Friday, February 3, 2017

Two Western Film Festivals Ride into the Sunset

It is with sad news that I report the closing of not one, but two Western Film Festivals this year.

Actor Johnny Crawford meets a fan.
The 21st annual Williamsburg Film Festival will be held at the Colonial Plaza Hotel, March 5 to 11, 2017. The 40th annual Western Film Fair of North Carolina will be held at the Hawthorne Inn this July. Convention promoters of both events have publicly announced they will be closing doors following their 2017 events. Dozens of people have speculated the reasons behind the closings: an aging fanbase, rising expenses... take your pick. Regardless of the reason, each event plans to go all-out for their final event.

Both events are cowboy-themed for a generation of baby boomers that grew up with heroes they could look up to: The Lone Ranger, Johnny Mack Brown, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry among others. The majority of the films screened in the movie room consist of screen legends who fought cattle rustlers, stagecoach robbers, branded steer and always took time to serenade the SeƱoritas. 

Author David Godwin and his book about Whip Wilson.
I have always said that a hobby consisting of pop culture is made up of a number of factions: the collectors, the fan clubs, publications, and of course conventions/film festivals. And with every film festival that closes doors a percentage of the hobby fades away. Most screen westerns concluded not with the hero riding off into the sunset, but with the hero embraced by the rancher's daughter who gained respect for the lawman. 

Attending these conventions over the past two decades was a lot of fun. It was here that I learned the difference between a marshal and a sheriff, that most cowboys never wore spurs because they respected their horse, and the two types of Westerns: One that took place in the latter half of the 1800s, and others that took place in modern times but with a Western setting.

Those who frequented the film festivals were not just die-hards of cowboy westerns. These good folks could tell you who directed specific episodes of TV westerns. They enjoyed retro television from Captain Midnight to Jungle Jim. They watched many of the old cliffhanger serials -- twice. And the best part was the social camaraderie -- it was like an annual family reunion where no one was related but all shared a common interest.

The lineup of celebrities who attended these conventions over the past few decades was a virtual who's who of Hollywood: Ann Rutherford, Buster Crabbe, Lash LaRue, Roy Rogers, Rex Allen, Monte Hale, Jim Bannon, Eddie Dean, Frankie Thomas, Anne Jeffreys and many others!

After this year there will be two Western Film Festivals that remain: Lone Pine and the Memphis Film Festival. But if you live on the East Coast, the two closing doors this year will provide the least distance travel. If you have never attended a Western Film Festival before, I highly recommend you make the effort to attend one of these two shows this year. The links to their websites are provided below. The good folks who put these two shows on are the nicest people you could meet. They deserve your support.



And for a superb collection of biographical material focusing on cowboy westerns, along with photos from past conventions and exclusive photos from relatives of screen cowboys, visit the site listed below. WARNING: This website is extremely impressive and you'll have a difficult time leaving once you explore all that it offers. It's the first site I visit when I need to check on a specific title or factoids about a cowboy star.


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