The late, great film critic Roger Ebert often described movies as "empathy machines," allowing us to understand different hopes, aspirations, dreams, and fears. I can't think of a better explanation of the film medium's unique ability to make us identify with another human being, putting us completely in their shoes.
But that machine only works if you consistently seek out new film-going experiences; ones that tell the stories of cultures, lifestyles, and people that might not be familiar to you. Typically, this requires that you look outside of the standard multiplex fare, and I think that's why I love film festivals so much. They provide their audiences a snapshot of what life is like for a specific group of people, as diverse and wide-ranging as their lives are. What better way to learn about an individual than to immerse yourself in their experiences?
With enough film festivals to take you through the entire calendar year, this list should give you a decent (though not complete) grasp of Rochester's film landscape. Note that whenever possible, the festival's website has been provided, though keep in mind that with some still a year away, the listed schedules may not yet be updated.
And you can keep up with our latest reporting on many of these festivals online at rochestercitynewspaper.com.
Tuesday, May 5, through Tuesday, June 30
Now in its seventh year, this series seeks to remove the stigma of mental illness through a lineup of short and feature-length films paired with discussions with mental health professionals and visiting filmmakers. This year's series kicked off on May 5 and continues on a biweekly basis, culminating Tuesday, June 30, with a free screening of the Oscar-winning documentary short film "Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1." Individual film tickets are $8, and screenings take place at the Cinema Theatre (957 South Clinton Avenue). For more information visit reelmindfilmfest.com.
Tuesday, May 12, and Wednesday, May 13
With Rochester's burgeoning bike scene, it only makes sense that our city's growing number of bicyclists get their very own film festival representation. Scheduled to occur annually during Rochester Bike Week, the Rochester Bike Festival programs feature-length and short films that celebrate bicycle culture in its many forms. This year's festival is set for May 12 and 13 and will feature screenings of "Breaking Away" and "The Triplets of Belleville." Screenings will take place at the Cinema Theatre (957 South Clinton Avenue) and The Little (240 East Avenue). Tickets will be $7 advance and $8 at the door. Anyone arriving by bike will get $1 off their admission. facebook.com/rochesterbikefilm.
Friday, May 15, through Wednesday, May 20
Every year, RIT's School of Film and Animation (SOFA) holds a marathon screening of every single film made by students that semester, with each of the filmmakers on hand to answer questions from the audience. This semester the screenings will begin in Carlson Auditorium in the Imaging Science building at 10 a.m., Friday, May 15, and end at 6 p.m. It will continue on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and then on Monday and Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Hundreds of films will be screened, making this event something of an endurance test for audience members. Luckily admission is free, so feel free to come and go as you please. cias.rit.edu/schools/film-animation.
Held by the Rochester Jamaican Organization and the Baobab Center as part of Caribbean American Heritage Month, this series of films shines a spotlight on Caribbean culture with a schedule of documentary and narrative feature films on Friday evenings throughout the month of June. thebaobab.org.
Sunday, July 12, through Monday, July 20
Established in 2001 by the JCC of Greater Rochester, this festival focuses on films that celebrate the diversity of the Jewish people through their identity, history, and culture. Past screenings include last year's Foreign Language Oscar-winner, "Ida," and the acclaimed stop-motion film, "Mary and Max." rjff.org.
Wednesday, August 5
Presented in collaboration between Nazareth College, WXXI, and the Little Theatre, this juried festival provides a forum for aspiring young filmmakers, ages 13 to 18, to stretch their movie-making abilities by creating a short film (10 minutes or less) on any subject of their choosing. Last year's festival saw the presentation of the first annual Hoffman Award to the winning filmmaker. A screening of the finalists' films will be held on Wednesday, August 5, at 5:30 p.m. on the main screen at The Little (240 East Avenue). www2.naz.edu/teen-film-festival.
Sunday, September 27, through Monday, October 5
Focusing on the complex issues surrounding the Middle East conflict, this annual film series seeks to bring attention to the oppression faced by the Palestinian people as a result of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. witnesspalestinerochester.org.
A new addition to Rochester's festival landscape, this event was first in 2014, presenting a diverse selection of narrative features, documentary films, and shorts, all with a focus on educating and raising awareness about the disease of addiction. Weekend passes and individual day passes can be purchased through the festival's website, rochesterrecoveryfilmfestival.org.
If the marathon held in mid-May is a little too long for you, this festival is your opportunity to see only the best work from RIT's student filmmakers. This public screening generally screens 20 to 24 short films, including at least one film from every grade level and representing every genre there is. The show is always held at The Little (240 East Avenue), and for the past few years has been included as part of the Rochester Fringe Festival. cias.rit.edu/schools/film-animation.
September through November
This series is presented by the Rochester Labor Council and George Eastman House, and screens a diverse lineup of films meant to celebrate the humble worker. The series just celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2014. rochesterlabor.org/filmseries.html.
Saturday, October 3
Presented in conjunction with the annual Puerto Rican Festival, this event celebrates the wide-ranging cinema of Hispanic and Latino culture, presenting a day-long program of films spanning genres from animation to documentary. The event is free to attend. prfestival.com
Thursday, October 8, through Sunday, October 18
Rochester's LGBT film festival, ImageOut, presents a lineup of films, both local and from around the world, that highlight the experiences of the queer community. Screenings take place at The Little (204 East Avenue) and Dryden Theatre (900 East Avenue). imageout.org.
Thursday, November 12, through Monday, November 16
High Falls Film Festival celebrates the contributions of women in all aspects of the film industry, both behind and in front of the camera. Screenings take place at The Little and Dryden Theatre. For more information, point your browser toward highfallsfilmfestival.com.
Thursday, November 5, through Monday, November 9
With a lineup of interesting, thought-provoking films, this festival presents the best of what contemporary Polish cinema has to offer while also hosting screenings of classic, historically significant Polish films. Screenings are held at The Little. For information on the 2015 festival, check bit.ly/rocpolishfilm.
Tuesday, April 5, through Saturday, April 9, 2016
An offshoot of the Greentopia Festival typically held in the fall, this curated program presents a collection of documentary and advocacy films that shed a light on environmental, social, and humanitarian issues. Most screenings are held at The Little. greentopia.org/film.
Colloquially known as Movies on a Shoestring, RIFF screens short films from across the globe. Having just celebrated its 57th year, it's not only the longest running film festival in Rochester, but also the oldest continuously running short film festival in the world. Screenings are held at the Dryden Theatre. rochesterfilmfest.org.
This free annual program of award-winning shorts highlights the best of family-friendly filmmaking from around the world, most with an emphasis on non-violent and socially conscious messages. The program makes the rounds of libraries in the Greater Rochester area, so check your local branch's schedule for dates.
Another new event, this juried festival focuses on locally-made short films (five minutes and under) with a focus on environmental awareness, and presenting cash awards to the winning filmmakers. fastforwardroc.org
Late April 2016
The University of Rochester's annual student film festival, this event is held at the conclusion of classes for the semester. A panel of faculty members associated with the Film and Media Studies Program award cash prizes to the first, second, and third place winners during a screening of the winning films as well as those earning honorable mentions. rochester.edu/college/fms.