Chautauqua International Film Festival Presents Screenings and Awards

Ed Tomasini, an audiovisual technology specialist for the Festival and Diana Lenska, Founder and Director of CIFF

Article Contributed by
Walt Pickut

The fourth annual Chautauqua International Film Festival (CIFF) is coming to the Cappa Theater at the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown this summer, on Friday, July 26, with a morning meet ‘n greet starting at 8:30 a.m., screening to begin at 9:00.
Diana Lenska, founder and director of CIFF, told the Jamestown Gazette, “Since my childhood I have been interested in the arts, singing, songwriting, acting, and moviemaking.” Her career has included film and television acting, singing/songwriting, film making, and film festival creation and direction.

Lenska is the director of the International New York Film Festival held in NYC at which she recently presented renowned actor Danny Aiello with the Venus Trophy for his stellar career of more than 40 years in the film industry.

Awards and Prizes

This year, the CIFF will be screening over 30 award-winning films from around the world, including shorts, features, music videos, documentaries, and more. $10,000 in services and prizes will be awarded.

“In preparing and judging film festivals, I have probably watched more films, shorts, documentaries, and international films, in the last couple of years than most people can think of watching in a lifetime,” Lenska said, clearly pleased with the experience. “And that makes me a better filmmaker because I learn so much by watching films made by other filmmakers.”

The CIFF is an IMDb (International Movie Database) Certified Festival. Anyone receiving recognition from this festival is automatically entered in the international database of movies. This festival is open to both veteran and student film makers. According to Ed Tomasini, an audiovisual technology specialist at the Jackson Center, and at Chautauqua Institution, and technical director for CIFF, any student listed in the IMDb will have an outstanding advantage, far above their competition, in applying to a college- or university-based program in communication and cinema related arts.

Independent Film Makers

“Independent film making is a unique art form,” Lenska said. “Each independent film maker finds what is going to work for them.” Independent film making at its best is not modeled on the Hollywood blockbuster movie industry. “Today, some outstanding and creative movies are even being made with iPhones,” she added. “There is a vast area for independent, individual creativity.”

According to Lenska, making an independent film may be comparatively easy, but she adds, “the difficulty is getting an audience for your film. There are over 8,000 film festivals today in America. Only a few years ago there were no more than a handful. The film industry is changing drastically.”
“So, I’m bringing the independent film back to what it always was,” Lenska said, “an independent art form.”

Unique Artistry

Advice often given to new and aspiring film makers can be discouraging – except for the boldest and most passionate. Some veterans of the industry simply advise, “You can’t do it. You can’t start by making a feature film.”

But Lenska disagrees. “After a while I learned everything I could so I could make my own films, and it was very easy for me to produce my first feature film, a 1948 comedy “Holey Matrimony” which has won several awards at film festivals. Each independent filmmaker and each independent film is an art form unto itself.” She says that is what makes an independent film festival like CIFF so exciting and inspiring.

She advises film makers and screenwriters, “Learn as much as you can and you will learn that you never stop learning. Learn about what happens in front of the camera and behind the camera.” Lenska also operated her own theater company for a period of time and adds, “Too many independent film makers don’t take the time to learn the industry. Creativity is not enough. It is also a business.”

“In every festival that I run,” Lenska said, “I mingle films from all categories, from zero-dollar budget to $5 million-dollar films with star talent. I want all the people to have a chance to meet, merge, and see the different qualities and levels of skill in making films.”

New Venue

This will be the first year that CIFF is hosted by the Cappa Theater at the Robert H. Jackson Center, 305 E. 4th St., Jamestown, NY. The Cappa Theater provides all of the necessary technical features for a festival like CIFF, having been remodeled for such presentations only about 12 years ago, according to Tomasini.
Tomasini is a Teaching Artist in Media Literacy at Jamestown High School in a groundbreaking curriculum founded about 20 years ago. In the program, media, particularly video and related screen-writing, is integrated into an English class. The English class is actually a video class, not taught as an elective, but as core curriculum. Students in this program, according to Tomasini, score far above average in attendance and in state-wide English Regents.

Coming Events

Diana Lenska, a resident of Ellington, NY is also the owner and operator of the Carriage House Cinema in Ellington, part of “The Enchanted Ellington” estate. Coming up on Saturday and Sunday, September 7 and 8, She will be presenting the Fall 2019 version of the popular Christian Family Film Festival of Christian oriented, inspirational films at the Carriage House Cinema, followed by Cinemafest the next weekend.

Learn More

Jamestown Gazette readers are invited to log on to to learn more about the Chautauqua International Film Festival and to see the 2019 CIFF trailers and schedule.

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Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.