If it was not for film guru Ed Summer, Buffalo would not have a film festival. If you knew Ed, then you are aware of his steadfastness when it came to wrangling people together to put Buffalo on the film festival map. But what you might not have known is that Ed was the executive producer of the original (and the best) Conan the Barbarian movie. According to local filmmaker, Stephen Powell, Ed was also “a personal friend to Steven Spielberg and closely consulted with Spielberg on the making of Star Wars (as a personal friend). His classmates at NYU included Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone who were also counted as friends.”
Ed Summer passed away in November of 2014, leaving behind what I believe will one day be his real legacy – the Buffalo International Film Festival (BIFF). Earlier today I met with film writer Ray Guarnieri, who first met Ed when Ed allowed Ray to use BIFF as a passthrough (non-profit status) to get his first film off the ground – Buffalo Boys.
After Ed passed, Ray reached out to Ed’s wife to see what would happen to BIFF. He assumed that someone was taking it over, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. “Ed was a mentor to me,” says Ray. “What I found out was that there were a lot of volunteers, but there was no real strong leadership. Ed was successful in establishing the festival as a genuine celebration of the artistry and history of movies, but he had been challenged with connecting to the WNY audience. So I decided that I wouldn’t let Ed’s dream simply fade away.”
Today Ray is spearheading an exhaustive effort to not only rekindle BIFF, but to turn it into one of the top 25 premiere film festivals in North America (within the next three years). Currently he and his festival team are making the rounds, and connecting with as many people in the local film industry as possible. Already the team is making inroads that are leading them in all of the right directions. “First off, we knew that in order to connect with Buffalo audiences, we needed a landmark cinema venue for the festival,” Ray tells me. “So we decided to go after the North Park Theatre. The theatre’s manager, Ray Barker, was all about it. Together, with the help of Squeaky Wheel, the Film Commission, Buffalo’s travel and marketing industry, Hallwalls, the Screening Room, and hopefully AMC Theater in Downtown Buffalo next year, BIFF will become one of the leading cultural events in this region.”
If you think that Ray’s goals might be a bit lofty, then you don’t know Ray. The guy is young, passionate, personable, and he’s in the business. If you were to ask Ray if he ever thought that he would be in this position, I’m pretty sure that he would crack a rib laughing. But sometimes life and death deal strange cards, and Ray has every intention on playing his hand through, with the help of the local film community. Call it fate. Call it destiny. After meeting with Ray, I believe that we’ve found the right guy for this role. “The biggest shift is going to be the use of the North Park Theatre,” Ray emphasizes. “In order to move forward, we need to make an initial deposit to secure the venue. That’s why we have launched an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign. We have until this Friday to raise an additional $2800, and we know that there are local film fans out there that can help us achieve this goal.”
By establishing the North Park Theatre as the hub of the festival, all of Hertel, and all of Buffalo will reap the rewards. Just think about all of the festival-goers who will stay after the screenings to network, eat, drink and shop on the street. “We need to rebrand BIFF,” Ray asserts. “On our side, we’re going to be bringing great films to Buffalo by instilling a very strict reviewing policy. This year we will host a three day festival, but our intentions are to grow it to a seven day festival. Buffalo is becoming a great film town. People are starting to think of it as a place to shoot. Local films will go a long way towards promoting tourism. The films will also help to strengthen the local industry. I’ve traveled a lot and have been to many festivals, and I can tell you that I’m impressed with the quantity and the quality of the films that are coming out of Buffalo. The industry is expanding and the local film community is starting to open up… we want to continue to push this trend. At this point, BIFF is an open door – anyone contributing to the local film industry has a voice in our organization.”