Ohio Independent Film Festival Appoints New Executive Director

Peter Balint, executive director of the Ohio Independent Film Festival
Peter Balint, executive director of the
Ohio Independent Film Festival
Change is coming to one of Northeast Ohio’s greatest cinema organizations.
After more than 20 years as leader of the Ohio Independent Film Festival (OIFF), Bernadette Gillota has departed the organization she founded to pursue new opportunities, and a newly appointed Executive Director Peter Balint has stepped in to lead the organization forward.

“Bernadette did an astounding job of growing the organization from its inception in 1993 to the solid festival it is today,” says Balint. “After achieving many of the goals she set out to achieve, she made the personal decision to pursue other interests and pass the Ohio Independent Film Festival to the next generation.”

Over the last seven years, Balint immersed himself in the Cleveland film community, working on short films as everything from producer to screenwriter. As his interests shifted to promoting independent film, he became an volunteer with the Chagrin Documentary Festival. That led to a position on the OIFF board in 2012.

“My decision to accept the position of executive director was based on my belief that there is room for the organization to grow, and that I could foster that growth. With a committed board and an active film community in Northeast Ohio, we are poised to reach new heights."

We recently chatted with Balint to find out more about what he hopes to accomplish as the new head of the OIFF.

Midwest Movie Maker (MMM): Tell me a bit about the Ohio Independent Film Festival.

Peter Balint (PB): We started out as the Off-Hollywood Flick Fest in 1993 in a small storefront in Tremont. While the name eventually changed to the Ohio Independent Film Festival, 20 years later the submission process remains essentially the same: All films selected for screening at the OIFF are submitted by filmmakers. 

The mission of Independent Pictures supports emerging and independent filmmakers by giving a voice to those that might not otherwise be heard. We are actively planning for our 2014 festival which takes place from November 6 to 9, 2014.

MMM: How do you see the OIFF changing over time?

PB: I see our festival evolving into more of an event in the greater Cleveland area. We have ideas on how to make this happen, but it starts with getting more submissions and building an audience. 

We ultimately seek to educate and entertain; surrounding these two activities in a fun and gregarious setting is certainly a good strategy for us to pursue. 

I also see the need for our organization to ally with other arts organizations, festivals and filmmakers. There’s nothing like the positive energy that comes from like-minded leaders on a mission.

MMM: Tell us about your plans for the OIFF. How do you hope to guide it through the next decade?

PB: With technology changing at an exponential rate, it is almost impossible to predict how things will look in 10 years. We can, however, commit ourselves to adaptability. This is a must.

As I browse submission forms from the 1990s, I find it amazing that film (yes, celluloid) was the primary medium to deliver one’s art. From there, we migrated to magnetic tape, DVD and now some festivals are accepting the Digital Cinema Package format (DCP).

While today’s films are delivered in less nostalgic or romantic ways, we understand the importance of keeping the door open to modern forms of storytelling.

One aspect that has not changed and must be maintained is our role as a catalyst for the filmmaker. It’s our job to engage them, as well as the community who enjoy their work. We are still - and will continue to be - the platform for independent artists who need to have their work seen.

We have identified the need to be more engaged in the community, and within the last few years have hosted a diverse range of film screenings around the community during our off season. We draw crowds for films like the exploitation classics of the 30s and 40s, as well as premieres of locally produced feature films.

MMM: What challenges does the organization face? What opportunities do you see on the horizon?

PB: As with any non-profit, we face fundraising challenges. Funding opportunities that were there five years ago have shifted priorities and are no longer available. The ability to remain nimble will be paramount to our success.

Another challenge is getting quality work done with a minimal staff. In our case, we are fortunate to have board members who are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and jump in when needed. You are likely to meet a number of our board members during our film festival in November, as well as events throughout the year, such as Script Mill or special screenings.

Collaboration with other arts organizations is certainly an opportunity we have embraced. For example, we are active with Waterloo Arts, Beachland Ballroom, and Shore Cultural Center, among others. Collaboration is not limited to our geographical area—there are hundreds of organizations like our across the country that could benefit from a good dose of synergy.

I believe growth happens when you can recognize who your partners are.  

MMM: How is film and filmmaking in Northeast Ohio and the Midwest changing? How can film fans get involved?

PB: I think that the tax incentives found here and other parts of the Midwest are raising awareness iabout the concept of making movies. More people are exposed to the industry because of stories in the media or highways that have been shut down for filming. It’s in our faces. 

Now that the door is open, we can vie for media spots or events that cater to independent film. 

Combine that new awareness with declining prices on filmmaking equipment and we have a space where artists can truly compete. Film fans need to understand there is almost always some kind of production going on in the Midwest. 

If you want to be involved, start networking. Attend local festivals. These events are not just for watching film, they are networking environments, and anyone willing to start the conversation will certainly walk away with some new friends. 

Another way to find opportunities to be involved in film is to volunteer for a film festival such as ours. It is a great way to meet people from various film backgrounds.
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