The 22nd Black Bear Film Festival opened at the newly renovated Milford theater amid an undercurrent of political angst about Bill Rosado’s controversial support of mayoral candidate Lisa Emery. Rosado owns the theater and other properties in town
“I was so pleased that the festival was a success under difficult conditions,” said Max Brinson, the festival president. “I was disappointed to find that the political uproar intruded into the festival and was a distraction for a while. There were some people who refused to come, but for the most part, people supported it.”
And support it they did. People really connected with the films, and many were visibly emotionally stirred as they exited some of the main stage screenings.
Teresa Stack produced “The Road to Justice,” one of the films shown in the Saturday Salon. “The festival was terrific,” she said. “They did an amazing job during difficult circumstances. The new theater is gorgeous. The event was well-organized and well-curated. It brought some light back to town.”
Beth O’Neil, the artistic director of the Milford Theater said, “We are celebrating all the hard work for the last nine months that went into opening this theater. I was hired in the middle of Covid to run an arts program to bring this community together and allow people to heal. We are very proud to have the theater open for the BBFF, which shows films about inclusion, diversity, addiction, and the importance of family. Those concepts are why I chose to be the artistic director and what the theater stands for. As the artistic director, I am solely responsible for the programming in the theater. Whatever happens with this political upheaval, I am here to continue to be a leader in the arts community. The political views of the theater’s owner are his, and not mine, and he has never asked me to support his political agenda.”
Bill Rosado, the theater’s owner, is a longtime supporter of the arts, in addition to being a film producer in his own right. Indeed, he has had a film in many Black Bear events over the years.
“This festival remains very much alive, even after all the bad moments we had throughout the pandemic, and it has just made a comeback with flawless success,” he said. “Congratulations to all. I personally look forward to a long-term relationship with BBFF. You can count on our support.”
Many people commented on the beauty of the newly renovated theater. The seats are extremely comfortable. There is a huge screen, a new sound system, new lighting and Wi-Fi, and a full bar with snacks. The interior walls have been redecorated and look clean and fresh.
Strict protocols for the event were put in place. Proof of vaccination was required, and patrons were asked to keep their masks on. The festival chose to sell only 125 seats out of the 200 available to provide social distancing. The 125 seats were sold out.
The sheer number and variety of films shown during the weekend was staggering; 14 on the main stage and 32 in the salons held at nearby Good Shepherd Episcopal Church. Many of these films were short, running from five to 30 minutes and showcasing new and exciting filmmakers.
Dennis Lee, a local producer and member of the festival board, did a great job presenting these well-attended films.
The audience reaction to some of the main stage films was interesting. (For full descriptions visit blackbearfilmfestival.squarespace.com/2021-opening-night.)
The opening night film was “Port Authority.” After getting kicked out of his home in central Pennsylvania, Paul arrives at New York City’s dizzying Port Authority terminal with nowhere to go. A momentary encounter with Wye, a trans woman of color, leads him to seek her out. Transfixed by her beauty and confidence, love soon blossoms. But as the two learn more about each other, Paul’s false narratives begin to surface ,and the double life he lives must be reconciled.
This film was was very explicit and raw — not something many audience members were accustomed to. Yet, many people were affected by it.
“The film said we have the strength of our convictions,” said Alan Kaplan. “It was a quality piece, well done. Congratulations to Max, Black Bear, and to Milford.”
Gail Shuttleworth said, “It was unsatisfying at first, but I have found myself returning to think about it later.”
Jerry Reganess was blown away by the film “Not Going Quietly.”
“That was an excellent example of the power of activism and a passion for something,” he said. “It showed just what you can accomplish with many voices. A superb film.”
The film that really reached out and touched people was “My Brother, My Hero Forever,” executive produced by Bill Rosado, and written and directed by Ken Vose. Cinematography was by Shawn Hatten and the narration by Steven Rosado. James Rosado is the associate producer.
This was the story of local twin brothers, Anthony and Mattie, now 33 years old. Mattie was born with Down’s Syndrome. The brothers’ love for each other was poignant and the way their mother, Karen Guest, brought them up was incredible and inspiring.
After the film, there was a Q&A led by Jerry Weinstock, a retired psychologist who has treated people with special needs. Weinstock interviewed the brothers and Karen Guest.
Mattie stole the show. He was funny, charming, and the audience loved him. He has a job as a janitor in the administration building, and his work ethic is amazing. The audience gave the group a standing ovation and broke out spontaneously cheering, “Mattie, Mattie, Mattie.”
“I was privileged to bring to life a story full of love and inspiration about one of our local families — especially Mattie,” Rosado said. “He is one of the crown jewels of our little town.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the original.
“This festival remains very much alive, even after all the bad moments we had throughout the pandemic, and it has just made a comeback with flawless success.” Bill Rosado