The River Bend Film Festival celebrated 20 years this past weekend in Goshen. The festival ran from Thursday, April 20th through Sunday, April 23rd and featured blocks of films ranging from a few minutes to two hours in length, with filmmakers submitting from as close as down the street to as far as across the ocean. Supplementing the viewings were awards, workshops, discussions, and musical performances. The event filled the Goshen Theater and downtown Goshen businesses with community, art, and music all weekend long.
The opening kicked off Thursday evening with a party, photos on the red carpet, two film blocks of short movies and local documentaries, and a musical performance by Abbie Thomas.
Friday brought with it additional film blocks starting in the morning and running into the evening. Throughout the day, numerous other events took place, including a coffee talk with Indiana filmmakers and a workshop for actors and improvisers. The day was capped off with the 30th anniversary screening of Rudy, the inspiring film based largely at the University of Notre Dame and the surrounding area. Director David Anspaugh followed his film with reflections and answers to audience questions. Anspaugh explained his emotional reaction to the screening, describing multiple amazing venues in which he’d watched it previously.
“I’ve seen it at the White House, that’s kind of hard to beat, but this comes pretty darn close,” he said. “This is like seeing it at home.”
Saturday brought all-day film blocks and a coffee talk discussing Women in Film. The weekend’s highlight was the screening early that day of Every Morning, the Spirit of the Fest Award winning short film. Filmmakers Mary Chieffo, Madi Goff, and Kelly Lohman followed their movie with an audience discussion.
They described the spark of the story arising first through an improvisational process and then being built into the idea for a feature-length film. Screenwriter Goff produced writing samples and Chieffo, her partner in art and love, brought up the idea of creating a short film based on the core relationship in the stories. Chieffo, who is known by fans everywhere for her portrayal of Chancellor L’Rell in the Star Trek universe, talked about the relationship between two scientists in the story and the themes of love and separation. Director Lohman coincidently reached out around the same time about making a short film from that material and Every Morning was born.
What they created is a viewing experience steeped in the emotions of love, grief, regret, and empowerment. While science fiction in nature, Lohman noted that she simply told the story within and avoided actively pursuing a “sci fi” story. With excellent performances by Chieffo and Goff, flavored with the emotional cinematic-style and convincing special effects, Every Morning is a must see.
The house was nearly full on Saturday evening as indie folk and rock musicians, The Bergamot, featured their documentary, State of Unity. Formed in South Bend, the Bergamot have received praise nationwide and beyond for their uplifting music and performances. Their movie focuses on their 2016 tour when they set out in a divided country, touring in all 50 states, attempting to unite people through the power of music. They followed the screening with an energetic live set that had the audience dancing in the aisles and clapping along to the music.
The River Bend Film Festival started humbly as a student event at Indiana University South Bend in 2002. A few years later, the Mid America Filmmakers organization got involved and helped grow the festival and move it to downtown South Bend. Eventually, the festival evolved and grew, moving to the walkable downtown of Goshen. Regardless of where it started, the goal has always been to give a platform to local and independent filmmakers, encouraging them to tell their stories and meet others who want to do the same.
“Film is such a fascinating medium, ” said festival director, Adrienne Nesbitt.
Nesbitt pointed out the variety of elements and arts that come together to create the medium, including music, costumes, and acting. The focus goes beyond even that, with a goal of highlighting voices in film that are not always heard, giving a platform that encourages diversity and inclusion. This effort is reflected in the River Bend team, the films they choose, and the guests they host. This year alone, 15 different countries had films on display.
It was an inspiring weekend of seven blocks of movies, nearly 70 short films and the people who put their hearts into creating, viewing, and building the community around them.