Edward Summer: Founder of the Buffalo International Film Festival

My WNY Story

Edward Summer is preparing for his seventh film festival, set for Oct. 3-6

photo supplied by author


When it comes to the arts, Edward Summer has filled many roles — motion picture director, screenwriter, editor, novelist, journalist, actor, filmmaker and educator, just to name a few. However, in the Buffalo arts community he is best known as the founder of the Buffalo International Film Festival, the largest film festival outside of the New York City area. The seventh annual Buffalo International Film Festival takes place Oct. 3 through 6.

Summer, who maintains residences in Manhattan and Buffalo, was born in Buffalo in the 1940s and grew up in Kenmore. His interest in the arts began when he was quite young.

“I have a photo of myself when I was about 2 years old wearing a diaper and sitting in front of a typewriter. So, I guess my writing career started then,” Summer says with a chuckle.

When he was growing up he enjoyed going to the movies with his father, Charles.

“One of my earliest memories is going to the Mercury Theater on Main Street to see two Walt Disney movies, Fantasia and Make Mine Music. It was four hours of animated cartoons and I still remember this.”

Summer used to go to movies at the theaters on Main Street on Saturdays during the late 1950s and early ’60s.

“They were gorgeous theaters; one theater was more beautiful than the next,” Summer muses. “I thought to myself, what other way was there to see movies than in these theaters?”

Back in the ’60s, Summer practically lived at the Circle Art Theater in Buffalo and the Glen Theater in Williamsville. Both of these theaters showed foreign and historic films.

“European films were amazing in the 1960s,” he remarks. “By comparison American films seemed flat.”

As a child he also took painting classes at the Albright Knox Art Gallery. Schools he attended include George Washington Elementary School, Kenmore Junior High School, Kenmore East High School, Buffalo State Teacher’s College, University at Buffalo, Antioch College, Wyoming State University and New York University School of the Arts.

It was at Antioch College that his interest in filmmaking developed. He joined a movie club at the school where organizer Peter Adair handed him a movie camera and told him to make movies. Then, as part of his coursework at NYU, he directed a film, “Item 72-D,” which won a number of awards. This led to him being hired to work on documentaries.

“I ended up writing Hollywood screenplays and working on some fairly well-known movies,” Summer says.

Some of his film credits include associate producer of Conan the Barbarian and being a marketing consultant on Star Wars and The Towering Inferno.

“I ended up being more of a writer than a filmmaker, as it is difficult to keep going in Hollywood.”

Back in the late 1990s, Summer found himself spending more and more time in Buffalo as his mother, Adele, got older. (She passed away in 2009). He decided that since he was in Buffalo so frequently, he’d like to do something good for the city.

“No one had ever done an International Film Festival in Buffalo before,” Summer notes. “I thought it would be straightforward.”

However, he found that it wasn’t as easy as he anticipated. He persevered and in 2005, the Buffalo International Film Festival was founded. Its mission was encouraging international cooperation and communication through films and video.

The film festival, with Summer at its helm as president and executive director, brings things to WNY culture that normally wouldn’t be here. Throughout the years, more than 600 films from all over the world have been shown in almost every major venue in the Buffalo area, including Shea’s, Kleinhans, North Park Theater, Market Arcade, Place Theater and the Riviera Theater. The main venue for films is now the Screening Room Cinema Café at Sheridan Drive and Bailey Avenue in Amherst.

“The film festival has a wide variety of films to appeal to both younger and older people,” Summer says.

Some of the 20 films to be shown at this year’s festival include Les aventures extraordinaires d’Adele Blanc (France), Aayna Ka Bayna (India), Made in Buffalo Shorts, Comfort Zone: A Western New York Climate Change Movie, and Buffalo Boys, which was made in Buffalo. A complete listing of movies and venues can be found at buffalofilmfestival.com. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door; many films sell out in advance.

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