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By Frank Thomas Croisdale

Niagara Falls and the movies seem as if they were made for one another. The intoxicating combination of beauty and power that exudes from the raging cataracts has lent itself to some of the most memorable movies ever to come out of Tinseltown.

Who can forget the dramatic scene where Christopher Reeve, as Krypton's most famous export, sweeps down and saves a young boy who had fallen into the gorge in "Superman II"?

How about Jim Carrey's hilarious take as an incensed "Eyewitness News" reporter coming unhinged on the deck of the Maid of the Mist in "Bruce Almighty"?

Has there been a funnier sight than John Candy stuffed into a Niagara County Sheriff's uniform grilling an evasive member of the Canadian Mounties, sublimely played by Steve Wright, in "Canadian Bacon"?

Of course, there is no more iconic representation of the world's most famous waterfalls than their supporting role to the smoldering Marilyn Monroe in the film that made her a star, "Niagara."

The marriage of Hollywood and Niagara Falls finally will be consummated this April 8 through April 17. For the first time the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival (BNFF) will add the Rapids Theatre on Main Street as part of its screening locations for over 100 new movies.

Bill Cowell is the driving force behind the BNFF, and he realized that in its fifth year it was time for Niagara to take center stage.

"We've been in Niagara County, at the Riviera Theater in North Tonawanda since the beginning, but I knew that it was time to add Niagara Falls proper into the mix," Cowell said from his offices atop the old Lowery school in North Tonawanda.

Last year 30,000 people attended the 10-day festival, and this year promises to be even bigger, with the addition of the Rapids Theatre. The films come from all over the world and most genres of movies are represented.

"The filmmakers are looking for exposure. Many of them have made films that they are hoping will find a distributor. It's not uncommon for a film to find a distributor at a festival, and even if it doesn't, being shown and maybe winning an award helps down the line," Cowell explained. Some of the movies slated for this year's festival are: Oscar Arviso's "Dreaming in a Time of Hate," comedian Jim Breuer's documentary "More Than Me," and the film adaptation of the William Allen Jones' stage play "Ghosts: The Musical."

The Rapids Theatre came into the mix due to Cowell's respect for the restoration work done by owner John Hutchins.

"I've known John, and the amazing work he did in restoring the building happened a couple of years into the history of BNFF. I started talking with him, because I'm from Niagara County and I really wanted a Niagara Falls presence. The theater is the perfect venue, because of the tremendous history of the building."

Over the years, many filmmakers have been enamored with Niagara and have attempted to capture its essence on celluloid. Cowell has an idea why our waterfalls have been such a popular subject on the big screen.

"I think it's the unbridled combination of power and beauty that they possess. It just comes off the screen in such a way that rivets your attention. There really isn't another natural phenomenon like Niagara Falls that can do that," he said.

Cowell also said that many filmmakers have remarked on the aesthetic beauty of the region as well.

"People who have filmed here often praise the architecture that has been preserved here. It lends itself to filmmaking and is a real gem of Western New York," he said.

The Rapids will also host the awards ceremony for this year's BNFF. The late actor Robert Culp, who appeared at the inaugural BNFF festival, will be feted, and there will be special acts, including little Kaitlyn Maher from "America's Got Talent."

"The awards ceremony comes right after the showing of the festival's feature movie and is always the highlight of the show. I hope people in Niagara Falls will come out and partake in such a wonderful evening," Cowell said.

The BNFF is not the only project that Cowell, who was a filmmaker for many years before becoming a festival organizer, is currently engaged in. He is in the early production stages for a documentary called "Bad IQ."

The film follows the lives of a group of kids with Asperger's Syndrome and other neurological disorders. Asperger's is a type of high-functioning autism, and autism now affects 1 in every 120 newborns.

The kids involved with the movie won't just appear on camera, but will be involved with just about every aspect of the filming.

"The idea is to showcase the amazing talents that these kids possess and to help raise awareness. It is an undertaking that has never been done, and so far it's been an amazing experience. They will be involved in everything from script to screen," Cowell disclosed.

Cowell and his young stars will take a cross-country trip in early May to promote the film and help raise more of the thousands of dollars it will take to get the movie up on the big screen.

"We're doing the film on a budget of $480,000. In Hollywood terms that's a mere bag of shells, but it is still a considerable amount of outlay for an independent film," Cowell stated.

Some of the big Hollywood names already committed to "Bad IQ" are Bill Cosby, Aidan Quinn, Robert Forster, Louis Gossett Jr., Charles Grodin, William Fichtner, director Penny Marshall and producer Mark Johnson.

To make a donation to support "Bad IQ," you can log onto buffaloniagarafilmfestival.com or send a check or money order to the BNFF, c/o Bad IQ Documentary, 3840 E. Robinson Road, Suite 166, Amherst, New York 14228. Please be sure to include your full name, address and contact info.

Cowell says that his favorite movie ever filmed in Western New York is Barry Levinson's 1984 classic "The Natural," starring Robert Redford.

The movie's title refers to Redford's lead character, Roy Hobbs, and his Godgiven talents on the baseball diamond. Some might argue that it also refers to Bill Cowell and his determination and drive to give Western New York a film festival that measures up to those heralded in cities far and wide.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com March 22, 2011