So here I am, Katherine Cowell, sophomore film student from Northwestern University, driving across some of the flattest, coldest country I’ve ever seen with my best friend and roommate, Classics major Amy Lather. I’ve convinced her that this is going to be really fun, and she is resigned to see if it will be. About seven tolls, two hours and three repeats of our roadtrip mix later, we arrive at our hotel on what appears to be the largest street in Beloit, ready to check in, meet people, and see some movies.
In fact, I am here to represent “Three-Fifty”, written and directed by Maurice Chauvet. The film was produced by Jesse Rivard and Melinda Augustina and stars Melinda Augustina, Michael Angelo Stuno and Evan Grensted. It is a really funny little short about the dangers of attempting to weasel out of petty late fees at your local video store—and the virtues of remaining a faithful customer there. I have no idea at what sort of venue we will be viewing this and the other festival shorts, whether I will be expected to answer any questions, or whether I will be able to make any cool friends here, but I’m prepared for anything. On my shirtfront I’m proudly wearing my promotional pin (Amy too)—“That’ll be Three-Fifty”, it says.
First, we head over to pick up our press packets. No problem. After that, a couple wearing passes in the lobby stops us. Somehow my thought is “Uh-oh. They’re on to me…they know I’m just a student, clearly not a filmmaker… they’re going to take away my pass, my pin and kick me out…” but they only want to say hello and chat about the festival. Wow! That was a surprise. Unfortunately, we have to dash off so as not to miss the “Three-Fifty” screening at O’Halaran’s. We sit for a few minutes in the frozen parking lot, studying our maps…(is that it? Is it in a bar—could we be so lucky?)
Suds O’Halaran’s is packed to the gills and only getting fuller as we file in, a good half-hour early. The biggest section of the room is set up with a screen and projector, and every seat is taken…everyone is enthusiastic and excited to see this particularly fun part of the festival: The “R” rated comedy shorts. We commence chatting up everyone that files past, touting our pins and dealing out the cute little post cards that promote “Three-Fifty” (“the must see comedy short for this weekend!”)—everyone is very supportive, and Melinda Augustina and Maurice Chauvet should be household names by the end of the night.
We take a seat at the bar, the better to make friends and observe the audience reaction. The mounted TVs that might have usually played football games simultaneously play the films so that everyone can see. As soon as the show starts, the packed bar becomes as quiet as a theater.
All the shorts are entertaining, some more than others. While many are goofy or clever comedies, such as “Equal Opportunity”, directed by Howard Duy Vu, in which a group of coworkers uses only quick-witted stereotypes to refer to one another, “Three-Fifty” (which comes on near the end of the shorts) has the crowd paying rapt attention to its sly humor and smart, fast-paced dialogue. This film is not a one-joke comedy, and takes some thought, which puts it in a slightly different genre than most of the films playing tonight. The audience responds well with smiles and laughter throughout.
The comedies were all hilarious and, well—short. Somehow, a couple of hours pass and low and behold, we do make some friends. A cute, young (ish) Stella Artois representative happens to be sitting right next to us during the films. Stella Artois is giving support to the film festival this year, so he has come in to Beloit to enjoy the show and promote his beverage. Katherine and Amy must investigate, and as we still have a lot of promotional post cards to pass out and people to chat with, we leave to discuss the films we’ve just seen with our new friends. At the restaurant in the Fairfield Inn, we grab some snacks and meet some more film enthusiasts, including the executive director of the BIFF, Rod Beaudoin, who was nice enough to chat for a few minutes and receive a promotional postcard.
Our new friends were eager to get out to the Disco Paradiso VIP party, and while we protested that we really should be getting back, we drove over to meet them at the Eclipse Center, “just for a minute”.
After a wonderful night of getting to know the coolest filmies in Beloit, and meeting all the warm-hearted people of this charming town, we unfortunately had to wake up to the fact that we were students, students with homework, and it was Sunday. After a brief but impassioned reenactment of “Dude, where’s my car”, a very friendly Beloit limo driver kindly picked us up at our hotel and deposited us at my car free of charge. The Beloit police are apparently as nice as the limo driver, the staff at the hotel, all the guests, the film enthusiasts, Rod Beaudoin, the representatives of Stella Artois, Melinda Augustina, and everyone else in this adorable town…and did not give me a ticket for being parked in two-hour parking over night. So, sad that we couldn’t stay longer and positive that we would come back as soon as we could, the film student and the Classics major drove back to Chicago, where no one wants to meet you, no taxi (much less limo!) ride is free, and the cops will always always give you a parking ticket—or more likely, tow your car.
We had a great time, and thank you to Beloit, the Beloit International Film Festival, Melinda, and everyone else. We’ll certainly be back next year, as Beloit is like having a mini Sundance in your backyard. What an awesome experience for a sophomore film student!
Beloit’s the coolest!