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Film festival reunites those who helped make 'Santini' great

Author Pat Conroy speaks to the crowd Saturday night at the Beaufort International Film Festival at the University of South Carolina Beaufort Performing Arts Center, where he was awarded the Jean Ribaut Award for Inspiring Written Work.
Author Pat Conroy speaks to the crowd Saturday night at the Beaufort International Film Festival at the University of South Carolina Beaufort Performing Arts Center, where he was awarded the Jean Ribaut Award for Inspiring Written Work.

The auditorium inside the University of South Carolina Beaufort's Performing Arts Center played host to a special reunion Saturday night.

In addition to recognizing the winning entries from the 2010 Beaufort International Film Festival, the Beaufort Film Society sought to welcome back and recognize three people near and dear to the hearts of many Beaufort-area cineophiles.

Author Pat Conroy, actress Blythe Danner and actor Michael O'Keefe were all recognized by the society for their respective contributions to Lowcountry cinema. All three worked together in Beaufort on the feature film adaptation of Conroy's "The Great Santini." Danner was presented the society's Jean Ribaut Award for Acting Excellence and Conroy went home with the Jean Ribaut Award for Inspiring Written Work. O'Keefe was on hand to present Danner with her award.

O'Keefe received an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Ben Meechum, Conroy's fictional counterpart in "Santini." Danner played the role of Lillian Meechum, the fictional avatar of Conroy's mother, Peg.

Since filming "Santini" in the late 1970s, Danner said she's had an affinity for Beaufort and the Lowcountry.

"This is such a special, special place," she said. "I came here and I thought, 'people can't really be this nice,' having lived in New York and Los Angeles. To come back to Beaufort, it's like seeing my whole life flash in front of me."

Conroy, who lives on Fripp Island with his wife, novelist Cassandra King, called the night "miraculous."

"I was 15 when I came to this town and I didn't know a soul and my mother said to me, 'Son, make Beaufort your home,'" Conroy said. "I chose this magical place and the people here have been nice enough to choose me right back. (Bringing O'Keefe and Danner) here tonight is just another miracle that this town has thrown back at me."

Saturday night's gala served as the finale of the 2010 Beaufort International Film Festival, which began Thursday and is in its fourth year.

Ron Tucker, the festival's executive director, said bringing O'Keefe, Conroy and Danner back together in Beaufort was the icing on the cake to another successful year in the film festival's short history.

"Over the past three days, we've had more filmmakers here than in any of our past festivals," Tucker said. "To watch the interaction of the filmmakers as they watched each other's work has been great."

More than 200 entries from filmmakers in 24 different countries were entered in this year's festival, according to organizers.

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