Beyond the Hill

Syracuse International Film Festival welcomes back film lovers

Courtesy of Syracuse International Film Festival

The film festival was established in 2003 and works to bring members of the film community to Syracuse.

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A harmony of laughter, crying and cheers. Bothersome buzzing from an audience member who didn’t silence their phone. Applause when the credits roll. These types of shared experiences were lost when the pandemic began, and movie theaters and film festivals around the world shut down in-person screenings.

“There’s something about being in person and that visceral experience of watching a film together and laughing together and crying together and just sharing together, that you just don’t have (when you’re) sitting on your couch watching on your phone,” said John Ginty, president of the Syracuse International Film Festival.

The Syracuse International Film Festival, established in 2003, brings filmmakers, film experts and creators from around the world to the Syracuse community. Its mission is to captivate, entertain and educate the community by putting together events related to or involving films.

In 2020, the festival shifted to be entirely virtual because of the pandemic. But this year’s film festival is being held in person from Oct. 22-24. The theme is “Intermission Is Now Over. You May Now Return to Your Love of Film.”


In-person film screenings begin Friday at 5 p.m. and continue until Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Redhouse Theater on South Salina Street. Syracuse University and SUNY-ESF students can attend Sunday’s showings, which will be held on campus at the Shemin Auditorium in Shaffer Hall, for free, SIFF board member Jeff Meyer said.

Ginty thinks the theme encapsulates the general public’s feelings on watching films in person now that more theaters are re-opening. He remembered watching a YouTube clip of an audience reaction to the film “Avengers: Endgame” and realizing how much those experiences were lacking in the age of streaming and virtual film screenings.

“We all just kind of took a break from what (we considered to be) the norm,” Ginty said. “But once those things were gone, we all missed them immensely.”

SIFF’s programming for the 2021 festival will bring those feelings and experiences back for film audiences, Ginty said. The schedule is packed with films of many different genres made by a diverse group of filmmakers.


Meyer, who is considered the SIFF’s resident genre film expert, said there is one film horror fans can be excited for at this year’s screenings: “Willy’s Wonderland.” Genre films are commonly horror, fantasy, Western and other genres that don’t get mainstream award or film festival recognition.

“Willy’s Wonderland” features Nicolas Cage in his first non-speaking lead role. The SIFF program describes Cage’s character as a disgruntled janitor at an abandoned amusement park who fights against “demonic animatronics” to make it out of the park alive.

The film will be screened on Friday at 9 p.m. in Theater 1, followed by a live Q&A with the film’s director, Kevin Lewis. Meyer connected with Lewis this spring after screening his film at the Finger Lakes Drive-In.

“I got some movie posters from the studio, and actually, I sold one on eBay, and the person who bought that poster was the director of the movie,” Meyer said.

Promotional graphic for "Willy's Wonderland," a horror film starring Nicholas Cage

Courtesy of Syracuse International Film Festival

Festival passes are sold on the SIFF website for single-day, single-event or single-screening increments. One “block” ticket, valid for any 2-hour block during the weekend, is $15. A pass for full access to every film shown is $50.

In addition to film screenings, SIFF holds workshops for aspiring writers, directors, producers and anyone else looking to break into the film and TV industries. One highlight of this year’s workshops is a writers workshop with Nick Bernardone on Oct. 23 at 3 p.m. at the Redhouse Theater.

Bernardone is a Syracuse native and Emmy-nominated writer who has worked on shows like “30 Rock,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schimdt” and “Fear the Walking Dead.” He also taught dramatic writing at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts during the 2018-19 academic year.

The workshop will conclude with a screening of one of Bernardone’s episodes of “Fear the Walking Dead.” Admission to the seminar is $50, and attendees also receive a signed original limited poster designed by artist James P. McCampbell.

Any aspiring film students attending this weekend’s workshops or screenings should talk to as many people as they can when attending these events, Meyer said.

“You will find people that you could potentially partner up with down the road, either making a movie here, making a music video or whatever,” he said.

Ginty believes hosting an expansive film festival is a special opportunity for a smaller city like Syracuse. He said it’s important for members of the community to take advantage of the wide range of worldwide talent that’s about to arrive on their doorstep.

“(SIFF showcases) the talent of artists to people that normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to see that,” Ginty said. “Ultimately, the goal of every filmmaker is to share this story, this experience, these moments that they’ve created, with the world.”

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