brew coffeehouse and deli, 101 W. Fourth St., Bethlehem, is SSFF co-founder. He estimates the SSFF has shown 1,200 films from 80 nations and 46 states from the United States.
“We have really excellent feature films this year,” says Vaclavik, a Nesquehoning, Carbon County, native and graduate of Panther Valley High School and The Pennsylvania State University. He and his wife, Georgeann, live with their son, Brady, 12, in Bethlehem.
Koehler, Marketing and Outreach Coordinator, National Museum of Industrial History, Bethlehem, has been SSFF director for five years.
“I think we do a pretty good job of presenting a diverse array of films,” says Koehler, a Hellertown native and Saucon Valley High School graduate taking marketing courses at Northampton Community College with plans to complete his studies at Moravian College.
Ben Bertalan, in charge of acquisitions, Allentown Public Library, is the SSFF “film wrangler.” For this year’s festival, he culled films from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in California.
Mostly, though, films are submitted via the Withoutabox web site, whereby the SSFF posts its submissions opening and deadline (September through March 15).
For 2017, the SSFF jury committee of eight selected 76 films from about 150 viewed, including about 87 submissions and 70 invitational films. The films are usually screened via Vimeo. The not so old days of films on VHS and CD are long-gone. Digital downloads are the name of the game.
Films run the gamut from animated, documentary and narrative shorts, to comedy, horror and documentary features. The short films are screened in groupings called film blocks.
“We have eight blocks of shorts,” Vaclavik says.
“Every year, we have usually at least one film that has been nominated for an Oscar or major award,” says Koehler.
“This year, we have quite a bit of local films, more than we usually do, which is great. We love showing local films,” says Koehler. “It’s just a really good mix of local and international flavor.”
Vaclavik singles out “Old Men Singing.” a documentary short about Cornell University’s a cappella singing group, the Cayuga’s Waiters, which included the late Bob Cohen, a Bethlehem resident, WDIY broadcaster and area singer-actor.
Also of local interest are films by DeSales University students; a documentary short, “From The Earth: A Tribute to the Slate Belt Heritage and Culture,” directed by Lois Silver, and a documentary short, “King of the Buskers,” directed by Amy Unger and Jaccii Farris of WFMZ-TV.
Koehler picked his Top Three films for SSFF 2017. Screening times are on the SSFF web site.
“One of my favorites is ‘The Billboard Boys,’ which is a feature-length documentary about the guys who lived on the billboard to win a mobile home,” says Koehler. The radio-station promotion took place in the 1980s near the MacArthur Road exit Route 22 in Whitehall Township.
“‘44 Pages’ is a feature documentary about Highlights magazine, published in Honesdale, Wayne County,” Koehler says.
‘‘Twinsburg’ is a drama short. They filmed a fictitious narrative around an actual event,” says Koehler. The Twins Days Festival in Twinsburg, Ohio, is said to be the largest annual gathering of twins and other multiples in the world, with upwards of 2,000 multiples typically in attendance.
The 2016 SSFF included films that went on to receive acclaim, including “Adventures of a Secret Kidd: The Mass Hallucination of Kenn Kweder,” a documentary feature about the still-active Philadelphia musician; “The Ballad of the Dreadnought,” a documentary short about Nazareth’s legendary Martin Guitar; SouthSide, a documentary short directed by Jennifer Suwak and Steve Abruzzese about the SSFF; “The Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103,” a documentary feature about the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270; “Tower,” a documentary feature by director Keith Maitland about the University of Texas Tower shooting that happened nearly 50 years ago that incorporated animation to tell the tragedy, and “Growing Up Smith,” which garnered distribution and brought its co-producer-actor-writer Anjul Nigan to Bethlehem for an opening night question and answer session with festival-goers.
Ticket information and screenings: southsidefilmfestival.com/