SouthSide Film Institute


Summer 2003: With the now Bethlehem Skate Zone under construction, its owners suggested that one rink could be used for community activities in the summer when only one ice rink would be in use. At a SouthSide merchants’ meeting, Inger Olsen (Comfort & Joy) suggested using the rink for a film festival, and Jeff Vaclavik (Deja Brew) was listening. He encouraged the SouthSide merchants to brainstorm the idea. Jeff knew that one of his customers, Graham Stanford, was a local aspiring filmmaker, who in 2002 had screened his short film “What’sa matta’…U!?!” in what was billed The Goosey Film Fest held, one evening, in the basement at Tony Silvoy’s Goosey Gander II. Word spread and 50 invited guests turned into an enthusiastic crowd of over 100. In 2003, the dream of sponsoring a larger festival, involving the entire SouthSide, suddenly became an attainable brass ring.

Fall 2003: A core group of film devotees began meeting. Graham and Jeff were joined by Sally Handlon (then Program Director at Lehigh’s Small Business Development Center and board member of the DBA and South Bethlehem Historical Society) and Rob Dougherty (then Development Director at Touchstone Theatre). Jay Lazar, copyright and patent lawyer and film aficianado, helped the group incorporate as a non-profit institute similar to Sundance. Organizing the first SouthSide Film Festival was the goal.

Winter 2003: In December, the organization became an official Pennsylvania non-profit corporation under the name SouthSide Film Institute. The Board expanded its membership, held its first fund raiser at Comfort Suites with the support of SouthSide businesses and KNBT, and…

Spring 2004: The SouthSide Film Institute became a reality, dedicated to preserving and promoting the art of the independent filmmaker, providing the patron of the arts freedom of choice, and showcasing the community culture of South Bethlehem.

The Institute hosted the SouthSide Film Festival: The Prequel on June 17-20, 2004. This was our “screen test” in preparation for the first official, fully-loaded Festival in 2005. Invitational films like The American Astronaut, Rabbit Hash and The Long Haired Warriors were screened to packed theatres, and their filmmakers spent all weekend with our community. After the Prequel, the Board of Directors listened to everybody’s feedback, developed a strategic plan, and planned the 2005 festival and inaugural SSFI workshop.

Summer 2005: South Bethlehem was again host to dozens of filmmakers and film fans during June 16-19, 2005. Avant-garde films such as Un Chien AndalouLittle Otik, and a surprise midnight showing of Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary thrilled audiences along with children’s animations, excellent juried entries, and films of South Asia. Following a feast of Indian foods, Academy-award winning documentary Born Into Brothels was screened, preceded by Circles, an amazing short by guest filmmaker Shanti Thakur. Filmmakers attended the now traditional and delectable Sunday Brunch, which included a seminar on Music Composition for Film by David McHugh and Mark Suozzo. Cory McAbee (filmmaker, The American Astronaut) performed an incomparable solo show at Deja Brew. And everyone was treated to four new documentary shorts created by students of the first SSFI Documentary Filmmaking Workshop led by Mel Halbach and Clayton Farr.

Fall 2005: SSFF became a festival partner of, the network for independents.

Spring 2006: SSFI teamed up with DeSales University’s Film Program to host the first-ever Lehigh Valley Independent Film Conference, which included presentations by Lehigh Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau, WDIY, Lehigh Valley Film Office, and Zeke Zelker of Independent Dream Machine. The enthusiastic standing-room-only audience of film professionals and students connected with one another, brainstormed and learned about resources for filmmakers in the region.

Summer 2006: The third ANNUAL SouthSide Film Festival was presented June 15-18. The second documentary filmmaking workshop, filled to capacity, preceded the film festival and resulted in five new short films about our community. On preview night, we celebrated the arrival of The Big Bad Swim atHome & Planet‘s gallery party, followed by the film’s screening. The Red Carpet Party at Comfort Suites featured flavors of Eastern Europe, filmmakers galore, the music of Bob Dorough, the first Image Over Word filmmaking competition winner, and a procession led by the Mackay Bagpipers to the opening night screening of love. Other highlights of the weekend included a SouthSide Film Festival for Kids held at Godfrey Daniels, a midnight movie of The Animation Show, several after-hours parties, Vladan Nikolic’s seminar about making great films on a low budget, and a performance by Zen for Primates at the closing night party.