Film Festivals: why they are more important than ever!

I’m obsessed. It’s true. There are very few people who dedicate this much time attending, working and curating film festivals; my life is is ALL about film and I love it. As I embark on the journey to help birth two new film festivals in the Front Range of Colorado, one might question why? Do we need another film festival? Aren’t Sundance, Cannes, TriBeca and SXSW covering all the bases? So few people attend local film festivals in the early years of a festival…why do I work so hard to get these events off the ground? Why bother?

Here’s the thing…Americans are insulated. We are living in a very divisive time and so many of us are surrounded by like-minded individuals. Our lives are lived in bubbles of work, family, church and community. There is little opportunity or dollars to travel if you’re working hard to stay employed.  And little time off to pursue the pleasures of the arts or hobbies or time to just BE. Politics have become an issue that raises blood pressure and angry words. There are alarming changes to government policies and threats to art, education and environment. What does this look like from the perspective of countries outside our own? Do you know? Do you care?

Rather than turn inward, or turn off—I find community in the shared experience of cinema. When there were threats to the EPA, I went to the Wild and Scenic Film Festival and listened to the cheers of nature-lovers applauding the work of environmentalists. When the ACLU seemed overwhelmed by government actions, I went to the United Nations traveling film festival where civic-minded film lovers rallied friends to march, donate and celebrate successes here and worldwide.

Not everyone is fortunate to live in a town with an art house theater. Fort Collins, CO, has a gem of an art house theater. The Lyric Cinema Cafe will soon be moving but currently there are screenings of the Oscar-nominated Shorts and on Feb 28th, short films created by local filmmakers in 48 hours! Tonight, I’m going to a screening billing itself as a film festival. I love how Wandering Reel Film Festival describes it’s mission:

“Artists have long been at the forefront of social innovation. The Wandering Reel believes in the power of film art to effect positive change, to bring people together through shared cultural experiences and to promote peace and justice around the world by inspiring conversation between individuals and communities through the common experience of cinema. By exposing under-served communities with films that are artful in their meaning and compassionate and conscious in their approach, the boundaries that divide people can be slowly stripped away, cultures can be enriched and peace grown across the globe.”

Learning about other cultures and other worlds is so important. Documentaries are so crucial to spreading knowledge and helping us learn about our world. Yes, we need to decompress and laugh at Batman, The Lego Movie but the experience just doesn’t compare to the satisfaction of seeing Hidden Figures! This fictionalised account of a true story benefits from the amazing cast but it’s the STORY; the true story that draws you in. There’s a feeling of community when you hear the applause in a crowded theater; when you know that we’ve all shared an experience and learned something together. Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race written by Margot Lee Shetterley.

We can all be transported and moved by a true story compellingly told.


Yes, documentaries are more important than ever; I completely agree with Simon Kilmurry! I would argue that we also need places to see these compelling documentaries. That’s why we need film festivals. How many documentaries are screening at your local cineplex? You need to seek them out on the Nature Channel or PBS; you need to set your DVR. I’m on a mission to bring them to you, in your town, to help build community and showcase your local talented film community. I hope you’ll join me!

See you at the Boulder International Film Festival March 2-5 and at the Front Range Film Festival April 20-23! And stayed tuned for news about Lyons, Nederland and the newest film and craft festival: Boulder Beer and Film Festival in September!

Please put this important documentary on your must see list for tomorrow night! A perfect companion film to the brilliant documentary, I’m Not Your Negro about the life of James Baldwin. Because, Black Lives Matter!


Maya Angelou in 1974.
Maya Angelou in 1974. Wayne Miller/Magnum, via PBS
‘Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise,’ 8 p.m., PBS (Check Local Listings)
This two-hour “American Masters” biography covers the astonishing breadth of Angelou’s work as a singer, performer, poet, author and activist, and includes footage from throughout her life as well as candid interviews.
KQED has a thorough companion archive to the documentary, which is particularly poignant because Angelou hosted a 10-part series on KQED in 1968 called “Blacks, Blues, Black!”

When is a movie ticket NOT a guarantee that you’ll see a film?

This is the back of a film festival movie ticket. It reads in bold print: Please arrive early as empty seats will be released and sold to RUSH patrons 15 minutes prior to showtime.festival film ticket

This is helpful information if you’ve never been to a film festival.  But if you’ve never been to a film festival, you are probably not familiar with what RUSH means.  Nor have you ever encountered a movie theater that looks like this:

Sea of reserved signs

This a problem for film festivals.  For many festivals, Opening and Closing Night films are a way to thank Sponsors and Donors for giving money and goods to support the festival.  Those patrons are rewarded with film tickets and receptions.  It’s essential to have funding and this seems to be the best way to ensure that the patrons are happy.

Now if you’re a long-time fan of festivals, this situation gets tricky.  It looks as if the festival is pandering to the wealthy and leaving you in the back row.  And if you’ve never been to a film festival, well–this is a shock.  What?!  I purchased a ticket and I can’t have a seat in the film?!!  Every year, at every festival that I work where film tickets are sold, there will be someone showing up late, wanting to get into their film…and unable to comprehend that there is NO SEAT.  RUSH means; you seat all the guests in line, all the sponsors, filmmakers and patrons in their reserve seats and THEN, if there are seats available 5 minutes to screen time, someone in the RUSH line gets to purchase a ticket and rush into the theater!

So save yourself some heartache and learn the rules of the festival.  Arrive early, avoid the big ticket shows and get a good seat for a truly inspiring documentary instead!

Happy Festivaling!

Celebrities at Film Festivals; how important are they?


Yes, I had tickets to see the Peter J Owens tribute of Jeremy Irons last night at the SFIFF. Yes, I hear he was charming and a great storyteller. No, I didn’t go.
Why? Because I was having such a fun time meeting new friends that I couldn’t break away!
How important to Film Festivals are celebrity guests? I’ve attended five film festivals in the last eight months. None of them featured many “celebrities”; even the 10th Boulder International FF! There was a tribute to Shirley MacLaine and some great filmmakers but no guests for the Opening or Closing Night Films.
What I love about the San Francisco International Film Festival, beyond the great programming, fabulous staff and the joy of working with my friends…is that the celebrities are the filmmakers!  There are “big names” (particularly for the Gala!) but the festival is packed with filmmakers, film festival folks and emerging stars! It’s incredible to see Tracy Chapman waiting in the Rush Line. There’s Barry Jenkins sitting in the front row for a screening.   Hey, there goes Parker Posey…
So if a local film writer is concerned with the lack of STARS, perhaps she needs to rethink her definition of that term.