Providing a stage for the unnoticed to shine

The Buffalo Niagara Film Festival runs April 24 to May 3

The Spectrum

Ten years ago, Bill Cowell received a letter that changed his life.

The letter, from acclaimed publicist Dick Delson, outlined Delson's desire to draw attention to Cowell's latest film, The Magic Shoe Project.

At first, Cowell had never heard of the famous publicist.

Now, the creative duo has been working together and running the annual Buffalo Niagara Film Festival for eight years. This year, the artistic celebration is running from April 24 to May 3 and spans over five different venues throughout Western New York, including: the Rivera Theater, Market Arcade Film & Arts Center, the Tonawanda Castle, The Rapids Theatre and the Buffalo Suzuki Strings Musical Arts Center. The festival will consist of student films, shorts, music videos, feature films and animated films.

Cowell and Delson's partnership began when they started working on Cowell's film, which was set to star Christopher Walken, Helen Hunt and Jim Garner. But they had to stop when Garner had a minor stroke two weeks before filming was set to begin.

After the disappointment of the cancelation, Cowell and Delson created the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival in 2006 as another outlet to fulfill the desire to run their own film project. When they started, they had no sponsors and little money. Delson was skeptical, but Cowell "took it from the ground and made it happen."

"[Cowell] mentioned to me how he wanted to throw a film festival and I said to him, 'Are you nuts?'" Delson said, remembering the duo's initial regarding the festival. "I told him, 'there are two film festivals a day each year, do the math.'"

As a filmmaker himself, Cowell was driven by the struggle that artists and other filmmakers have of breaking into the business, or even getting work recognized or appreciated by an audience. This struggle is what drives him to organize the annual festival.

"Our main goal is to attract talent, [create] projects and [for attendees to] notice these hardworking filmmakers," Cowell said.

In recent years, Cowell said more than 30,000 people have been in attendance.

But eight years after its launch, Delson still worries about community support.

"I realized that the city of Buffalo has no support for this event and that's something we are trying to change," Delson said.

In hopes of attracting a greater crowd, Delson suggested inviting Mayor Byron Brown as a guest of honor. But the mayor wouldn't be the first celebrity guest to attend the festival. In previous years, celebrities such as Bill Cosby, Christopher Walken, Lou Furrigno and various models and body builders have made an appearance.

Cowell believes the bigger the audience, the better for the artist.

"Filmmakers can't get a better reward than to see what they've done on the screen and have people appreciate their work," Cowell said.

This year, guests have the option of four different sets of ticket packages ranging from a $10 general admission ticket to a $200 VIP ticket. Students, seniors and veterans can receive discounted general admission and VIP package tickets.

As a celebration of film culture and one of New York State's biggest film festivals, Cowell hopes people will come out and give films that normally go unnoticed a chance to be appreciated.