Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise
February 27, 2002
By Stephen Landry



FITCHBURG -- Cannes, Sundance and Fitchburg? Don't laugh.

The city will soon join the ranks of such esteemed film festival locations when Fitchburg State College presents its inaugural Free Film Festival Fitchburg (F4), which kicks off on Thursday, March 7.

F4 is central Massachusetts' first major film festival.

During the three days of the festival, FSC students will have the chance to meet filmmakers from around the country, including John Landis, director of "Animal House" and "The Blues Brothers," who will deliver the event's keynote address. One of Landis' films, possibly "Coming To America" or "The Three Amigos," will be screened during the event, with the director introducing the movie and hosting a question-and-answer session following the feature.

The focus of the program, however, will be on films by filmmakers looking to make their initial marks in the world of cinema.

"This is an independent film festival," said Dr. George Bohrer, chair of the communications/media department at the college. "A lot of the work we're seeing is very original, very different from what you'd ordinarily see in the theater. A lot of it is very innovative."

The films entered in the festival will be vying for FSC's answer to an Oscar -- the "Fitchy." Works, including documentaries, comedic and dramatic shorts, and features from across the country, will be screened. The "Fitchy" awards will be handed out to prizewinners at the festival's conclusion on March 9.

The festival is the result of the energies of two former FSC students, JC Bouvier and Keith Gerrard, who now work together at Revolutionary Images, a Fitchburg-based advertising firm. Bouvier says that the inspiration for the event came to him while he was performing his internship at the famous Sundance Film Festival in Utah. The thought occurred to him that Fitchburg would be the perfect venue for a film festival, and Bouvier adds that he also wanted the opportunity to spotlight FSC's communications/media program, which he feels is "underrated."

"Fitchburg has one of the better communications programs in New England, if not the country. It generates a lot of high-quality people in the field," Bouvier said.

Bouvier said his original schedule for a film festival at the college was perhaps a little too ambitious to be realistic. He says he initially approached the school with the idea for a festival in March of last year.

"I was shooting for a November date," Bouvier recalled, laughing. College officials felt that seven months wasn't enough time to prepare for a major event, and Bouvier eventually agreed.

Bouvier was, however, well-prepared when it came time to formally introduce his concept of the Free Film Festival Fitchburg to the school.

"I went in to the communications department with a computer presentation and went over the festival point-by-point," Bouvier said.

Bouvier's enthusiasm quickly won the department over, and the idea for the film festival was soon signed off on at the highest levels of Fitchburg State College. He says that the faculty and students he mentioned the film festival concept to were "excited" by the prospect.

With a date and a venue set for the festival, Bouvier reached out to some of the friendships he'd formed while interning at the Sundance Film Festival. He says that he originally met John Landis when he was assigned to pick the acclaimed director up from the airport in Utah. Bouvier said that while he spared the director by not quoting from his film, "Animal House," he did manage to ask him a few questions about that film's star, John Belushi.

"We just kind of chatted it up," Bouvier remembered. "I've been in contact with him ever since."

Bouvier said he knew it would be necessary to include a kind of "draw" to lend the first annual Free Film Festival Fitchburg some prestige, and he realized that Landis's name on the marquee would be the perfect way to position FSC's festival apart from others of its kind.

"I wrote him a letter and basically explained the situation to him," Bouvier said. "I told him I'd really be honored if he'd be a part of the festival, if his schedule would allow."

Luckily, Bouvier said, Landis planned on being in the area for a book tour, and the director of "An American Werewolf In London" agreed to take part in FSC's film festival. Bouvier pointed out that Landis will also be available during the event to sign copies of "The Best Film Writing 2001," a book the director edited. Copies of the book are available at the college bookstore.

Bouvier says he is excited by the quality of the entries to the Free Film Festival Fitchburg that he's seen.

"I think we've got some quality stuff," he says. "Especially considering that there are 600 film festivals in the country, we've got some things that nobody's seen before ... We've got a really excellent selection of shorts, some good features and a couple of good documentaries."

Bouvier says he hopes the festival will become an annual event at Fitchburg State College.

"Hopefully, there will be a desire to do another one," he said, adding that the success of the first annual Free Film Festival Fitchburg will depend on attendance and audience reaction to the films.

"I think it's definitely a matter of energy," Bouvier said. "I think once you get the festival going and people see what you're doing and get involved, then I think it will be a success."

Bouvier said it is also his hope that the publicity surrounding the festival will focus some attention on the city of Fitchburg and the surrounding area.


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