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Blackbird Film Festival returns April 28 

SUNY Cortland’s Blackbird Film Festival, now in its ninth year, will once again reflect modern culture and attract the work of filmmakers from around the globe the weekend of April 28-30. 

The annual international festival, which is free and open to the public, takes place from Friday, April 28 to Sunday, April 30. All screenings are in the university’s Old Main Brown Auditorium off the Dorothea Kreig Allen Fowler ’52, M ’74 Grand Entrance Hall.  

Filmmakers from as far as Costa Rica and France will make the trip to Cortland personally, while films from the United Kingdom, Australia, Spain, Italy, China, South Korea and Canada will be screened.   

In all, there will be 97 films organized into 11 blocks with subjects as varied as “Life, Animated” to “’Til Death Do Us Part.”  

“Every year, I am always so surprised by the themes that emerge during the programming stage,” said Sam Avery, creator of Blackbird and a SUNY Cortland associate professor of communication and media studies. “In my opinion, it serves as a unique reflection of the world we’re in.” 

The Audience Choice Awards ceremony during last year's Blackbird Film Festival.

Last year, Avery said, the festival saw a large number of films addressing mental health and suicide after the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic. This time, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning or Roe vs. Wade, a larger-than-normal number of films focus on abortion and women’s rights — another reaction to current events. 

“The film submissions are always unique and unexpected in the most fascinating ways.” 

The comradery between the creators and the audience helps make Blackbird exceptional, Avery said. Online access to content has made festivals less important to filmmakers hoping to be discovered.  

“Film festivals like Blackbird need to provide filmmakers with an experience that fosters connection and experience rather than endless screenings,” Avery said. “In truth, I often joke that the films really get in the way of the festival in that it’s in the personal relationships that form over the course of the weekend that really seem to make the difference for Blackbird.” 

Events during the weekend will help bring all those involved in the festival together. A “Filmmaker Adventure” will give the visiting artists and VIP guests a tour of the Cortland area, while other events like the “Film Trivia Lunchathon” are open to all. 

Blackbird also shines an important spotlight on diverse filmmakers, thanks to a focus on equity and a promise that at least half of all its movies will either be directed or written by women. Avery said that he believes the powerful influence of the medium makes it vital for the festival to do its best to include as many voices as possible. 

The Blackbird Film Festival takes place April 28-30.

Anyone who manages to get into Blackbird can already take pride in accomplishing something impressive. More than 990 entries were submitted to Blackbird 2023, of which only less than 10% were selected to screen. 

The review process begins in September. Film judge interns, made up of SUNY Cortland students interested in media production and cinema studies, work in teams to review assigned films. Avery said that a judge will watch around 15 films in an average week, with the top entries then going on to “pro judge” alumni filmmakers from previous festival seasons.  

After that already grueling process, films with the highest judge ratings go through a final review process by Avery and select other judges before being organized into thematic blocks. During the festival, attendees can also make their voices heard, with top vote-getters receiving an audience choice award. 

Cinema won’t be the only thing on display during the weekend. Submitted artwork will be presented in Old Main. Guests will be able to vote on their favorites, with three winners awarded a cash prize. 

Avery admits that sometimes he wants to just enjoy the festival without the stress that comes with overseeing the event. But whether the hard work is worth the end result is never in doubt. He also credits a massive amount of support that helps make the festival a success each spring. 

“The film judge and event coordinator students at SUNY Cortland are absolutely essential for Blackbird,” he said. “Without them, I’m not sure the festival would happen. Even during COVID, I called upon former event coordinators who had graduated years before to return to Blackbird and keep the vision alive. They did, and their efforts not only kept the festival alive, it flourished.” 

Avery also cited support from faculty, staff, President Erik J. Bitterbaum and his wife, Ellen Howard Burton, and the wider Cortland community for the work and support that has turned the festival from a one-time experiment into a must-see experience that brings attendees into Central New York from around the world. 

For any cinephiles interested in a weekend of movie magic, more details and Information about the 2023 Blackbird Film Festival are available online. The festival requests all attendees donate a nonperishable item (food or otherwise). Those who do will get a free collector “Birdie Badge,” with all donations going to Seven Valleys Food Rescue.