When Joanne Hudson founded the Ridgefield Independent Film Festival (RIFF) in 2015, it was with the vision to make the world a more compassionate place by sharing stories through cinema, to attract people to picturesque Ridgefield through a well curated film festival and to bring cutting edge films to Ridgefield and neighboring towns. After a three-year hiatus in which she wrote an award-winning play, Sisters (2020), made two short films, and worked on some feature length screenplays, Hudson is returning as Director of RIFF 2023. RIFF’s original mission – to create bonds of empathy – is more compelling than ever before in the wake of two sequestered years of isolation and anxiety provoked by the pandemic. Further, Hudson’s aspiration of making Ridgefield a destination has proved prescient now that it has been designated as Connecticut’s first Cultural District. RIFF’s vision of a collaborative community of art organizations is shared by many and is thriving in such ventures as “Music at the Mansion” that brings the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra and Lounsbury House together.
In 2016, RIFF brought together ten venues in Ridgefield and 76 independent films from around the world to create the first ever Ridgefield Independent Film Festival. It succeeded in bringing over 1,000 festival goers to Ridgefield and showcased the town’s marquee arts and cultural venues by taking audiences to The Ridgefield Playhouse; The Ridgefield Library; The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum; Keeler Tavern Museum; The Prospector Theater; Ballard Park; The Boys & Girls Club; The Ridgefield Artists’ Guild; and Luc’s Café to view films. Over the years since, these collaborations have consolidated to just a couple of venues and the festival itself was moved from May to October. By 2019, RIFF had nearly 4,000 attendees. When Covid hit, the festival continued through a hybrid of online and small in-person showings.
Focus on independent films
In 2023, RIFF will be moving back to its original spring dates and the festival will be held in-person from Thursday, May 18 to Sunday, May 21. RIFF will be collaborating with at least six town venues, including the Ridgefield Theatre Barn, to promote Ridgefield as a vibrant arts and culture destination. RIFF will open at The Ridgefield Playhouse on Thursday night and take audience members on a film and site tour through the town, from the Playhouse, the Library, the Prospector Theater, the Ridgefield Theater Barn, and Keeler Tavern Museum, and more, for four days of screenings, panel discussions and parties. The festival will culminate with an award ceremony at Keeler Tavern Museum’s Garden House. Awards in multiple categories will be offered including the Emerging Filmmaker Award which RIFF has been presenting for the past two years.
RIFF 2023 will also return to its original focus of showcasing independent films. To that end, it hopes to restore its popular masterclass series to serve independent film makers who lack the skills and savvy to market their films more successfully. Film distribution is critical to a film’s success and visibility as often it is film distribution companies who decide the film’s title.
Through its site-specific events, workshops, and parties where audiences and filmmakers can mingle, RIFF aims to facilitate valuable networking and community building opportunities for independent film makers. As such, RIFF has paired with the Loundsbury House to create a lounge for filmmakers in town during the festival. In addition, true to the trope of riffing – of creative play and spontaneity that is at the heart of RIFF’s vision – local businesses and restaurants are invited to RIFF along by showing films on walls, TVs or any screening apparatus they may possess. Hudson says the festival is willing to curate films according to the venue and seating.
As a town-wide film festival, RIFF’s goal is to energize everyone to get involved in supporting independent filmmakers and cinema, and to showcase Ridgefield and all it has to offer. One of the ways RIFF plans to engage young people is through its High School Internship program which is supported by the Liz and Steven Goldstone Foundation. Unlike most internship programs in town that are restricted to Ridgefield students, RIFF plans to invite students from Bridgeport and Danbury to intern with them. Inviting youth from less privileged communities to learn in a milieu they might not otherwise have access to and creating opportunities for the youngsters from different economic and racial backgrounds to work with each other is a cornerstone of RIFF’s mission of diversity and social justice.
Hudson’s future vision for RIFF extends much further. She aspires to make RIFF one of the top fifty boutique film festivals in the country, and to establish Ridgefield an important part of the arts corridor that extends from Katonah in New York to the Berkshires and Williamstown in Massachusetts. She hopes that RIFF will garner Ridgefield the same name recognition that the small towns of San Luis Obispo or Kansas City enjoy through the critically acclaimed film festivals associated with them.
For more information, please visit www.riffct.org •