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.

hidden-figures

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
Tuesday
‘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!”

2014 Cinema worth celebrating!

Tis the season…when many movie aficionados are preparing their “Top 10 Best Movies” of the year.  Rather than make a list, I just want to share some cinema love and shine the light on a few worthy films that may have been missed in the deluge of blockbusters and sequels.  For what is “best” after all?  Movies are like wine.  Your experience will not be my experience.  I can no more tell you that this Merlot is the Best, than I can say that this Rom-Com is the Best–but I can share some of my cinematic highlights of the year and we can clink our glasses and toast to the joy of movies!

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Here’s to all the local film houses that feature art-house films and stirring (and challenging) documentaries and fabulous foreign films.  For without these places, run by dedicated (and generally, underpaid) staff, there would be very little access to some of the best cinema.  A big “Hip Hip Hurray” for all the film programmers at those small independent film houses and at film festivals all over the world.  You are the champions of the independent filmmaker. You endure hours of mind-numbing, eye-searing bad films to discover the gems of cinematic wonder that must be nourished, promoted and shared.

Here’s to you, fellow film lovers, who seek out the obscure, the retrospectives, the art films and the latest from our film auteurs like Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, Jim Jarmusch  and upcoming talents like Gillian Robespierre and Justin Simien. Together, we revel in each film restoration and together we celebrate our cinema history. Thank you for making it a point to see these treasures in the old movie palaces, single screen local movie houses and/or libraries, art galleries and yes, even pubs!  You keep cinema alive by voting for it with your hard-earned dollar.  Thank you for crowd-funded films and new modes of film distribution that are making access to film easier and ensuring that filmmakers have new platforms to explore.

Some of my top film experiences this year include seeing the wonderful Skeleton Twins at SFIFF with director and stars in attendance, getting to witness the standing ovations at MVFF for some compelling documentaries (Capturing Grace, Gardeners of Eden) and discovering the fabulous animated Miss Todd and meeting the hilarious and talented,  Suzanne Heintz of Playing House at Women + Film Voices Film Festival.  There I also got to see Obvious Child and was blown away by the performance of Jenny Slate directed by Gillian Robespierre.

Telluride Film Festival

I finally made it to the Telluride Film Festival and that was my cinematic highlight of the year!  I loved everything: the people attending, the quality of the programming, the comradery, and the beauty of the setting.  I felt I could literally and metaphorically touch the stars.  There were so many famous filmmakers within arms reach and being in the mountains–with the starry sky like a sparkly velvet scarf above–was a heady and transformative experience!

My vote for the most fun at the cinemas this year would be with Guardians of the Galaxy — a fun 70’s soundtrack, great characters featuring a story with both heart and  action-packed thrills.  The Lego Movie was particularly fun for me because the person I went with enjoyed it so much, he couldn’t stop laughing.  It was also great to see a preview screening of The Imitation Game with the hundreds of staff and crew at Telluride, and then meander into the charming town discussing it’s merits with other film buffs over a late-night whiskey.

A highlight of my film festival career was programming and producing my first film festival, Front Range Film Festival here in Colorado.  It was amazing to be on stage with director Andrew Mudge of Forgotten Kingdom, and have someone in the audience in this little town of Longmont, CO say that he was FROM Lesotho, Africa.  The audience was charmed when I invited him onstage so he could compliment the director on his accuracy at portraying the culture there.

Front Range Film Festival

Front Range Film Festival

Two of my favorite films of this year would make a great double feature: Finding Vivian Maier and Ida.  I previewed them in January for the Boulder International Film Festival and it seems like sooooo long ago. Both feature amazing photography; Vivian Maier’s photos of people in 1950-60’s Chicago and the beautiful black and white cinematography of Ida. Compelling stories about amazing women, both films have received awards on the festival circuit but they deserve a larger audience.

Obvious Child was just nominated for a well-deserved Spirit Award; I hope more people will see this darkly comic, honest portrait of a woman.  It’s a film with someone making the choice to end a pregnancy without making that the focus of the movie.  There were so many gems this year: The Lunchbox, Love is Strange, Only Lovers Left Alive…I enjoyed reading about films other critics felt didn’t get their due: Top 10 Catch-up. There were also lots of films I didn’t get to see yet but that I know I’ll love.  I’m not a film snob but I do love all the wealth of amazing “Oscar-caliber” films that get released around this time of year.  I’m looking forward to Mr Turner, The National Gallery, the last installment of The Hobbit and even Horrible Bosses 2.  So many films, so little time..and so many reasons to be GRATEFUL!

What I learned curating the Front Range Film Festival…

Left Hand Brewing Company, Longmont, CO

Jill Brooke introduces “DamNation” at the Front Range Film Festival 2014

I had the privilege of helping curate my first film festival in Colorado this last week.  Front Range Film Festival screened three feature films and a eight short films over four days at four venues.  It was a pleasure to work with Jessica Kooiman, the Executive Director of the Firehouse Art Gallery, the non-profit organization that produces the festival.  She’s a real powerhouse and she’s instrumental in bringing film and culture to downtown Longmont.

Front Range Film Festival

Jill Brooke and Jessica Kooiman

Having worked for many film festivals, both nationally and internationally, there are some real pluses to working as part of a small team to create something that feels like a real personal accomplishment…and a few challenges that are eased by a bigger budget, an established audience and a large pool of seasoned volunteers.

Here are a few of my lessons from this particular film festival: Outdoor movie screens may be a marvel of technology, but they require some real brawn AND brains to erect and deconstruct!  This particular screen needed to be put up a total of three times over the course of our festival and it wasn’t until the final question of my q & a that I realized that I was in charge of getting it down and packed up…BEFORE I could go enjoy the Closing Night Party!

Front Range Film Festival

Front Range Film Festival–surprise guest

What a small world it is!  As I asked for the final question at The Forgotten Kingdom screening, a young man at the back of the church stood to speak.  He said he was from Lesotho, Africa — the setting for the film!  We invited him to the stage and the director, Andrew Mudge asked him how he felt the film depicted his home.  It was a wonderful, unexpected pleasure for all of us.  A special shared experience that is unique to the film festival experience!

Movies may inspire audiences but they also teach lessons to all of us involved in getting those stories to the screen!  I had been grumbling about having to go to a separate store to purchase my beer since moving to Colorado but having done my research on Beer Culture, The Movie; I now know that the “one liquor license, one store” is a boon for the craft beer industry.  DamNation fired up the audience to take action in support of the removal of obsolete dams and it was a real wake-up call to discover that there is a river in the area that is facing extinction! http://www.boulderweekly.com/article-13030-obituary-for-a-river.html

This festival was a lot of hard work and couldn’t have happened without the great team at the Firehouse Art Center and the St Vrain Habitat for Humanity–co-producing our Closing Night film, The Forgotten Kingdom.  And as with any festival, there were many local organizations that pitched in supplies, equipment (like that crazy movie screen!), donated booze (hello Spirit Hound distillery and Oskar Blues Brewery!) and treats (Kim Sorden of Magic Fairy Candles–you rock!) and funding!!  Next year will be bigger and better and I’m already excited to get the ball rolling…onward and upward team.  We need to bring these films and filmmakers to Longmont…and the whole Front Range!  There is such talent here that needs to get exposure and films that are crying out to be seen on the big screen.

Four of the fabulous filmmakers at Front Range Film Festival

Craig Stevens, Ian Cooke, Michael Vasicek and Patrick Sheridan