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Signature Events: The West Chester Film Festival

Every year on the fourth weekend of April, West Chester hosts its very own international film festival.

If you have never been to the West Chester Film Festival, start with the opening night party, advises Victoria Flickinger, WCFF Sponsorship coordinator. There’s the step-and-repeat wall for social sharing, the swag, and the red carpet of a Hollywood event but executed West Chester-style, aka jeans are acceptable.

“The filmmakers are coming in. Have a drink. Grab some food and catch your first block,” Victoria suggests. “You’ll get an idea of the festival and you still have a weekend worth of events to enjoy.” 

Plus, you can ask questions, find the events that suit your interests and gameplan the next two days with neighbors, visitors, film aficionados and novices alike. Which fits with the overall feel of a festival that started “guerilla-style” – grabbing space and setting up projectors in back rooms or empty downtown storefronts – nearly two-decades ago. Today the West Chester Film Festival has a permanent set up at the Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center but the content is no less engaging – if anything, it’s more so. 

Last year volunteers screened nearly 200 hundred entries from 40 countries before settling on the final 70 films. Unlike the festival’s judging panel which is made up strictly of professionals, the screening panel is made up of movie-lovers of all types, ages, and sophistication levels. They are tasked with ranking the films by enjoyability. The judges will find the best entries, the goal of the screeners, and the festival organizers in general, is to make sure everyone has a good time.

“I think what keeps people coming back is it is a very dynamic event,” Victoria says about the selections.  

The movies which are shown in one or two hour blocks throughout the weekend span genres and polish level from Oscar nominated animated shorts to first efforts of up-and-coming young filmmakers. “A lot of people think the submissions are all local,” says Victoria, but they are not, over 30 countries are represented this year, nor are they all ametuer. “You’ll see actors you recognize,” she says. They are, however, all short (30 minutes or less). This means you’ll get a chance to see several entries per block spanning a variety of material from intense dramas to comedies, animation, sci-fi and of course, art-experimental. Art-house, not your thing? Victorias says, don’t worry. “If it’s not your fancy, go grab a drink at the [Uptown] bar and come back.” 

Because, remember, this event is all about having fun. 

Things to do

Pop-up film events are scheduled around town. This year a block of Sci-Fi films were playing at Market Street Cafe.

Learn something new: Each year the festival hosts a free Filmmaking Workshop. This year the topic is Art/Experimental Film Appreciation and features a panel discussion hosted by WCU Film Studies Professor Victoria Tischio. 

Dip your toe: Take in a Pop-up event. Located at venues around town these hour-long viewing sessions include 5-7 films center around a specific genre. This year choose from sci-fi, horror or animation. Tickets are only $5/person. Buy ahead of time or at the door (room permitting.) 

Family friendly: The Family Film Festival takes place 9:30 am Saturday at Uptown and features 11 family-friendly shorts clocking in at a kid-friendly 45 minutes. Kids under 10 are free, all others $5. Coffee and donuts will be provided.  

See and be seen: Come to the closing ceremony. Enjoy food from a selection of local restaurants and celebrate with filmmakers as they wait to see if they won a Chester. Plus, all winning selections will be re-aired. A film festival victory lap, if you will. 

Early buzz: 191 films from 40 countries were screened for this year’s festival, of those 70 made the cut. Here are the entries generating early buzz: “Fool’s Day,” a dark comedy that “still stands out after the pandemic,” Victoria says. “Maestro,” an Oscar-nominated animated short from France. WCFF regulars will recognize the work of “Garden Party” animators – one of the festival’s most popular entries ever, “Blobsville,” a local favorite, and “Drip,” a two-minute horror film. “There’s a little boy. There’s a hallway,” says Victoria. Don’t say anymore, I already have chills.   

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