It started with a group of high school friends in Nahant, Mass., with a net built out of sticks and a 99-cent rubber ball. Twenty-eight years and 350 miles later, a schoolyard game called pinkyball has made its way to Ithaca.
Organizers of the 2012 Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival are celebrating the event’s 15th year in Ithaca in a big way — with a focus on small utopias.
Each year FLEFF planners choose a new theme to unite all the films and incite discussion and discourse about a specific topic, which is one of the goals of the festival. This year an art installation made entirely of recyclable and sustainable materials that was created by interns represents the theme of the festival. This theme, microtopias — which means small utopias — is used to explore environmental issues without constraints or limitations.
Sophomore Gautam Singhani, an intern for FLEFF, likes the idea because he links the theme to the festival itself.
“FLEFF is like a microtopia within a microtopia,” he said. “Both the festival and the college are microtopias that I feel are a great example of our current theme.”
Singhani is one of about 30 students currently interning for the festival. This is one of the ways that FLEFF organizers try to garner student participation.
“I love meeting all the new media artists and other guests,” he said. Art Jones, a multimedia artist, spoke during a master class Monday afternoon in the Park Auditorium about the state of the media industry.
Jones also led a multimedia performance Tuesday night in Hockett Hall that involved putting together approximately 70 minutes of footage the night before.
Jones also attended the opening event of the installation art Monday in the Handwerker Gallery. He said he enjoyed talking to students and being able to open a discussion about the breaking down of barriers between high culture and low culture, along with sharing his experiences with students.
Ann Michel, the president of Insights International, a business research and analytics company, is one of the coordinators of the internship program. She said this has been a successful year because of the returning team leaders and the signature live music events.
“These events stand out because of the live performance,” she said. “It makes it more theatrical. It makes it more special.”
Tanya Saunders, an executive producer of FLEFF and assistant provost for international studies and special projects, said part of the festival’s continued success is that students, faculty members and staff can get involved easily.
The festival has consistently become larger every year, attracting more and more guests. This year, more than 50 artists and filmmakers are in attendance.
The festival features events including new media performances with singers, films and artists, and the classic theater film. But, Patricia Zimmermann, professor in the Department of Cinema, Photography and Media Arts and co-director of FLEFF, said people should explore their own interests.
“Everyone needs to find their own path,” she said. “FLEFF asks nothing of people, except to ask questions.”
Amid a mild winter, thousands of locals and tourists flocked to The Commons on Saturday for the Great Chili Cook-off of 2012 to eat a seasonal favorite and support local businesses.
Attendees waited in long lines and participated in events such as the hot pepper-eating contest as part of the annual festival sponsored by the
Downtown Ithaca Alliance. Thirty-eight different vendors, ranging from Cayuga Medical Center to Moosewood, presented their own special recipes in an effort to uniquely advertise their offerings. In all, about one thousands gallons of chili were on display for consumption.
Patty Clark, events manager for the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, said the appeal of the event rests in its local connections.
“A lot of our vendors are local restaurants, and they have a very high concentration of using local products,” she said. “So we really enjoy supporting our local businesses.”
The Tompkins Trust Company held an inter-office competition earlier in the year to find the best chili within the company to present at the festival. Joe Cioachi, whose wife won that competition, said the warm weather helped draw the large crowds to the festival.
Sophomore Jeff Chilton said he found the weather to be one of the best parts of the festival.
“Chili-Fest this year is a lot stronger than Apple Fest was, but that is partly because of the weather,” he said. “It’s a different environment, and that’s because it’s the middle of the winter.”
As for the winners, Razorback BBQ won the “best meat chili” category with their smoked brisket chili. Collegetown Bagels won “best vegetarian chili” with their Roving Gypsy chili, and Life’s So Sweet Chocolate won “best other chili” with their chili chocolate. Mat’e Factor won “best presentation.”
City of Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick, one of about 5,000 attendees at the festival, said the festival is an excellent way to showcase local businesses.
“I think it’s great for the city because it brings thousands of people into the downtown area,” Myrick said. “It shows them not just what’s happening on days when festivals are here, but also what The Commons have to offer all year-round.”
As for why he came out to the festival, well, that was a simpler answer.
“I love Chili-Fest because I love chili,” he said.