Filmmakers, audiences swarm to Hill City for BHFF

By Jeff Smith

Award winning — Deborah LaVine, director of "Wild Prairie Rose," receives the award for best feature film, Sunday, April 30, with Ryan Hall, spokesperson for Black Hills Film Festival, right. LaVine was in Hill City for a roundtable discussion about the film, which was a love letter to the town of Beresford. [PN Photo/JEFF SMITH]


Time travel, traveling to another dimension and life in 1950’s South Dakota were some of the topics in films at this year’s Black Hills Film Festival (BHFF).

There were short films which were mini bursts of entertainment before the longer feature films and films to make people think or just to entertain. Eight of the 20 movies shown were filmed in South Dakota and showed off the state’s beautiful landscape.

It was the eighth year for the BHFF which received its start in Hill City. The first time the organizers decided to have films shown in Hill City, it was held in October, but the first year of the festival was held in May.  In the past seven years, the film festival was at the Hill City High School.

Movie showings were held in the Loft which was previously Chute Rooster. Movies started screening there last November.

“We like having this for the festival because it’s our space. We like having space for a hospitality suite. We can have wine, beer and sodas for the filmmakers,”  Chris VanNess, executive director for the film festival, said.

VanNess said this year they sought films they knew of or liked instead of going through a nomination process.

“I spent a couple of months looking at and getting recommendations from my contacts at other festivals and seeing which ones were winning, and looking to filmmakers that I knew had quality work and stuff coming up,” VanNess said.

Ryan Hall, spokesperson for BHFF, said the board of directors has helped steer the direction of the festival over the years.  VanNess is the workhorse for it and is involved in it year-round for everybody else on the board to come and enjoy it, Hall said.

“There’s a lot of pieces that have to fall into place logistically to make it happen,” Hall said.

Hall said they hear from filmmakers that they didn’t know there was a film festival in the Black Hills.

“They kind of turn it into their own little mini vacation,” Hall said, “checking out the other films and seeing things they otherwise wouldn’t normally see.”

Rebecca Cruse, director of the South Dakota Film Office, said she hears from filmmakers who come out that they love being in the area and that they would like to move here.

“There have been people who have come back multiple times and they turn it into their yearly vacation either by themselves or with their family because they loved the energy of the festival and the area,” Hall said.

Anna Marie Thatcher of Rapid City said she came because it’s the only film festival in town.

Thatcher said it’s important to support the event to encourage new filmmakers and gives local people the chance to see a variety of films.

“Everybody in the world has two jobs. Whatever they do to eat and drama critic,” Thatcher’s husband, Graham, said. “It’s always fun for everybody to exercise their chops with new stuff.”

Anna Marie said for many people who come to the festival it is their first experience of the Black Hills.

“People come from the east coast and the west coast, so it’s a great draw for people to visit the Black Hills,” she said.

Jenny Barkley of Custer said both the films she saw were really creative.

“It’s always fun to hear comments from the producers and writers,” Barkley said.

She said just to have it at Chute Rooster is really neat because it’s been around forever.

“I’m glad they are doing something with it, it’s such a unique setting,” Linda Higgins said.

Higgins said it’s hard to get up to Rapid City so it was nice to have the films shown in Hill City.

VanNess said they usually get around 75 people for each showing of films with the festival.

She said all of the films that were shown in Rapid City were sold out.

“We’re hoping people will enjoy the new spaces and start coming again,” Van Ness said.