This is big movie weekend in Hill City

By Jeff Smith

Chris VanNess talks to the crowd at the chamber mixer April 12. The Black Hills FIlm Festival expanded this year to get even more people interested about movies outside of the mainstream offerings.

Filmmakers have came back to the area for the ninth annual Black Hills Film Festival this weekend.

There are 32 films being shown in six different locations. Hot Springs and Spearfish were added as two of the new locations this year. Films will also be shown in a new venue in Rapid City.

About half of the films will be shown in Hill City.

The films will all be shown at the High School theater on Saturday and Sunday. There will also be parties and receptions held in Hill City. Chris VanNess,  Black Hills Film Festival executive director, highlighted two films to be shown in Hill City, “7th Generation” and “Rocky Mountain Express.”

Saturday night there will be a celebration of the 20th anniversary of “Smoke Signals.” Sherman Alexie wrote the screenplay for “Smoke Signals.”  A special guest will be Elaine Miles.

“For those who remember she was the one who drove the car backwards everywhere,” VanNess said.

Attendees will be able to listen to her experience with the rest of the cast and working on the flm.

“Angels in Our Midst,” about WWII nurses, will be showing on Saturday afternoon in Hill City. The daughter of one of the nurses will be in Hill City and likely talk after the screening.

“This Land” will also show in Hill City Saturday night. The film is about the fracking and oil business.

“It’s a documentary but it has some really good visuals,” VanNess said.

The theme for the Festival this year is “Big Vistas, Big Stories.”

“We chose that because so many of our major films have such beautiful landscapes in them,” VanNess said.

Some of the films were filmed in South Dakota. “This Land” has scenes that were filmed in the state and  “7th Generation” was filmed in South Dakota. Nine films to be shown at the festival have ties to South Dakota.

But VanNess said not a lot of films are shot in South Dakota.

“We really have to go out looking for them and try to encourage people to make more,” VanNess said.

A large purpose of the event is to showcase the talent that is in the state as well as provide high quality films about topics that aren’t often of interest to Hollywood filmmakers.

VanNess said the event will be fun. She has been getting the final preparations ready as there will be a lot happening during the festival.

The festival draws about 3,000 people every year. She said there might be more this year in attendance with the Spearfish and Hot Springs locations added. In Hill City, she said around 300 will attend the festival over the two days in Hill City.

There will be 25 filmmakers that are coming into the area for the festival.

“Half of those are going to stay here in Hill City,” VanNess said.

VanNess said the new locations allows the festival to reach more people.

“They’re excited to be a part of it,” Van Ness said.

After films are shown the filmmakers are given a chance to talk about their film and answer audience questions.

“That is one of the reasons people like to go to festivals, they can talk to the filmmakers,” VanNess said.

Hay Camp Brewing Company is the new location in Rapid City. Movies will be shown here on Thursday afternoon.

“You can watch a film and have a beer,” VanNess said.

The seminars on Friday at Hay Camp Brewing are free to anyone. People will be able to learn about acting fundamentals for directors and hiring SAG-AFTRA actors for low budget films.

There are four awards to give out throughout the duration of the festival. They are for the best feature, best feature documentary, best short film and best student film. The awards are presented right after the films play.

“We found out last year that it works out really well rather than just having one big event where you announce them,” VanNess said.

Filmmakers might not show up for other films but they are usually at the venue when their film is being shown.

Festival passes are $50 per person for a full festival pass. There are also student festival passes for $25 and $125 for a VIP Festival Pass. A session ticket is $10.

A complete lineup of this year’s films are at