Ballston Spa Film Festival – A Mini Hollywood Event with Surprise Results Revealed


The Capital District area in upstate NY has long been a landing spot for Hollywood filmmakers (Salt, Seabiscuit, Scent of a Woman, Taking Woodstock, The Other Guys, The Horse Whisperer, Ironweed, The Time Machine – to name just a few!). And with the added help of the Capital-Saratoga Film Commission, it’s even easier for Hollywood to settle in.  And why not? With an area rich in varied landscapes and stunning historical settings, not to mention numerous resources and local talent, it’s an ideal area for the arts enthusiast.

Ballston Spa, NY may be one of the smaller towns in the area, but the picturesque village is very much on the map when it comes to the film world. The 1973 Oscar winning movie, The Way We Were, starring Barbara Streisand and Robert Redford, was partially filmed right in downtown Ballston Spa.  Olympic bobsled coach, Pat Brown, a native of Ballston Spa, was portrayed by John Candy in the 1994 movie, Cool Runnings, about the historic 1988 Olympic Jamaican bobsled team. And recently, Daniel DeFabio decided to keep up the tradition of film in the area by starting the Ballston Spa Film Festival (BSFF).

What appears as a small town, local event is anything but. In only 3 years, the festival has become a world-wide affair and is already the biggest film festival this side of Lake Placid and the Massachusetts border. With over 30 films in this year’s lineup, participants were treated with talented entries from Spain, Hollywood, Ireland, Turkey, England, Canada, Australia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, New Guinea, Indonesia, the United States, and from right here in the Capital District. Several films are world premieres and feature big name talent including Serguei Kouchnerov (Shrek 2, The Lion King, Madagascar, Bee Movie), Alexa Davalos (Defiance, Clash of the Titans), and Charlie Hofheimer (Numb3rs, Medium, House, Cold Case).

The judges were all Hollywood names, including Daniel Pyne (Doc Hollywood, Any Given Sunday, Manchurian Candidate), Daniel Fried (O, Illusion), Aaron Lipstadt (City Limits, Medium, Law & Order), Julia Gibson (True Lies, RoboCop3, The Abyss), Larry Jackson (Mystic Pizza, Silence of the Lambs), and Nick Sagan (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Voyager).

Last year’s winner for Best Animated Short, French Roast by Fabrice Joubert, won several international awards before garnering an Oscar nomination for the Academy Awards. Anticipation was high for the entrants in this year’s festival. As Vince Gallagher said, the BSFF is “small town, not small time!”

The festival is open to the public, running the first weekend in August and offers free admission.  All of the films were screened in two locations right in town. Along with various live entertainment (including fire dancers) and food choices (Stewarts Ice Cream Truck was available for all to enjoy, as well as all the wonderful restaurants in the area), other festival highlights included:

•    Hands on Editor's workshop in Final Cut Pro with producers from YNN
•    Rockin’ after parties at The Brickyard and Brookside Museum with live music from battle of the bands winner Vesper (8/6) and The Broken (8/7)
•    Video art interaction in the Electric Heliotrope Theater (
•    Live broadcast Friday night from Jeff from WEQX's morning show
•     Live web simulcast at

Each night in this year's festival saw an audience of over 400 people.  Returning judges Fried, Pyne, and Lizzi commented that the level of quality in the films shown have increased each year, and was especially high this year. This year was the first year of judging for Larry Jackson - who discovered Julia Roberts, directed Buggs Bunny Superstar, is a former Exec VP for Miramax, and advisor in the creation of the Sundance Institute.  He told the BSFF committee, "I thought you put on a terrific event for the community - and for the filmmakers - where you were well organized and your choice of films was really, really good in quality,  variety, and reach.  Ballston Spa is certainly a place we'd love to see again."

Dan Masucci, writer/director of this year's contender, Beneath the Same Sky commented, "What great venues and events and the gift bag was the best I've gotten.... I love that you build up quite an audience.  It is one of the better attended festivals I've been to. It was an honor to be shown among so many great films." Charlie Lyons, a doctor of theater and film from Columbia, and former film reporter for Variety and the NY Times, as well as one of the favorites for this year's best film, also commented on the quality of his competition this year. "I thought Signs was the best film.  It was one of the best short films I've ever seen!"

Signs did indeed steal the show - along with three of the top prizes. Winners included:

Best Picture: Patrick Hughes for “Signs” (Australia)
Best Director: Paul Besson “True Beauty This Night” (Hollywood)
Best Animated Film: Holly Klein “Maggie and Mildred” (London)
Best Film College: Caner Apis "Shoes" (Turkey)
Best Film High School: Alex Gilmet "The Drum Set" (Niskayuna)
Best Screenplay: Patrick Hughes and Karl Fleet "Signs" (Australia)
Best New Film: Ed Hartwell "The Day The Robots Woke Up" (London)
Best Comedy: Brian Billow "Bodega" (Chicago)
Best Editing: Jo Scott "Signs" (Australia)
Best Sound: Diego Sanchidrian Rubio "El Rayo y La Sirena" (Spain)
Of Local Interest: Mike Feurstein "Greatest Man Alive" (Schenectady)
Special Achievement Award: Rich Lounello "The Loop" (Albany)

Pyne commented that the performances in Bodega, "were outstanding, and the clear-headed whimsy carried me through. Best last line in the festival!" He also stated that Greatest Man Alive was a "powerful idea, well-rendered," and Shoes was, "extremely contained and well proportioned. There is an elegant economy to the sequences, and the repetition, and the direction of the little boys is nice and understated." After such a successful and entertaining event, anticipation is already high for next year's festival. Details about 2011's events and submission information will be released soon.

The BSFF is put on by the Ballston Spa Business and Professional Association, a non-profit community organization committed to making the Village of Ballston Spa a better place to live and work, as well as to bringing quality arts and entertainment events for all ages to the community.  Funded in part by the Saratoga Program for Arts Funding, Saratoga Gaming & Raceway Foundation, and by area businesses, all proceeds go toward future festivals and other community events presented by the Ballston Spa Business & Professional Association. For more information on the films & their websites, talents, events, or sponsorship, go to

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